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The British Columbia Wine Report – August

It’s Time for B.C. Wineries to Look Further Afield
by Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender_Blog

Rhys Pender MW

In British Columbia, we have a strange pricing system for wine, a system that a lot of consumers will not know exists. It is a system not built on the direct cost of making the wine plus markups but rather one of setting a goal final retail price and then working backwards with a series of different discounts depending on which distribution channel the wine is sold through. Needless to say, this isn’t how the rest of the wine world, or any other business that I can think of, operates. While you might say “who cares, it is what it is”, this pricing system has an impact on the way British Columbia wineries do business, especially in times when supply creeps ahead of demand.

Right now, the British Columbia wine industry is in just such a state. Wine production is currently growing at a faster rate than sales. While this may be temporary, there are significant impacts on the short-term stability of the industry. For many years, demand for British Columbia wine far outstripped supply creating a positive environment for wineries to expand, invest in equipment and improve quality. Because of this profitability, many new vineyards were planted and new wineries started to take advantage of the booming industry. The big growth period came between 2006 and 2008 when the acreage leaped from 6,632 acres in 2006 to 9,100 acres in 2008, a 37% surge in just two years. With around three years until a crop is realized off a new planting, the supply should have jumped in 2008, 2009 and 2010. We all remember a significant financial crisis that hit at exactly this time, which resulted in a big dent in demand for higher priced wines.

Okanagan FallsIf it wasn’t for Mother Nature stepping in, the supply and demand issue would have been a lot more serious. In the end, cold winter temperatures damaged many vineyards in 2008 and 2009 reducing crop significantly and resulting in lots of replanting of damaged or killed vines. In fact, production levels didn’t significantly top 2008 levels until 2012. Just a few months ago the British Columbia Wine Institute announced the 2013 crop level as 31,383 short tons harvested, another 18% increase over the record 2012 (27,257 short tons), itself an increase of 20% over 2011 (22,722 short tons). Rumours abound of grape contracts being cancelled and stocks building up in winery warehouses.

Sales of VQA wines increased 11.4% in volume in 2013 (3.7% in 2012), significantly better than the wine category over all but still falling well behind growth in supply. Figures reported by the British Columbia Wine Institute show production levels of about 1.9 million cases (2013) with sales volumes of 1.1 million cases (2013/14). By my quick calculations, if production levels stay the same and sales rates continue growing at 11.4% it will be 2019 before demand for British Columbia wine balances supply. Time to rethink how and where the wine is sold.

A few things have happened as a result of the oversupply. The first is that growth in acreage has slowed down, now steady with around 10,000 acres planted (the results of the first grape acreage survey in three years should be out this summer). The second is the significant increase in the number of wineries as many of those growers whose contracts were cancelled chose to add value to their crop by starting a winery rather than taking a big hit on grape prices. Grape prices in British Columbia are amongst the highest in the world, but making and selling wine is still much more profitable, even if many underestimate the difficulty of slicing off a chunk of the market. The number of wineries in the province has grown from 131 in 2006 to 232 as of July 2014 making it increasingly hard for the new wineries to establish themselves in what is already a competitive marketplace.

There is really only one answer to correct the oversupply – sell more wine outside of British Columbia. Because of the preferential pricing system British Columbia wineries have in their own Province, there has been little incentive to look further afield. Neighbouring Alberta has to be the number one target but even here few wineries currently have a presence. The reason is money. Basically, the high profit glory days where everyone can sell everything they make through high profit channels are over for many wineries.

King Vineyard, Naramata BenchPricing strategies that the rest of the wine world uses will become more commonplace in British Columbia and top quality wines rather than creative brands will be the only way to justify higher prices. Instead of starting with a target price and working backwards, wineries will need to develop a FOB (free on board) pricing model where they set a base price for which the wine can leave the winery and then let the market costs of broker, agent, shipping, taxes and markups be added beyond that. It would not be surprising if many wineries do not know what their FOB price would be because of the way pricing is calculated in British Columbia. If a winery knows what figure they are willing to sell a case of wine for, they should not care which market it goes to. Guaranteed, the price of selling outside the Province will be a lot lower than the high profit channels of selling direct to consumers or restaurants in British Columbia, but it will open up new markets, increase demand and sell the excess supply.

There is always the option of lowering prices but this too will have a significant effect on the industry as the challenging climate of British Columbia makes it a very expensive and sometimes risky place to grow grapes. Also, when supply and demand do come back into balance, the prices would have to increase again, something never popular with consumers.

The government in British Columbia is helping out by opening up some small new distribution channels, such as farmers markets, and overhauling liquor laws but with the higher average price of British Columbia wine ($17.75 a bottle in 2013/14 versus approximately $12.79 for import wine) it will not be enough to soak up all the extra production. Whether lowering prices or pushing the export market, for winemakers the car in the driveway may be a little less fancy, the holidays shorter and closer to home and the brand new state of the art winemaking equipment may have to wait a few more years, but the business will be viable beyond relying on preferential local market treatment.

From Culmina Vineyard, on the Golden MileThere are other benefits that go along with wider distribution too. Those in the British Columbia wine industry often voice their disbelief that their wines aren’t better known in the wider world, but with such narrow distribution it is not a surprise. If the wines start appearing across Canada, in neighbouring States in the USA and further afield, then the reputation will start to grow. Canadian wine can stand $ for $ on quality and as long as the pricing is calculated to compete with the global competition in these markets, success will follow. But that means giving up trying to make the same profits as selling a bottle out of the front door of the winery.

The British Columbia Wine Institute has seen this developing for years and has been working on an export strategy to encourage wider distribution. While many wineries are quite able to sell their entire production in the local market, this is impossible for the current level of wine production. More and more it is becoming necessary for wineries to get on board and develop their own strategy to export across Canada and beyond. It is time for those with wine sitting in cellars or warehouses to take a serious look at how much they need to charge for a box of wine (the FOB) and start looking at selling it far and wide. The bonus will be drawing some attention to all the great things happening in the British Columbia wine industry.

Rhys Pender MW

 

British Columbia photo credits: Treve Ring


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Behind the scenes at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada 2014

A Quality Affair

Last month WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the National Wine Awards of Canada. For five full days the ballrooms of the Penticton Lakeside Resort were transformed into a world class stage to judge the country’s best wines.

While we are busy tabulating the results – which will be announced later this month – we thought you might enjoy this insider’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of one of the best wine competitions in the world.

It’s as good as it gets!


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Cool, then Hot, then Wet, and Finally Dry: Skill, Hard Work and Courage Rewarded in Vintage 2013

The  BC Wine Report
By DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

DJ Kearney

The 2013 vintage has ended the reign of cool in our winelands. After a few years of distinctly challenging, dour growing seasons, the kind of warm dry weather our winegrowers always expect returned. The rebound to normalcy started hesitantly last year, and my WineAlign colleague Treve Ring wryly captioned her 2012 vintage report “When average is amazing”, referring to the fact that blessedly average 2012 was happily much better than the previous two. All things being relative (especially in wine vintages) 2013 has been described as ‘rewarding’, ‘promising’, ‘solid’, and ‘one of the best in the last 15 years’.

Please see reviews of some of my picks below as well as a link to the BC Crop Report.

However one wants to state it (given that the first rule of wine marketing is that the vintage you are selling is the BEST vintage), there have been a series of trying growing seasons, save for the joyously average 2012. But then came 2013 with a bigger crop (27,000 short tons) and climatic statistics that place it in near 2006 and 2009. Merlot again topped the tonnage list with 6,233.2 tons and Pinot Gris edged back in front of Chardonnay with 3,224.4 tons.

Switchback Vineyard in Summerland at thanksgiving

Switchback Vineyard in Summerland

In the Okanagan Valley (where 95+% of BC wine is made) the season started with a good-looking April. The road to bud break was smooth until the beginning of May which dawned cold but turned warm later in the month and drier than the norm, receiving only 26 millimetres (rather than 36 mm which is the 30 year average). June was rainier than the norm throughout the Okanagan (40 mm versus 36 mm average) and first signs of bloom were as early as June 10th but most flowering occurring in early July. Growth took off then with rocket boosters, creating a flurry of shoot positioning, tucking, plucking, suckering and general uninterrupted canopy management for the next many weeks. All this was done in considerable heat too, allowing for an even budbreak, flowering and fertilization. Watching acid, sugars and phenolic ripeness levels became a bit nerve wracking as the grapes galloped along in the heat, about ten days ahead of the norm. Mike Bartier of Okanagan Crush Pad spoke of the constant need to control vigour in these growing conditions. Withholding irrigation, using cover crops and a distinctive adaptation of cane pruning were three tools used at OCP this vintage to lower yields and promote optimal ripening.

Mother Nature can always be casually two-faced, and in mid-September she dealt a gift of growth-slowing cooler weather but a slap of heavy rain throughout the interior. Vintners were faced with tough picking decisions. Bob Johnson of Baillie-Grohman said “our gewürztraminer simply did not have the flavour development we were looking for, so we let it hang until after the rains”. October was a truly odd month and the heat shut off in a hurry, making it cooler than any vintage in the past 15 years, and allowing acids to hang in there for balance. Speaking of acid, winemakers who work with older vine riesling have observed that greater age (20 plus years) allows acids to hold in a special way, even through intense mid-summer heat.

In the southern Okanagan, reds are expected to shine and Darryl Brooker of CedarCreek observed that their merlot, cabernet franc and syrah were ripened nicely by the summer heat and well-refreshed by the early autumn cooling trend. They should carry a little more fruit than the 2012’s, with balanced acids and ripe enough tannins. Pinot and gamay look promising too, especially for those who picked before the rain.

The Similkameen experienced fairly similar conditions but Orofino’s John Weber noted that the harvest began well before the mid-September rains and fruit was in great shape.

Vineyard from roof

Little Farm Vineyard in the Similkameen

Jay Drysdale of Bella Wines, a sparkling specialist estate, observed it will prove to be a “good vintage for sparkling as acidity and sugar took its time to balance, even with the heat, but the shorter ripening season didn’t develop as much flavour as 2012”. Traditional method bubble from 2013 will be great canvas for autolytic character.

There was a bountiful icewine harvest this vintage, doubling that of last year. 2012 delivered a small harvest of high quality wines, but in 2013, the arctic express came early and producers were happy with both quantity and quality.

Other challenges in 2013? Hail, high winds, wasps and episodic sour rot. JoieFarm’s Robert Thielicke estimated that there were 40,000 wasps in a few of the vineyards he visited, and severe selection of fruit was essential on the sorting tables. He says they lost 4 tons for the rosé program directly to rot and insect devastation, and in one contract vineyard, they called in 30 pickers to salvage 36 tons of pinot (at only 21 Brix in early September). Happily some great fruit was available and JoieFarm have in fact upped their 2013 rosé production.

The cool-hot-cool cycle has caused the odd combination of suppressed aromatics, flabby, dilute yet over-ripe whites, where crop lowering and picking times were not managed severely.

Vancouver Island had their challenges too. After the soggy and wet 2012 vintage, 2013 was looking stellar: April budbreak, June flowering and July veraison all on time and successful then, as Averill Creek’s Andy Johnson said, “it all changed on the night of September 14th when 35 mm of rain hammered the vineyards”. The rain persisted through the end of September; bunch rot spread (Averill Creek lost 6 tons of pinot noir to bunch shatter) and they ended up picking 42 tons of pinot noir instead of the usual 65-75 tons at Brix readings of 20-23 degrees. A cool and dry October saved the day and in the end, the pinot noir and gris quality was “some of the best we’ve seen” said Andy, “but disease pressure had to be managed”. Animal pressure too, as hibernation-bound bears were attracted to the fruit in numbers only seen in 2010.

BDO Crop ReportAll in all an improvement on 2012 even though vintners did not get the fruit volumes they wanted, there will be some lovely juicy, elegant and balanced Island whites and reds. Chris Turyk of Unsworth Vineyards noted: “The weather turned in the second half of September so better growers and better sites picked early and people who kept the fruit on the vine suffered. Yields are down overall because 10-15% of fruit had to be dropped. Quality is probably on par with 2012”. The Islands are always a challenge, Chris continues, “Those who waited for every extra degree suffered because the rain didn’t stop, so all their fruit became waterlogged or rotted on the vine. That’s every harvest for us in a nut shell. How long can we wait to get the brix up and attempt to lignify seeds (rare in vinifera here), without losing the crop to the eventual rain? How to work with lean and acidic musts with green seeds, botrytis and mildew is oenology 101 here.”

All in all, a vintage that reflects British Columbia’s wine regions that cling to the vinous fringe. Our northern latitude curtails the growing season, ensures extremes of weather, massive diurnal shifts, and never, ever a dull moment. This is how you respond and cope, says Mike Bartier, “set yourself up for an over-vigorous vintage, then you can adapt”.

So what has 2013 given us? A bountiful vintage with fragrant richer whites, streamlined flavourful reds, tangy sparkling wines and a bumper crop of icewine.

BC 2013 Crop Report

DJ’s first look at 2013 in BC: 

Baillie Grohman Gewurztraminer 2013CedarCreek Riesling Platinum Block 3 2013Joie Farm Unoaked Chardonnay 2013Orofino Vineyards Gamay Celentano Vineyard 2013Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2013 Stag's Hollow Syrah Grenache Rosé 2013

Baillie Grohman Gewurztraminer 2013, BC VQA British Columbia

CedarCreek Riesling Platinum “Block 3″ 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

JoieFarm Unoaked Chardonnay 2013, VQA Okanagan Valley

Orofino Vineyards Gamay Celentano Vineyard 2013, Similkameen Valley

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley

Stag’s Hollow Syrah Grenache Rosé 2013, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

 

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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WineAlign Launches in British Columbia

TORONTO/VANCOUVER – February 27, 2013 – Vancouver International Wine Festival – WineAlign, Canada’s largest and most popular online wine site, today announced its launch in British Columbia. WineAlign is making its debut in B.C. with more than 4,500 wines from the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) being amalgamated into the WineAlign database.

WineAlign answers the question shoppers ask themselves every time they go to the wine store: “What is the best wine in my price range that I can buy in this store right now?” WineAlign will provide B.C.-based wine consumers with ratings and multiple critic reviews on wines available at their local BC Liquor Stores. It will also provide inventory levels at their nearest BCLDB store. 

WineAlign was founded four years ago by Toronto web entrepreneur and wine lover Bryan McCaw, with the aim of providing immediate, objective and comprehensive advice to shoppers at Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) stores. In 2012 WineAlign attracted over 967,000 different people, making it one of the busiest wine sites in Canada.

Anthony GismondiWineAlign is pleased to announce that Vancouver’s Anthony Gismondi is now a partner and will be the lead critic in British Columbia. Well known and respected in B.C. as wine columnist for the Vancouver Sun and co-host of the Best of Food and Wine with Kasey Wilson on AM650, Anthony is also a national and international voice in the wine world, and brings a wealth of experience and his ‘consumer-first’ perspective to WineAlign.

“I have a great deal of respect for the WineAlign team already in place and am excited to be joining them as a principal critic and partner in a purely wine-focused role,” says Gismondi. “I also look forward to assisting with taking WineAlign to a new level nationally as plans are put in place to roll it out across the country.”

Other B.C. based critics will be announced shortly, joining a national team that includes partners David Lawrason (Toronto Life, Ottawa Magazine), Master Sommelier John Szabo, Margaret Swaine of the National Post, Wine for Life educator Steve Thurlow, Rod Phillips of the Ottawa Citizen, wine writer Janet Dorozynski of Ottawa, and sommelier Sara d’Amato of Toronto. The team is set to become even larger as WineAlign prepares to launch in Quebec in the months ahead.

Each critic provides their own reviews, giving consumers a spectrum of opinions with which they can “align”.  The pro’s reviews are complemented by thousands of consumer reviews. The highly engaged community can offer their opinions and use WineAlign as their personal shopping list and wine cellar inventory system.

Following its debut in B.C., WineAlign will be exploring partnerships with private wine retailers in an effort to provide an even wider service to B.C.-based consumers.

Visit WineAlign at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival to meet the team and see a demonstration.

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Anthony Gismondi Joins WineAlign!

Press Release: Another highly respected wine critic added to the WineAlign team

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

TORONTO – January 18, 2013WineAlign, Canada’s largest community based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine, today announced that Anthony Gismondi is joining its highly respected team of professional wine critics. Gismondi is one of Canada’s most respected wine critics and one of Canada’s best-known critics on the international stage. He has been writing about wine for almost 30 years and has been the wine critic for the Vancouver Sun since 1989. Gismondi was the former editor in chief of a national wine magazine and founded several wine awards.

“I have a great deal of respect for the WineAlign team already in place and am excited to be joining them as a principal critic and partner in a purely wine-focused role,” says Gismondi. “I also look forward to assisting with taking WineAlign to a new level nationally as plans to roll it out across the country are put in place. Canada has a diverse collection of wine drinkers, none more enthusiastic than those on the West Coast, and I look forward to sharing the team’s thoughts and opinions on wines with the rest of the country as we move forward.”

WineAlign’s VP of Wine, David Lawrason added: “I have tasted, judged and travelled with Anthony for over 20 years, and have grown to admire not only his knowledge and experience, but his straightforward approach to wine and whether the wine in turn is honest and good value for the consumer.”

“We are delighted that Anthony is joining us,” says Bryan McCaw, President of WineAlign. “Anthony is joining some of the most respected wine critics in the country in helping consumers find the best wines at their local wine store. He’ll bring a new perspective to our readers and will be a key part of our B.C. and national expansion.”

WineAlign is a free community-based service for reviewing, sharing and discovering wine. It was launched in December 2008 in collaboration with several top wine critics to create a resource for consumers to find the best wines at the LCBO. WineAlign, which is growing rapidly with close to 1M unique annual visitors, answers the question: What wine do I buy? It combines reviews from top-critics and community members to create an objective resource to help users find great wine. For wine lovers outside of Ontario, Canada, WineAlign provides the most comprehensive wine resource, including reviews of the latest wines and vintages from some of the country’s top sommeliers and wine critics.

About WineAlign

WineAlign is the ultimate service for making informed buying decisions at the LCBO. Use it before you shop from your home or office computer, or while standing in the store aisle with your mobile device. It aligns current store inventory, professional critical ratings and reviews, your budget, your food choices, your taste preferences and those of your friends. It is also a practical site, providing valuable tools to manage your own cellar and inventory and build your own personal rating system. It is also a social site that enables you to share information and discuss wine recommendations with friends and associates. You can also follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook/WineAlign or on Twitter @WineAlign.

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Highlights and Values; Lawrason’s Take on Vintages Jan 19 Release

Highlights & Values from Spain, B.C. and Around the World, plus Postcards from New Zealand

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The January 19 release is a large and rambling affair with over 100 wines, and the vast majority are priced under $25 to reflect the post-holiday impecuniary blues. I must say that there were more disappointing wines than normal, with several scoring below 85 points. But there were also many worth your attention, which is why we spend hours in the VINTAGES lab tasting them all.

Spain’s Priorat and Montsant

Baronia CIMS Del Montsant 2010Planets De Prior Pons 2008The many faces of Spanish wine are featured in this release, in a selection that manages to cover most of the country, albeit with only one or two selections each. WineAlign colleague John Szabo has penned a comprehensive look at the various wines and the fortunes of Spanish wine in Ontario, so I won’t repeat, except to highlight very good buys from two of my favourite DOCs – Priorat and Montsant. These appellations neighbour each other in the harsh, arid mountains of southern Catalonia not far from the Mediterranean.

Whereas many Spanish reds are softer, there is a nerve and minerality to the wines of this region that is invigorating, which will appeal to those who like pinot noir and some of Tuscany’s reds. Priorat in particular emerged in the 90s as a super-premium niche region, followed soon after by less expensive Montsant that sits in less steep terrain nearby. Both use the same blend of Mediterranean grapes like carignan and grenache along with syrah, cabernet and merlot. Planets De Prior Pons 2008 from Priorat at only $22.95 is a fine example of the value that can now be attained in post-recession pricing of Priorat. And the 2010 Baronia CIMS Del Montsant is simply a steal at only $15.95.

B.C.’s Range

Unlike four other provinces, Ontario has still not “approved” the direct purchase and importation of B.C. wines via the internet for your personal use here in Ontario, despite the federal government legalizing the practice last June through Bill C-311. Many Ontarians are doing it anyway, as the government’s position is unenforceable. If you are squeamish about doing it however, or you just want to buy a bottle or three, instead of ordering by Gray Monk GewürztraminerMission Hill Quatrain 2008the case, then VINTAGES offers a small but quite good selection on this release. It’s a microcosm of what the Okanagan Valley is doing in terms of styles – aromatics in the north, chardonnay and pinot noir in the centre, and big reds in the south, including the iconic plush reds of Burrowing Owl, the winery that first drew attention to just how big and rich B.C. southern reds could be. I draw your attention to two wines that define the polar extremes of Okanagan winemaking.

Gray Monk 2011 Gewürztraminer ($19.95) is a super bright, fresh and fruity example of a lovely patio/picnic style of gewürz – indeed Gray Monk (sitting right on the 50th degree of latitude) is a veteran, reliable producer of good value, pristine aromatic whites. Consider this one for spring/summer drinking.  From the opposite end of the valley, almost within view of the 49th parallel and the US border, comes a big red from almost desert vineyards that leads the way in a growing field of multi-grape blends based on merlot and cabernet. Mission Hill 2008 Quatrain ($41.95) deftly adds about 30% syrah to the mix, and ferments them in small French oak to create a wine of considerable depth, complexity and elegance.

Three White Highlights

Château De Montmollin Chasselas 2011Roche De Bellene Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne ChardonnayMcnab Ridge Shadow Brook Farms RoussanneThe roussanne grape, which is indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France, is in global expansion mode, especially in New World as winemakers in warm climates grow to appreciate its natural acidity and tropical yet understated fruit. McNab Ridge 2009 Shadow Brook Farms Roussanne ($18.95) from Mendocino California is a fine example. The Parducci family is a pioneer in this neck of the woods, and this off-shoot winery by Chris Parducci is focused on less well known grape varieties.

Roche De Bellene 2010 Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne Chardonnay from Burgundy’s Nicolas Potel is not all that unusual, but it is made in a bright, pure style that defines the grape and region very well for $19.95.  A dandy, affordable and quite classy chardonnay.

And Château De Montmollin 2011 Chasselas from Auvernier-Neuchâtel in Switzerland is also very well made. Chasselas can be soft, flabby and boring, but this fine effort brightens the quiet fruit and presents flavours that remind me just a bit of sake. It’s all very subtle, very nicely balanced and easy to drink.  Very much worth exploring at $18.95.

Four Red Values

For several years now I have watched Chile struggle with pinot noir. There is a juicy exuberance in Chilean reds that somehow does not wear well in pinot, which should be very layered, restrained and elegant. Terra Noble 2010 Reserva Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley is still exuberant, with raspberry and evergreen scents, but somehow manages better balance and more length than most, and at a very good price of $14.95. A fine little chillable summer patio pinot.

Terra Noble Reserva Pinot NoirHeartland Shiraz 2009From Australia, Heartland 2009 Shiraz has shockingly intense, perfumed and pure aromas of cassis, a signature I have come to expect in reds from the Langhorne Creek region of South Australia that borders the Murray River delta. Langhorne is home base for Heartland, a collaboration among several partners but Ben Glaetzer is the magician behind this wine. And Ben Glaetzer is the nephew of John Glaetzer, who put Wolf Blass on the map with some remarkable Langhorne reds back in the day. In any event, this is a real mouthful for $19.95, richly fruited and wonderfully vibrant.

Château Ksara Réserve Du Couvent 2009The Grinder PinotageSouth African pinotage, a hybrid grape bred on the Cape, has over the decades, become something of a plaything for winemakers. There is a shrill and unusual native character in pinotage that many seem to want to avoid, and the latest trick is to infuse highly roasted coffee bean flavours, as in Café Culture. The Grinder 2011 Pinotage is in that camp, but less coffeed than I expected given the blatant coffee references in the packaging. I think one reason that the pinotage fruit manages to stay so vital in this example is its origin in Swartland, a warmer area of old vines. Anyway, at $13.95 you can afford to try this out for yourself.

And for something really off the beaten track, don’t miss a great little winter red from Lebanon. Château Ksara 2009 Réserve Du Couvent is a blend of syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon aged six months in oak. Ksara a historic 19th Century producer in the high altitude Bekaa Valley has modernized its production, but this wine maintains a very smooth, warm and leathery ambiance that is pleasantly older school. The main point is that offers a lot of character for $14.95.

Postcards from New Zealand & A Tasting of Villa Maria

I am writing this report from a small, comfortable motor lodge in the farming town of Cromwell in the heart of Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. I am in the country for a three week tour of eight regions, that also includes three conferences, centred by Pinot Noir NZ 2013 in Wellington January 28 – 31. I am visiting three to four wineries per day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. But you can follow some observations on Twitter @DavidLawrason, and I am also sending updates via WineAlign’s Facebook page. You can check out the first in the series on Waiheke Island’s Man O’ War winery at Postcards from New Zealand

Auckland Winery

Villa Maria Winemaker – Alastair Maling
Auckland Winery

On my second day in the country I sat down to a terrific tasting with Villa Maria winemaker Alastair Maling, a Master of Wine and chair of Pinot 2013 conference. It was held at Villa Maria’s impressive new winery/restaurant/vineyard improbably located and almost hidden within a dormant volcano crater in an industrial area near Auckland airport. The quality across the range of wines rather took me by surprise. I was well aware of the Private Bin general listings in Ontario – Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2011 and Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2012. But as the tasting moved along I was struck by the consistent purity and accuracy and inviting drinkability of all the wines, regardless of variety and price point. Suddenly all the medals won by Villa Maria over the years made sense, and it proved that you can do things well on a large scale if quality control is truly the focus of the exercise.

In the very near future all my reviews from this tasting will be posted on WineAlign. It was assembled to reflect wine now available, or soon to be available in Canada, so if you want to search for a particular wine, or scan the entire range simply search by Villa Maria.

So that’s it for this time. I will be writing my next report from New Zealand as well. Meanwhile check out all my January 19 reviews below.

David Lawrason,
VP of Wine

From the January 19, 2013 Vintages release:

David’s Featured Wines
All Reviews


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Trending @ B.C. Wines

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

With Nova Scotia now the third province to open its borders to direct shipping of Canadian wine, can Ontario be far behind? Perhaps not, as private members bill C-117 to allow just that has passed first reading at Queens Park. While we wait, Ontarians have been ordering in B.C.wine  anyway, and many B.C. wineries are now willing to ship. So here at WineAlign we are making efforts to review more and more B.C. wines.

Last month I enjoyed a 16-day vacation/work/family visit to B.C.. It was centred on the Canadian Wine Awards in Penticton, but I also had time to unwind beside Lake Windermere near Invermere, visit wineries in Creston, drive up and down the Okanagan, plus take a quick peek at wineries on the Saanich Peninsula after a family reunion on Vancouver Island.  Here are some observations about the dynamic and expanding universe of B.C. wines.

The Canadian Wine Awards Go Big

The 11th annual Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards judging was held August 12-15 in Penticton – the heart of Okanagan wine country.  I joined 14 other judges from seven provinces to spend four days sifting through over 1,250 wines – a record number of entries. The official results will be released by wineaccess.ca/cwa over the weeks ahead, with the distinguished Winery of the Year and Top White, Red and Sweet Wine Awards, to be announced during the annual Ottawa Wine and Food Show during November 7-11.

We dispensed a bushel of medals. With an average bottle price of $30 the wineries were clearly not submitting low end wines that didn’t have a snowball’s chance. Blind tasting by its very nature amplifies faults, and our experienced core of judges is quick to pounce when they hit upon flaws, or general weaknesses like blandness and dilution. So we found much to get excited about, especially in terms of oaked chardonnay, riesling, (improved) cabernet franc, pinot noir and syrah – most definitely syrah.

The final flight of syrah had the judges doing cartwheels. I presumed that most of the syrahs were from B.C. (although with the ripe 2010 vintage in Niagara, Ontario syrah could easily be among the medalists). And with wines this good I was left to muse whether B.C. had got off on the wrong foot by focusing so much vineyard acreage on merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Time, and consumer preference, will tell.

The Top Red Wine of the 2011 Awards last year was a B.C. Syrah from Church and State, and ironically this was the last wine I tasted in B.C. before boarding a plane in Victoria for the homeward journey.

Church & State, Saanich (Vancouver Island)

Church and State was founded on the Saanich Peninsula – very near Butchart Gardens and Victoria’s Airport. But it now has a winery in the South Okanagan as well, where they make their terrific Coyote’s Bowl Vineyard Syrah and Hollenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir. The winery and tasting room on the Island is surprisingly grand, spacious and complete with a restaurant. It is tucked against a stand of forest with several acres of vines out front. The Saanich Peninsula, just north of Victoria is rural-urban eco-Eden of forests, gardens, orchards, vineyards, small farms, large houses, coves and marinas. It is temperate enough here to grow figs, indeed it is dry enough in the centre of the Peninsula to have attracted several small wineries like Starling Lane, De Vine, Dragon Fly Hill Vineyard and Symphony Vineyard.  And Muse Vineyard (formerly Chalet Vineyards) sits at the very tip of the Peninsula on Chalet Road.

Back at Church and State, their perfumed, seamless 2009 Pinot Noir Island Estate, is very fine indeed, admittedly from a warmer vintage. The cool, wet 2010 and 2011 vintages did not produce pinot – indeed it was so miserable that last year they renamed June – June-uary. But clearly the best efforts of ex-Burrowing Owl winemaker Jeff Danner are from the Okanagan Vineyards, where he has made terrific almost tropical 2010 Chardonnay, a soft, pure white Rhone blend called Trebella, excellent 2011 Viognier and a battery of cab-based reds. I expect another good Canadian Wine Awards showing for Church and State.

Tantalus Vineyards, East Kelowna

Tantalus Riesling has become the iconic B.C. riesling – the darling of Vancouver sommeliers eager to match a steely, riveting, mineral-driven (Beamsville Bench style) riesling with their seafood bounty. I had not been to Tantalus since the 48 acre property high on a hill overlooking East Kelowna was purchased from Pinot Reach in 2004.  So I had to see why the riesling was so good, and I discovered several reasons including old vines of the Mosel 21B clone that is widely grown in Ontario. Tantalus is all naturally farmed and all its wines are estate grown.  Vancouver-born, New Zealand-raised and schooled winemaker David Paterson joined in 2009 (after stints in Australia, Oregon and Burgundy), and he has brought with him a flair for chardonnay and pinot noir. The Tantalus 2010 Chardonnay is among the best in B.C. in my view, and the 2010 Pinot Noir is also very fine.

Sperling Vineyards, East Kelowna

Nearby, at an ever so slightly higher altitude with a grand view south down Lake Okanagan, lie the Sperling vineyards – first planted to table grapes in the 30s, then to marechal foch in the 60s, to riesling in 1978, to gewürztraminer in 1987, and more recently to pinot gris. It is snapshot history of the development of the B.C. wine industry. The land has been in the Casorso family hands since the mid 19th Century, the story unfolding in a museum beside the general store, tasting room and retail shop on Pioneer Road.  This is where Ontario winemaker Ann Sperling (Southbrook) grew up, and she has launched a 2,500 case winery based on the unique setting. Part of what makes it unique is very diverse soils within the site, including a limestone seam beneath the oldest vines. The Sperling 2011 Old Vines Riesling is among the most concentrated and riveting in the country.  I also was very taken with a new 100% pinot blanc Sparkling Brut 2008 aged three years on the lees that is being released this fall, as well as a classy 2011 Pinot Gris, and the new, low-alcohol, cleverly named Sper-itz made from bacchus and perle of casaba. There is some seriously good viticulture and winemaking going on here.

CedarCreek, East Kelowna

The East Kelowna riesling tour de force continued over at CedarCreek, where lunch on the deck is now a tradition when I am in the area – even better with winemaker Darryl Brooker and owner Gord Fitzpatrick. Darryl migrated west from Niagara (Flat Rock, Hillebrand) a few years ago to take the reins of a winery that had already won the Canadian Wine Awards three times. The brilliant, steely yet delicate 2011 Riesling grown on estate, hillside vines overlooking the lake showed he is fitting right in. Lunch continued with a rounded 2011 Pinot Gris with vibrant acidity and no aromatic trace of being 30% barrel aged for four months. On came the rich, very pure 2011 Platinum Viognier from estate vineyards in Osoyoos; then a sneak peak of the estate grown, terrific 2010 Platinum Chardonnay and 2010 Platinum Pinot Noir that should wow one and all when released early in 2013.  Mr. Brooker is achieving great purity and balance in his wines, which he attributes to his viticultural efforts.  And I am expecting a strong showing for CedarCreek at the 2012 Awards.

Okanagan Crush Pad, Summerland

This was my first visit to the very trending little winery with a big idea. Tucked away on a spectacular, tough-as-nails ridge above Okanagan Lake in Summerland, OCP  is essentially a winery for hire, a place for aspiring grape growers to send their grapes and have a wine bottled under their name by a professional winemaker – like Harper’s Trail, the first winery in the far north near Kamloops. Or a place for celebrity sommeliers (Kurtis Kolt) and restaurateurs (Rob Feenie) to have a vanity bottling under their own name. “The Pad” is the brainchild of long-time B.C. wine marketer Chris Coletta, with a range of partners that include Italian consultant Alberto Antonini and winemaker Michael Bartier (ex-Road 13). The first label and wine out of the compact, ultra-modern winery was Haywire Pinot Gris – complete with concrete egg fermetnors – but the range has exploded in three years, with eight different labels, and 27 wines – most made by Michael Bartier in a very controlled, varietally precise and lean style.  Last year winemaker Tom diBello (ex CedarCreek) moved in to create his own brand of very supple, rich wines like the DiBello 2010 Syrah. If you only have time for one stop as you whisk down Highway 97 from Kelowna to Penticton, this is the place to explore wines from up and down the Okanagan

Painted Rock, Okanagan Falls

At the end of each day at the CWAs, the judges were hosted by various regional winery associations – the Naramata Bench bunch, the Similkameen Wineries Association, and two new groups – the Bottleneck Drive Wineries Association (Summerland area) and the Okanagan Falls Winery Association. The latter includes wineries from the benchlands region south of Penticton overlooking Skaha and Vaseaux Lakes.  Famed wineries like Blue Mountain, See Ya Later Ranch, Blasted Church, Wild Goose and Stag’s Hollow were joined recently by Painted Rock, which last year was the top B.C. winery at the Canadian Wine Awards. At the hospitality event owner John Skinner presented his Painted Rock 2009 Syrah. What a great wine, with all kinds of tension, complexity and depth! His cabernet and Icon Red are excellent as well, and by the way, you can taste them for yourself at a Painted Rock tasting in Toronto at Canoe, Sept 25th from 4 to 7 pm. You must however contact Jill at sales@paintedrock.ca to pre-register.

Le Vieux Pin, Oliver/Osoyoos

The day I visited Le Vieux Pin near Oliver the thermometer peaked at 40-degrees C, which didn’t help to dispel the tendency to think of the south Okanagan – Canada’s only official desert climate – as one big sandy beach. The logical conclusion in the glass is that the region uniformly produces big, ripe, shallow and soulless reds. A barrel tasting of three 2010 syrahs at Le Vieux Pin with winemaker Severine Pinte proved very much otherwise. Being from the Languedoc region of southern France and having also worked I Australia she knows her way around syrah. In great detail she explained the terroirs of the south Okanagan. The first sample displayed the soft, smooth style of predominantly sandy soil in the centre of the valley.  The second showed the grittier, leaner style from a vineyard on the west side that loses evening sun behind the mountains; while the third showed the power and depth of a syrah from the rocky bench lands on the east side. Her job will be to blend these elements – into which some of their individuality will disappear – but hopefully the result will be a refined yet powerful wine that perfectly catch the French/Rhone interpretation of this grape with classic dark fruit, smoked meat and pepper.

Baillie-Grohman & Skimmerhorn, Creston

I took a vacation from my vacation in eastern B.C. to drive down to Creston, a new, very promising wine region. The Creston Valley spills south from the toe of Kootenay Lake (which like Lake Okanagan never freezes) and across the U.S. border into Idaho. The bench-lands on the east of the valley floor, right to the sheer wall of the Skimmerhorn mountains, are chock full of cherry, plum and apple orchards. And more recently with vinifera grapes. A winery called Skimmerhorn opened in 2006, producing a range of aromatic whites like riesling, gewürztraminer and Ortega.  And a very good value pinot noir at only $16.50!

Next door, Baillie-Grohman opened in 2009, with essentially the same range of varietals. Both wineries employ New Zealand winemakers who come to the northern hemisphere in their off season. (Baillie-Grohman’s Dan Barker of Moana Park in Hawkes Bay once worked at Niagara’s Hidden Bench, and is training hands-on co-owner Petra Flaa). Despite being from young vines the Baillie-Grohman wines in particular, are firm, bright and intense – again with 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve being a strong suit. The pinots of Creston have cool climate pomegranate-cranberry-wild blueberry fruit profile that is very Burgundian (Cote de Nuits in fact.)  But I also liked gewürztramineras well as pinot gris. New plantings by other growers are underway, making Creston a can’t miss quality wine appellation in the years ahead.

And so ends the tour, for this year. There is so much going on in the B.C. wine scene that an annual trip is virtually mandatory for anyone trying to follow the bouncing ball.

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Getting our Hands on B.C.’s New, Big Reds – by David Lawrason

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

I recently spent four days in Kelowna, B.C. during the Canadian Culinary Championships, then another subsequent two days at home in Toronto, tasting B.C. reds.  There are many intriguing and excellent new labels on the market. (See picks below linked to WineAlign reviews). The vast majority however are not available on the shelves of the LCBO’s Vintages stores; and the prices of some that are available for order via local agents are bloated by 50% to 100% over retail in B.C., thanks to LCBO mark-ups.

The Crack in the Wall

Before you say ‘so what’s the point’ and click away, hear my tale.  Their availability may improve dramatically before this year is out, and you may be able to access them at something closer to B.C. prices.  Our archaic interprovincial wine shipping system is seeing its first official crack.

In the Air Canada departure lounge at Kelowna Airport I spent a few minutes talking to Ron Canaan, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country. He, along with MP Dan Albas of Okanagan-Coquihalla, have been championing a private members bill (C-311) that would make it legal for individuals to carry or import wines across provincial borders (which has been technically illegal since Prohibition almost 90 years ago). A website called freemygrapes.ca has the full story.

The bill passed Second Reading in the House of Commons in the last session, and Mr. Canaan is “confident” it will pass third reading and become law this year. He is hoping in early summer.

Bill C-311 is an amendment to current legislation that would allow  “… the importation of wine from a province by an individual, if the individual brings or causes it to be brought into another province, in quantities as permitted by the laws of the latter province, for his or her personal consumption, and not for re-sale or other commercial use”

Loose interpretation – consumers will be able to bring back, ship back, or order on line, as many cases as local liquor authorities says is allowable.  In Ontario, the limit of this “personal exemption” is still in the hands of the LCBO, and we all wait with bated breath to hear how much wine Father McGuinty and his flock think should be allowed to import before we might considered ‘traffickers’.  But hey, even a single case minimum would be a help.

The other all-consuming question that remains outstanding is how this will affect the pricing of B.C. wines coming through existing LCBO channels, i.e. Vintages, the Consignment program and private order?  I wouldn’t mind prices that fairly reflect the cost of shipping and local agents’ commissions, but let them be sold here at prices that are competitive and reasonable.  Once this happens agents and restaurateurs will offer a wider range of B.C. wines through official channels too.

Great New B.C. Reds

So what is the fascination with B.C. reds here in Ontario?  Perhaps it has to do with the notion that we don’t see that many, and that we want, as Canadians, to be part of a “big red” scene that Ontario doesn’t really deliver.

Born in hot, arid growing seasons that boost fruit ripeness and alcohol, yet tempered by nighttime, desert-like coolness that maintains acidity, B.C. reds have the potential to be dense, ripe and well structured at the same time.  Finding the balance is a struggle however, and many B.C. reds are hot and clumsy. But the proportion of more elegant reds is increasing every vintage. The 2009s tasted recently have upped the game.

B.C. is moving toward 200 wineries, most of them relatively new sub-10,000 case properties that are championing estate-grown, or at least regionally-grown fruit in so-far-unofficial Okanagan sub-appellations like Naramata, Osoyoos, East Kelowna; as well as the burgeoning Similkameen Valley. Although their production is small the retail market within B.C. is very competitive, and many would welcome shipping directly outside their province.

The Similkameen Wineries Association hosted the Grand Finale Event of the Canadian Culinary Championships (see a full report on this event at GoldMedalPlates) so I was able to taste from its eight member wineries in some depth.  Similkameen is 30 minutes west of Osoyoos in a warmer, dry, organic-minded lake-less valley. Its 600 acres of vineyard are largely situated on bench lands composed of very diverse soils. I was very impressed by the structure and age-worthiness of many of the reds from this region.  So let’s begin our new winery role call here.

Orofino Vineyards is the leading Similkameen producer with their tiny, already sold out production of Orofino Syrah 2009 being named Best of Show at the CCC Event.  But John Weber is doing great work throughout his range, whether in a Bordeaux blend called Beleza 2008, or with riesling. His maturing 2007 is terrific and his 2009 Riesling won the Gold Medal Plates competition in Saskatchewan, Weber’s home province. Fortunately there is some access in Ontario already through Terroir Wines and Spirits. Other very promising Similkameen wineries include Seven Stones, Cerelia, Clos du Soleil, Eau Vivre, Robin Ridge and a top notch fruit winery called Rustic Roots.

Painted Rock is the new star of B.C., the top finisher from B.C. in the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards (won this year by Tawse of Niagara).  John Skinner, with the help of a top Bordeaux viticulturalist has done a masterful job with his new vineyard on a bluff above Skaha Lake.  His just released 2009s, from an excellent vintage in B.C., are stunningly good.  The Painted Rock Red Icon 2009, is one of the best Canadian reds I have ever tasted, and his Merlot 2009 and Syrah 2009 aren’t far behind. They are represented in Ontario by Lifford Agencies .

La Stella

Le Vieux Pin and twin-owned La Stella from Osoyoos have really turned on their A-game as well in the last two or three vintages.  Originally conceived by owner Sean Salem as a France-inspired winery Le Vieux Pin is following a natural path into Bordeaux and Rhone-inspired wines (they bade pinot ‘adieu’). The Le Vieux Pin Equinoixe Syrah 2009 is absolutely exquisite, not a term I would use easily for B.C’s often rough and tumble reds.  The not-yet-released Retouche Cabernet Syrah 2009 is a great beacon for a blend that B.C. needs to be taking very seriously.  Meanwhile, La Stella Fortissimo 2009 is a spirited tribute to Tuscany, with sangiovese blended with merlot and cabernet to take this wine into an engaging old world direction. Le Vieux Pin and La Stella are represented in Ontario by bwwines.com

Meyer Family Vineyards, based on 19 acres spread farther north in Okanagan Falls, Naramata and Kelowna has turned its sites on small lots of Burgundy-focused pinot noir and chardonnay. Canadian winemaker Chris Carson spent eight years in New Zealand, Burgundy and with Calera in California, before returning to this project.  The results are very impressive indeed. Meyer Family Pinot Noir Reimer Vineyard 2010 is a knock out, a modern B.C. classic. Meyer Family is also represented in Ontario by Terroir Wines and Spirits.

Haywire is perhaps the hippest new label in the Okanagan – a virtual label made at a new rental facility called the Okanagan Crush Pad.  The deep talent pool includes local hero Michael Bartier (ex-Road 13), former B.C. liquor board fine wine buyer David Scholefield, and Italian consultant Alberto Antonini. Haywire Pinot Noir 2010 is a fine effort that captures the essential vibrancy and sour red fruit of B.C. pinot. Famous Vancouver chef Rob Feenie selected it to match to his silver medal winning dish at the Canadian Culinary Championships.  Both labels are represented in Ontario by Trialto Wine Group .

Moon Curser is a funky new label from Osoyoos, very near the U.S. border. It has adopted a rather goofy ‘smuggling-under-the-cover-of-darkness’ motif in its marketing, but the wines are very good. I was impressed by a blend called Border Vines 2009 that incorporates six Bordeaux varieties.  It is available in Ontario via Terroir Wines and Spirits, but is sold out at the winery. Unfortunately Ontario won’t see any  Tempranillo 2009, a very promising, sold out, experiment with Spain’s signature grape.

Ex Nihilo – which means ‘out of nothing’- was founded by art and music aficionados Jeff and Decoa Harder, on the Lake County Scenic Sip Trail north of Kelowna (near Gray Monk). Their most public claim to fame was creating an icewine for the Rolling Stones, and riesling twice honoured at the Riesling de Monde in Europe. I was impressed by the reds sourced from a new estate-owned vineyard south near Okanagan Falls, and I draw your attention to Ex Nihilo Merlot 2008 in particular.

The list of interesting new wineries goes on and on. Terroir Wines and Spirits focuses exclusively on B.C. and you will find new WineAlign reviews from their portfolio when you search by Stoneboat, Desert Sage, Four Aces, Mt Boucherie and Lulu Island.  In Kelowna I also tasted the exciting portfolio of Spierhead by famous Okanagan photographer Brian Sprout, which will be posted to WineAlign soon.

Next week I return to B.C. for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, where I may uncover even more.  Meanwhile check out the  following fine B.C. reds now at Vintages, the very good  Mission-Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009, the spicy Township 7 Syrah 2007, the well-structured Nkmip Qwam Qwmt Meritage 2008 and the iconic Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007 (yes the 2008 is now arriving and I will taste it shortly).

David Lawrason
VP of Wine
WineAlign


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Lawrason’s Take on Vintages August 6th release – Spotlight on B.C., Building Bridges to Nova Scotia, Grand Carmeneres, California Chardonnay, Vibrant Vinho Verde, An Innovative Tuscan

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

The August 6th release has a “mini-feature” of six B.C. wines. Which is better than nothing, and a good quality selection.  But the general lack of B.C. wine in Ontario remains a big political issue because, a) the LCBO doesn’t have enough room for it along with wines from the rest of the world, and b) B.C. wineries can’t ship direct to Ontario consumers, and vice versa, due to a law craftily crafted to protect provincial interests (er, taxes) and certain business interests back in 1928.  Nor can citizens privately carry wine from province to province.  So at the end of July I happily broke this stupid, arcane law by purchasing wine, including B.C. wine, in Alberta and driving it over the Rockies into B.C. to enjoy on the deck during a one week vacation in the Columbia Valley.  By the way, while on vacation I also dropped in at a wine and tapas bar called Casa Vino owned by the mayor of Radium Hot Springs – a nifty establishment targeted to locals and weekend Calgarians who own most of the lakeside properties around Radium, Invermere and Windermere.  The wine list was very strong on B.C. wine with some international selections as well. I had Quails’ Gate Chasselas with melted gorgonzola on toast, then Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec from Argentina with cheddar stuffed, pancetta wrapped dates.  This is what Canadian wine needs; good wine on good wine lists within a world context.
Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2008

But I digress, somewhat.  British Columbia has earned a reputation for its big reds and this release offers a current state-of-the-art example with LAUGHING STOCK 2008 BLIND TRUST RED ($40.00) made at a winery operated by Vancouver stock broker David Emms and his wife Cynthia.  (Laughing Stock, Blind Trust and their top red is called Portfolio –  hope the penny has dropped).  In the glass, Blind Trust pretty much defines big B.C. red nowadays. It has deep colour, good density and hot alcohol, with ripe jammy, sometimes almost fig like fruit. Yet despite all this B.C. reds still have an edge of cool climate acidity thanks to their residency at the 49th degree of latitude. Nowhere else in the world are they making such big reds at the frontier of viticulture!
Ann Sperling

An interesting B.C. white  also slips into a few Vintages stores this month as part of the In-Store Discovery program.  Sperling Vineyards 2009 Gewurztraminer ($28.95) is the first release in Ontario from a new Kelowna winery managed by winemaker Ann Sperling and her family. The Sperlings have Canada’s oldest family estate vineyard, first planted on the benches of east Kelowna in 1925.  Ann, however, has practised most of her career in Ontario, first at Malivoire and now at Southbrook.  So in this regard she is perhaps the only true national winemaker in the country.  Add the fact that her husband Peter Gamble consults to the new Benjamin Bridge project in Nova Scotia (see next item) and that together they have a winery in Mendoza. But back to the Sperling wines (an excellent riesling is also available via private order via Trialto (www.trialto.com/en-ca/portfolio)). Both show off Ann’s texturally delicate touch very nicely while pumping out impressive varietal purity and flavour depth.  The Gewurztraminer is in a sweeter style so plan menus accordingly.

Ann is also a leading proponent of biodynamic viticulture in Canada, and is a feature speaker at The Organic Biodynamic Viticulture Workshop coming up August 23 at Niagara College. She will be joined by Monty Waldin, the world’s foremost wine writer on things green and author of the 2011 Biodynamic Wine Guide. The full agenda and registration for this event are at www.obvworkshop.com.

Building Bridges to Nova Scotia
Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 2010Later this month I am joining the 11th Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards in Nova Scotia, the first judging held in Atlantic Canada.  I am very pleased about this!  Those who have been to Halifax know that it is an utterly charming, natural and friendly city. The farther east you travel in Canada the closer you come to an older, more European feel.  I am also pleased because this gesture by the CWAs acknowledges the growing importance of Nova Scotia wines. Not that proportionately we will taste a large number, but it recognizes that there are carefully made, terroir-driven, cool climate wines in Nova Scotia, that winter hardy hybrids do deserve respect, and that there future is about to bust wide open with sparkling wine leading the way.  There are two very fine producers of sparkling wine at the moment – L’Acadie Vineyard and Benjamin Bridge.  The latter has been founded in the Gaspereau Valley (a spur of the Annapolis Valley near Wolfville) by a Halifax businessman who hired Niagara’s Peter Gamble (also Ravine, and ex-Stratus) to carry out the sparkling vision. Gamble in turn hired a Champagne-based winemaker Jean-Benoit DesLauriers accustomed to dealing with vines at the cold edges. In its Ontario debut BENJAMIN BRIDGE 2010 NOVA 7 ($25.00) is the forerunner of more serious classic method sparklers to come. It is in a lighter, sweeter hybrid-based, moscato-style with only 7% alcohol, but it has electric acid tension and utterly distinctive currant fruit.

Grand Chilean Carmeneres
Chile grabs the main spotlight on the August 6th release, with a range of white and red varietals, most from smaller and/or new wineries.  Interestingly, Vintages magazine showcases the fact that the wines were chosen by its own buyers and consultants (as opposed to being selected based on the scores of American critics?).  In any event it is a good selection, and I am happy to note that nowhere is the selection more interesting than with the several carmeneres.  There are good examples ranging from $12.95 to $49.95, indeed it is terrific opportunity to follow this grape’s performance through various price levels. One appreciates why this late ripening, powerful varietal is currrently offering some of the best value New World reds on the planet. Although the very impressive Montes 2007 Purple Angelmakes a return visit, I have chosen to feature CONCHA Y TORO 2007 TERRUNYO BLOCK 27 CARMENÈRE, from the Peumo sub-appellation of the Cachapoal Valley.  Spend some time with this wine – decant, swirl and savour – and you will quickly appreciate the balance and complexity woven within, despite its weight and richness – all for $29.95!

Concha Y Toro Terrunyo Block 27 Carmenère 2007

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Arcadia Chardonnay 2007
California’s Big Chardonnays
In the wake of Ontario’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration it was rather ironic to be tasting several, big warm and fuzzy California chardonnays on this release, plus one from Washington and B.C’s very good Burrowing Owl. The selection served to point out that chardonnay does not need to be all nervy acidity and minerality to be very good.  When the almost tropical fruit ripeness is nicely fitted with oak richness they can be very impressive. But for me there comes a tipping point with California chardonnay when out-of-control alcohol creates too much afterburn on the finish. I also noted that they were maturing rather quickly, as in the otherwise splendid Kistler 2008. My personal favourite among the selection is STAG’S LEAP WINE CELLARS 2007 ARCADIA CHARDONNAY from Napa Valley.  At $54.95 it is not cheap, but this single vineyard, hillside grown wine is holding onto its vibrancy very nicely at five years of age. It does lean a bit to the cool climate spectrum but I was most impressed by its length.

Vibrant Vinho Verde

Rich chardonnay is actually not what we are likely to reach for during the dog days of summer, so may I also recommend a lovely, spry and refreshing Portuguese alvarinho.  When tasting AVELEDA 2010 FOLLIES ALVARINHO I was immediately transported to a lakeside Muskoka chair beneath a stately white pine, perhaps with a chilled shrimp cocktail ring on the side.  There is a wonderful sense of place – the maritime, forested hills of northern Portugal – in this wine, with its crisp acidity and fresh green evergreen/mint. And it’s great value at only $15.95.

Aveleda Follies Alvarinho 2010

Another Innovative Tuscan
Petra Zingari 2008Very often when I approach a new Tuscan wine that has blended French grapes with native sangiovese, I get a feeling or expectation something like “there goes the neighbourhood”.  I especially worry when the wine is only $16.95.  But that longing for authenticity tends to overlook the innovative spirit and passion one often finds in Italy. So I was very pleasantly surprised by PETRA 2008 ZINGARI, an IGT that blends sangiovese with merlot, syrah and petit verdot. It is solid, complex and well balanced, easily reaching the 90 points ascribed by Robert Parker’s Italian palate Antonio Galloni.  The Petra winery is an architectural showpiece located in southwest Tuscany’s Survereto region, an area full of innovative wineries taking advantage of warmer temps and some maritime influence to make slightly richer wines than in the hills of Chianti.  Speaking of those hills, there are other very good, more classic Tuscan red on this release as well. Have a look at Salcheto 2005 Vino NobileCasalvento 2007 Chianti Classico and Rocca Delle Macie 2006 Chianti Classico.

And that’s it for now. I trust you are enjoying your favourite summer wines and finding some time to chill.  See all my reviews from August 6th here.

Cheers and enjoy, David

- David Lawrason, VP of Wine at WineAlign


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Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008