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A Rendezvous with BC Riesling

BC Report – August 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

I’m recently back from a trip to Seattle where I was attending Riesling Rendezvous, a big love-in for riesling geeks from around the world. These riesling homages take place on a rotating schedule between Washington, Germany and Australia. My wife and I were there pouring our Little Farm Riesling but I was also there with my media hat on, filling my boots with what is happening in the world of riesling. A number of Canadian producers were pouring their wines alongside established heavyweights from Germany, Australia, France, Austria, New Zealand and all corners of the USA. In short, Canadian rieslings showed particularly well, raising many eyebrows when the wines were unveiled in the blind tastings and clearly showing that Canadian riesling is a serious, important wine that can stand up proudly on the global stage.

Riesling, as most of us know, has had its challenges in life. It has spent much of its existence being misunderstood. Its current status is a far cry from its early heady days in the late 19th and early 20th century when German riesling was considered one of the greatest wines in the world and its reputation and prices held equal to or above such illustrious wines as Burgundy and Bordeaux. I’ve always wondered how a grape with such history – that can be so crisp, refreshing, citrusy and lively – cannot gain widespread appeal amongst the masses, especially considering varieties like sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and even moscato somehow managed to become immense global brands. Surely riesling has all the elements to have similar appeal? But no, it has never happened and the much-written-about pending riesling revival or revolution has never materialized. I finally figured out at Riesling Rendezvous why this is. It is because riesling is just too complicated. Too complicated to be simple enough for casual wine drinkers to make sense of it. It is too complex in its flavours and too diverse in its styles. It simply can’t be reduced to a single simple message. Its strengths as a grape also turn out to be its weaknesses.

In fact, the only time riesling was close to being a massive global success was during the 70s and 80s when it firmly established the unfortunate and misleading image that it is always cheap, sweet, fruity and, for the most part, German. These stereotypes have held strong to this day despite the fact that this style seems to be on the decline. Ernie Loosen summed up riesling’s fight very well when he said, “it feels like we are hitting our head against a brick wall. The wall was built by us. But we are making progress.” Riesling producers are stubborn and will not give up easily. Many of us still think of German riesling as sweeter, light and delicate in style although this style is less and less popular in Germany. As John Haeger reports in his book Riesling Rediscovered, more and more German riesling is made in a dry style, and sweeter styles are mostly made for a North American market that is hanging on to the preconceived image. Germans themselves now drink mostly dry styles of riesling, similar to what North Americans would associate with wines coming from Alsace or Australia. Loosen talked of rebuilding the noble reputation of the grape and dealing with new markets and generations who might not hold negative preconceived ideas. Riesling may never be a great mass success but it certainly can build its quality reputation, and getting it in people’s mouths and letting them see what riesling really is all about is the answer.

Riesling Rendevous

But this is the BC Report and I am deviating off topic. Time to come back to BC and BC riesling. Things are looking pretty good in BC. There are now a number of producers making serious efforts to produce top quality riesling, and the results are impressive. At Riesling Rendezvous, Tantalus, Synchromesh, Kitsch, Martin’s Lane, Cedar Creek, Mission Hill and Little Farm were joined by Cave Springs and Hidden Bench from Ontario. Not surprisingly given the limited export reach of Canadian riesling, nobody in the international crowd picked out any of the BC wines (Tantalus, Synchromesh and Martin’s Lane) in the blind tastings (20 wines blind two days in a row) but all wines were heavily praised and there was pleasant surprise when the wines were revealed. One speaker commented that the quality of Canadian riesling might be the key takeaway message from the event. That’s quite the honour amongst hundreds of great rieslings from around the world.

Plantings of riesling in BC have actually grown strongly over recent years. There were 511 acres of riesling planted in 2014 (the last survey) making up 10% of the white variety plantings and 5% of overall acreage. It has grown 116% from 236 acres in 2004, but is still only the fourth most planted white behind pinot gris, chardonnay and gewurztraminer. The good news is that less and less of these grapes are being turned into wines made to the global riesling-stereotype style and instead are more focused on intense, serious, high quality wine. These could be in the bone dry, high acid style or the equally successful styles that balance racy acidity with residual sugar, but always with a powerful intensity of flavour. Serious wines.

Gray Monk Riesling 20138th Generation Riesling 2015La Frenz Riesling Freedom 75 2015Lake Breeze Winemaker's Series Riesling 2012Mt. Boucherie Riesling Estate 2013Oak Bay Gebert Family Reserve Riesling 2013Synchromesh Riesling Thorny Vines Vineyard 2015

It feels to me that the last few years have seen a really strong focus towards quality in BC. Not that good wines weren’t made, but most of the riesling seemed to be aimed at being a low price, broad crowd pleaser. More and more wines are a little pricier but a lot more intense and quality focused. This was evident in the recent judging of the National Wine Awards of Canada. To be honest, Ontario riesling has pretty much always been superior to BC in these competitions and while there were still many great Ontario wines, this year things were different and many of the best rieslings I personally tasted in my flights were from BC. Less simple, fruity wines and more serious, intense and concentrated examples. Seven of the top ten riesling overall were from BC this year including the Gray Monk 2013 Riesling which won a Platinum medal. An impressive showing.

This all bodes well for the future of the grape in BC. With the wine world taking notice and new generations coming along with open minds there is room for BC winemakers to explore just how good this complex grape can be.

Rhys Pender MW


WineAlign in BC

In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.


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BC Report – June 2016

BC Report – June 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

As I write this month’s BC Report, a number of interesting things are happening in British Columbia. We are in the midst of, yet again, the hottest season on record with temperatures in early June already having reached 38°C or more on a few occasions in BC wine country. Wineries are also mulling over an important industry plebiscite with a deadline of June 30th titled “Recommended Changes to the British Columbia Wines of Marked Quality Regulation as Proposed by the BC Wine Appellation Task Group”. I wrote about the Task Group in November 2015. If you are a winery and are reading this and haven’t voted, make sure to do it before the deadline!

Wine industry plebiscite: what you need to know #bcwinevote

Another issue that continues to provide interest, intrigue and controversy is the changing of liquor laws and how wine is sold in BC, particularly with the transfer of many VQA store licenses to grocery stores and buying groups forming amongst the private retailers. This is a topic for later when a few of these issues have clarified and settled a little.

This month’s column though is about an exciting time for BC wine in the world. I am calling this the end of the big wine era.

The End of the Big Wine Era

Every now and then trends in the wine world align themselves perfectly for a region or a country. Wine is fluid, not just in the way it flows from glass to palate, but also in the way that it changes and evolves. Consumer tastes change, styles of wine evolve and, heck, even climate seems to be changing. The wine world has to evolve along with these changes but not every region can produce every style of wine. A hot climate will never produce fresh delicate wines just as surely as a cool climate will never fulfill lovers of big, jammy reds. Occasionally we see the happy coincidence when the style of wine that a region naturally produces matches the trends of what consumers are looking for. And I think British Columbian wine is at the beginning of that happy period.

If you aren’t sure that wine evolves as much as I’m claiming, think about the trends of the last 40-50 years. In the 1960s and 1970s, fortified wines were the rage. Sherry, Port, Madeira and copies of these from the New World were as much as three-quarters of all wine sales at the time. Witness the poor fate of Sherry that saw an initial unquenchable demand result in acreage soaring to 56,000 acres (22,600 hectares) in the late 1970s before a sudden plummet and the region having to evolve and retreat back to around 16,000 acres (6,500 hectares) today.

As people moved away from fortified wines to table wines we have seen many trends, most of which would benefit the rise of the New World wines that offered something richer, softer and fruitier than what most of Europe produced. After Sherry it was wines like the soft and fruity Liebfraumilch of Germany and Mateus Rosé of Portugal before trends such as ripe, rich Aussie shiraz, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Argentinian malbec and, currently, sweet red Californian blends and bland pinot grigio. Who could have ever predicted the order and diversity of these trends?

The kind of massive global success of these examples won’t ever happen for BC wine, simply because there will never be enough wine to do it. But there is another opportunity in a growing part of the global market. People are trading up for better and more interesting wine and willing to pay more for it. There is more and more demand for interesting indigenous grape varieties and sommeliers in top restaurants in places like London, New York, San Francisco, Melbourne and Tokyo are also looking to pepper their lists with good quality, small production oddities. Quality Canadian wine produced on a small scale fits perfectly with this growing trend.

Where BC wine is really hitting its stride though is in the style of wine it naturally produces. In short, BC wine falls somewhere in style between the savoury, earthy old world and the ripe, plush new world. This is a very good place to be. Consumers want fruity wines but they want freshness with it. Too ripe and too big is, finally, too much and the search for elegance over size is finally creeping back into winemaking. The days of a constant search for ways to make wines bigger to be better are over.

The climate in British Columbia is perfect to provide this style that sits nicely amidst the better known wines of the world. Long sunlight hours and warm summers give lots of fruit yet cool nights preserve natural acidity. Grapes like syrah can hold on to their peppery characteristics and juiciness while still offering richness. Chardonnay can be both fruit driven yet elegant and fresh at the same time. There are many other examples. When international experts get a taste of BC wine they are often surprised and impressed with this balance.

The risk is that the industry doesn’t embrace this chance. Some producers are still trying to push a wine either towards the old world style or the riper new world style and not letting the wines be what they naturally want to be. BC winemakers need to stop trying to force the square peg into the round hole.

The other risk is to go down the path of manufacturing wines that speak to the masses but say nothing about the place in which they are grown. Following the trends of sweetening up red wine and practically everything else, I believe, will be a short-lived fad that will result in a few easy bottle sales through the tasting room door now, but a long hangover and a hit to the quality reputation that will be difficult to rebound from for a long time.

The facts with BC wine are simple: we can’t make “cheap” wine. Yields of 10-20 tons per acre are not possible and never will be in our climate, nor are the low labour cost and cheap material inputs needed to make wine to compete in the $10 to $15 price range. Where we can compete though is on value. If you have $20 or $30 burning a hole in your pocket, go to the wine store and in any given category I would argue that the BC wines will be equally as good or better than many of the international wines at the same price. Try comparing a $25 or $30 BC chardonnay or pinot noir to what you can get from Burgundy or California for the same price. Or a Bordeaux blend that you could put down in the cellar and be confident that it will still be delicious in 10 years time. In BC that will cost you $35-45 and probably double that for something from France or California. There will be some obvious exceptions, but very, very often BC wine will provide great value at its main price points in that $18-50 range.

BC wine has to look at this time as an opportunity. Sales are growing, supply isn’t. Consumers are trading up in quality and BC wine can offer delicious wines in a style that falls naturally between those of the old world and the new. Any future BC wine will have to be built on quality so it is time to figure out what that direction is and go for it. The end of the big wine era has come and BC is well positioned to make the most of it.

Rhys Pender MW


WineAlign in BC

In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.


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BC Report – May 2016

BC Report – May 2016

Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

Starting this month, May 2016, I will be writing a monthly column on WineAlign, the BC Report. Up until now we have been sharing the BC Wine Report amongst the BC critics but starting fresh this spring, like so much in the vineyard, I will be writing this one on my own. Living on an organic vineyard, in the heart of the Similkameen Valley, and farming and producing wine simply and sustainably undeniably roots me to the local wine industry.

I thought I would take this first installment to introduce the concept and goals for what I would like to achieve. I see the BC Report as a chance to get into the nitty gritty of issues affecting the BC wine world. It will be a chance to discuss everything from controversial and divisive topics to sharing industry successes, plus everything in between.

There is plenty to discuss: our place in the wine world, wine quality, finding the best combination of grape and place and the creation of sub-regions, shipping wine freely across the country, how and where we sell our wine and so much more. Right now we are once again in the midst of a very warm and very early spring with budbreak having already taken place on some varieties.

I want the BC Report to be something where everyone can have their say so please both send me ideas ( for topics and give your opinions in the comments section to encourage debate.


Rhys Pender MW


WineAlign in BC

In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.


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Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – April 30, 2016

Buyers’ Guides for the Pacific Northwest & Rosé, The State of Pinot Noir (and other varieties), and Prince Edward County
By John Szabo MS

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

This week’s report is overflowing with recommendations and reviews, a reflection of a busy past couple of weeks of tastings and trade seminars. The VINTAGES April 30th release features a lopsided Pacific Northwest selection with some excellent Oregon pinot noir. California is also heavily featured in this report, following on the heels of the hugely successful annual wine fair, that is, if the number of attendees is correlated to success.

Over 1,000 industry insiders not only showed up, but even lined up, to squeeze their way into to the Canadian Room at the Fairmont Royal York to revel and taste in its carnival-like atmosphere. The Wine Bible (revised edition 2015) author Karen MacNeil, also keynote speaker at the luncheon, launched the day with an excellent overview and memorable tasting of pinot noir representing over 800 kilometers of coastal Californian vineyards from the Anderson Valley to Santa Ynez. Click for this week’s feature article on the State of California pinot and reviews of some of the state’s top bottlings. Although the specific wines reviewed are as widely available as white unicorns, all of the producers on the list and their other cuvees are worth tracking down.

For more immediate gratification, see my full list of 18 recommended California wines – the state does more than just pinot noir, you know. These were whittled down from over 60 samples of currently available or incoming wines sent to the Media Room, where I hid for most of the day to avoid the California trade crush.

Small but mighty Austria likewise held a trade fair last week, with a trade seminar focused on the country’s vastly improved red wines, now serious contenders. The addition of local varieties such as Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent to the worldwide roster of worthwhile reds is like discovering a new exotic spice to add to your culinary repertoire. Also on display were the first releases of fresh whites from the superlative 2015 vintage, destined to become a classic. I’ll be highlighting some of the best in a mini Austrian Wine Buyer’s Guide to be posted at a later date.


County in the City – The calm before the evening storm

The annual County in the City tasting brought the best of Prince Edward County to Toronto on the same day, featuring mostly a mix of the very promising 2015s, and the few drops of the 2014s that survived the yield-crippling (but paradoxically quality-improving) May frost. I was pleased to see that the established names continue to deliver exceptional wines, spurred on in part by increasing competition; a clutch of relative newcomers is knocking at the door. And while chardonnay and pinot noir are still the flagships, pinot gris is clearly another grape to watch in the County. See my mini PEC Buyers’ Guide for some of the best.


And read on for highlights of the VINTAGES April 30th release, which features a lopsided Pacific Northwest selection, with some excellent Oregon pinot noir, and a largely disappointing, commercial range from Washington State. British Columbia was inexplicably officially left out of the thematic (“Though no agreed boundary exists, a common conception [of the PNW] includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia”, according to Wikipedia), though there are two BC wines worth your attention, which I’ve added to my recommendations.

Mount Hood from the Dundee Hills-8781

Mount Hood from the Dundee Hills, Oregon

A range of rosés representing all major wine producing continents is timed perfectly for the long-awaited arrival of spring in Ontario. It’s a perfect illustration of why southern France remains the world hotspot for pink, that is, if you’re after premium dry, delicate but flavourful, purpose-made rosés. I’ve listed three excellent examples.

And since that’s more than enough for one report, I’ll throw the rest of my miscellaneous top picks, including a couple from the “Aussie Whites” mini-feature, into next week’s general Buyers’ Guide along with the rest of the WineAlign crü.

Buyers’ Guide to Pacific Northwest: Oregon

Willakenzie Estate Gisèle Pinot Noir 2013 Soléna Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir 2012Pinot Noir has been planted in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since 1966, and has been the focus of the rapidly expanding industry ever since. Being at the edge of viable ripening is where pinot likes to be, and the grape’s propensity to magnify even small variations in micro climate and soil chemistry and structure make it perfectly suited to the Willamette’s cool climate and varied soils. Two fine value variations on the marine sedimentary soils known as “Willakenzie” found in the Yamhill-Carlton sub-AVA are on offer April 30th, both unusually refined for the often firmly tannic, black fruit flavoured wines most typical of these soils.

The Soléna 2012 Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir ($35.95) is a particularly classy wine. Very fragrant, pretty, concentrated, delivering verve, depth and fine-grained structure. Soléna is run by Laurent and Danielle Montalieu, who purchased the 80-acre Domaine Danielle Laurent in May of 2000 as their wedding gift to each other, planting six clones of pinot noir shortly after (also wedding gifts to one-another, offering another dimension to the vow ‘till death do us part’). Best 2016-2022.

Even lighter, more fragrant and delicate is the Willakenzie Estate 2013 Gisèle Pinot Noir ($36.95), also from Yamhill-Carlton, the entry-level blend from various estate parcels designed for early enjoyment. It’s crafted in the pale, oxidative style, filled with tart red fruit and beetroot, earth, and pot pourri flavours, while tannins are very light. You might call it a fragile pinot noir, though not in a negative sense, ready to drink now or hold short term at best. I do appreciate the delicate nature of this wine – not all reds need be dark and burly.

Buyers’ Guide to Pacific Northwest: British Columbia

The Naramata Bench on the east side of Lake Okanagan, north of Penticton, is increasingly recognized as a sweet spot in the valley, improbably capable of delivering everything from fresh whites to serious reds, like the Laughing Stock 2013 Portfolio, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($54.95). Have to say, I love their tag line: “We wake up every day with the constant motivation of not living up to our name”. You surely won’t be laughing while chewing on this intense, ripe, regionally accurate flagship Bordeaux blend (the full portfolio), complete with sage brush and ripe black fruit, measured but noted oak, and a wide range of spicy aromatics. Ambition is evident. Best 2016-2023.

Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan is the source of the Nk’mip 2013 Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay, BC VQA Okanagan Valley ($24.95). Pronounced kw-em kw-empt in the Osoyoos First Nation’s language (meaning ‘achieving excellence’), Qwam Qwmt is the top range from Nk’Mip. In this case a ripe, rich, resinous and wood-inflected chardonnay, with lots of polish and concentration in a classic west coast style – the kind that often sells for much more a few hundred miles further south.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2013 Nk'mip Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2013Hogue Genesis Meritage 2012 Joel Gott Riesling 2012

Buyers’ Guide to Pacific Northwest: Washington State

As mentioned in the intro, the selection of Washington wines generally fails to excite, especially considering some of the terrific wines made now by over 800 wineries in the United State’s second largest wine producing state. For an example of the widely appealing, easy-drinking commercial style, try the Hogue 2012 Genesis Meritage, Columbia Valley ($18.95). It’s a modern and ripe, oak-inflected Bordeaux blend, medium-full bodied. It won’t change your life, but nobody will get hurt, either.

Washington does riesling quite well, arguably the state’s most successful white variety. The Joel Gott 2012 Riesling Columbia Valley ($19.95) is a perfectly serviceable example, crunchy and just off-dry, fresh and fragrant in a typical lime zest-inflected varietal idiom. Ready to enjoy.

Buyers’ Guide to Rosé

Côteaux Varois en Provence

Côteaux Varois en Provence – credit to: CIVP F.Millo

Rosé is a challenging category to understand. Different varieties, wildly varying climates and especially winemaking techniques conspire to broaden the stylistic field. You’ll find everything from deeply coloured, sweetened versions to pale and bone dry, all labeled simply as rosé. How are you to know what you’ll get without tasting? Sadly, you can’t. That is, unless you’re seeking the bone dry, serious, pale versions, which I admittedly do. By legal definition, the rosés of Provence (and its various appellations, mainly Côtes de Provence, Côteaux d’Aix en Provence Côteaux Varois) are pale and dry, and as reliable as they come.

Gabriel Meffre Saint Ferréol Tavel Rosé 2015 Château la Tour de L'évêque Rosé 2015 Saint Aix Rosé 2015There are two fine examples arriving on shelves on April 30th: Saint Aix 2015 Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France ($22.95) is the finest. A serious, fragrant, flavourful, balanced and bone dry, fresh rosé here that’s dangerously drinkable but also offers a more sophisticated flare, and great length, too. Also excellent is the ever-reliable Château la Tour de l’Évêque 2015 Rosé, Côtes de Provence France ($19.95), a regular fixture on LCBO shelves. The 2015 is another classic Provençal example, though a touch riper and softer than the previous vintage, more advanced and ready to go with heaps of red fruit and herbs. Alcohol is a heady 13.5%, so while it’s infinitely drinkable, it’s no light, afternoon sipper to be sure.

A little further north, the southern Rhône appellation of Tavel is unique in being the only AOC in the Rhône Valley dedicated purely to rosé, also invariably dry. Tavel is famous for it’s powerful style, as evinced in the Gabriel Meffre 2015 Saint Ferréol Tavel Rosé, Rhône Valley ($19.95), replete with inviting liquorice-fennel seed and white pepper to spice up succulent red fruit.

That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.


John Szabo MS

From VINTAGES April 30, 2016

Szabo’s Smart Buys
All April 30th Reviews

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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Chardonnay 2012

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Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Aug 8, Part Two

The Wines of EcoTopia
By David Lawrason with wine notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

This weekend VINTAGES releases 24 wines from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon – collectively the Pacific Northwest. It is a generous feature compared to many of late, and it hits all the right buttons in terms of identifying grapes and styles that define the region. The selection is centred on the average $19.95 price point that VINTAGES calls home, with a subsequent good to very good, 85 to 88 point scoring range generally defining the quality. The exceptions are some more expensive and higher quality Oregon pinot noirs. To delve into a wider and higher end selection, you could attend Vintages Goes Northwest event at Toronto’s Corus Quay Building Atrium (Queens Quay & Lower Jarvis) on Monday August 17. I hope to see you there!

The Pacific Northwest prides itself on a certain eco-freshness and sensitivity. An intriguing book called The Nine Nations of North America published in 1981 by American journalist and professor Joel Garreau, parsed the continent by geographic and economic influences – instead of the arbitrary political boundaries imposed by colonial powers in the 19th Century. It called the Pacific Northwest nation – wait for it – EcoTopia. I have never forgotten that name, or concept, because it is just so right. And if you don’t think so, just ask a resident of EcoTopia. They will set you straight.

What does this mean in wine terms? Well I look for freshness at these northerly latitudes and altitudes, and it does underpin the wines, especially when comparing them to the softer wines of California – the great southern seductress. But something else strikes me about PNW wines – a sense of winemaking newness and trying-too-hardness. There seems to be a pre-occupation with winemaking over terroir. Over-oaking is frequent, as well as pushing alcohol levels. And in some wineries – especially on the American side – pushing sweetness. It may just be at the quality and price level of this release, but that is what is being presented to you this time out.

It is of course still relatively early days for the Pacific Northwest, a premium wine region just 30 years, or one generation, down the track. And given its mountainous spine, there are great terroirs to be had – even if still being prospected. Many of the regional appellations on PNW labels, duly noted in VINTAGES catalogue, remain rather broad. The only real exception I noted in the release is the Similkameen red by Sandhill, which catches a riveting mineral nerve and less ripeness.

Here are some of the better and more definitive wines on the PNW feature, plus other reds of note. Last week John Szabo covered off the Loire Valley and other whites.

Pacific Northwest

Cedar Creek 2013 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($18.95)
David Lawrason. CedarCreek remains at standard-bearer for Okanagan wines of great clarity and varietal definition. This is a light, tart and juicy riesling loaded with green apple, lime and some flinty minerality. CedarCreek, along with winemaker Darryl Brooker (formerly of Flat Rock and Trius in Ontario) was recently acquired by Mission Hill.

A To Z Wineworks 2013 Chardonnay, Oregon ($19.95)
John Szabo – A to Z may be Oregon’s largest producer, but the range is highly competent. This is clean, fresh, nicely representative chardonnay from grapes sourced from throughout the state, mostly from the south. Oak is not a feature – this is all about the apple-citrus fruit in a cool climate idiom.
Sara d’Amato – America’s best selling Oregon chardonnay has thankfully graced us with its presence and offers a great deal of complexity, charm and vibrant energy for the price. The oak here, although present, is nicely restrained and bolsters the elegant fruit. Sip on its own or with buttery shellfish.

CedarCreek Riesling 2013 A To Z Wineworks Chardonnay 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2013 L'école No 41 Semillon 2013

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($16.95)
David Lawrason – Chateau Ste. Michelle has long been known as a riesling specialist, and this nods to that experience. It’s not a profound, complex example but the acid-sugar balance is very fine, and I really like the peach, floral and spicy nose that is nicely clean and expressive.

L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington ($24.95)
David Lawrason – The little schoolhouse on the road to Walla Walla has become synonymous with this wine region. They have been making semillon from day one – and I can’t think of another American winery that has. This has a rich, dusty, spicy semillon nose of fresh fig, some blossom florality and candle wax. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and spicy.
Sara d’Amato – This striking semillon offers fresh acids but more body and viscosity than its more famous South African counterparts. Lush and appealing with just a touch of funk to keep it interesting.

Adelsheim 2012 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($41.95)
John Szabo – David Adelsheim may be best know for having brought the “Dijon” chardonnay clones from Burgundy to Oregon in the early 1990s, but his pinot noirs are certainly among the best in the state. Even this non vineyard-designated example delivers the bright, savoury, crunchy red fruit and elegance that makes Willamette pinot so intriguing.
David Lawrason This is a very bright, generous, structured, quite youthful pinot with surprisingly lifted floral, raspberry plum fruit plus a hint of beetroot. It’s medium bodied, quite firm and tart with a mineral edge.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($45.95)
David Lawrason – This is an In Store Discovery in limited release, but well worth seeking out. Drouhin was the first Burgundy producer to invest in any pinot noir region outside of Burgundy. This has a reserved, very pretty nose of red cherry, nicely fitted with seamless oak vanillin, spice and cedar. Very delicate and fine aromatics! It’s medium weight, supple and refined.

Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2012 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2012  Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2013 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir 2011

Burrowing Owl 2013 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia ($40.95) (556613)
Sara d’Amato – These ambitious pinots tend to evolve unpredictably and with varying degrees of success but I am particularly pleased with this example at this point in time. Mid-weight but voluminous with bright acids, supple tannins and lovely woody integration.

Sokol Blosser 2011 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Oregon ($34.95)
John Szabo – Be sure to give this some time in the glass (or decanter, or cellar), this is very reductive (grapefruit-tinged) off the top, from a cool vintage. But the palate delivers fine, succulent balance, inviting savoury acids, and genuine mineral-saline character. All in all, a classic Jory-volcanic soils, Willamette pinot. Best 2015-2019.

Mission Hill 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $26.95
David Lawrason – This VINTAGES Essentials has taken one of two golds in the Cabernet Sauvignon category at the 2015 National Wine Awards. It is a really stylish, well composed red with generous oak melding nicely with currant/blackberry fruit. There are herbal notes, vanillin, tobacco and spices – all nicely integrated.
John Szabo – Perennial performer Mission Hill presents a nicely polished and firm, classically styled cabernet, with all of the necessary elements at the price: dark spicy fruit, integrated wood, balanced-crisp acids and fine length. Comfortably in the premium range. Best 2015-2022.

Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Merlot, Similkameen Valley, British Columbia ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The Similkameen – a parallel valley west of the Okanagan – is emerging has a great zone for energetic, granitic/mineral reds. This single vineyard red has a lifted nose with blackcurrant, herbs and spice. It’s medium weight, terse and coiled with intense slightly green flavours.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012Sandhill 2012 Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet MerlotAirfield Estates Runway Merlot 2012 Lone Birch Syrah 2013

Airfield Estates 2012 Runway Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington ($22.95)
John Szabo – A rare firm and dusty, grippy merlot, with no concessions to the typically soft and oaky style prevalent in eastern Washington. I like the herbal flavours and vibrant acids, as well as the lingering finish. Another year or two will benefit this to be sure. Best 2016-2022.

Lone Birch Syrah 2013, Yakima Valley, Washington ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – This sustainably farmed syrah, well priced and upbeat, is substantial, rich and modern in style. It offers harmony, style and concentration in a widely appealing package.

Other Reds

Espelt Viticultors 2013 Old Vines Garnacha, Emporda, Spain ($14.95)
David Lawrason – What a great summer burger and ribs red! It is a lovely, supple yet fairly rich and powerful garancha that shows off the fragrant strawberry/cherry jam fruit of the variety without soupy or confected excess. Pretty floral peony and white pepper aromas as well.
John Szabo – A hell of a wine for $15 from a little known corner of northern Spain, this should be bought by the case for summer BBQs, and/or winter stews. It’s big, ripe, wild and savage, balanced even at 15% alcohol, with inviting Mediterranean scrub-herbal flavours and firm acids/tannins. Best 2015-2023.

Vicchiomaggio 2010 Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico Docg, Tuscany, Italy ($29.95)
John Szabo – Classy and refined, elegant Classico with terrific balance, succulent acids, and fine-grained tannins. The perfumed finish lingers nicely. Best 2015-2022.
David Lawrason – Indeed a classically style, for the short term cellar, although you could aerate and drink now as well.

Espelt Viticultors Old Vines Garnacha 2013 Vicchiomaggio Agostino Petri Riserva Chianti Classico 2010 Dei Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2011Paolo Conterno Riva Del Bric Barolo 2010

Dei 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – A producer who stands its ground often producing wines of spectacular heights. Despite the obvious concentration and approachability, there is a traditional feel here with impressive structure and compelling notes of  briny black olive, peppery violets and succulent black currant. Excellent value.

Paolo Conterno 2010 Riva Del Bric Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A great vintage, a great price, a great producer. Can’t go wrong here! It is not a powerhouse or a dynamo, but it is well woven, complex, complete and well structured. The nose weaves classic nebbiolo sour cherry, spice, herbs, leather and earth – again all juxtaposed so well. The length is excellent.

Cosme Palacio 2009 Rioja Reserva, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Lovely, succulent and harmonious Rioja, entering a fine stage of maturity, infinitely drinkable. Tannins are still firm, but the saline-juicy acids will keep you coming back for more. Nice stuff. Best 2015-2029.

Cosme Palacio Reserva 2009Château de Lancyre Esprit de Garrigue 2013Château Plaisance 2009Clos des Brusquières Châteauneuf du Pape 2012

Château De Lancyre 2013 Esprit De Garrigue, Languedoc, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – Great value is charming, juicy summer red – a syrah, grenache blend that over-delivers! It is fairly pale but has a lifted very savoury, indeed garrigue nose, with pepper, balsamic, lavender and wild strawberry “fraise du bois” fruit.

Château Plaisance 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Great value in Bordeaux can be hard to come by so this stunner for under $20 made me take note. Matured but still pleasantly youthful. This nicely composed blend is dry and savory with grippy tannins and elegant floral notes. Wonderfully balanced and ageworthy.

Clos Des Brusquières 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône, France ($47.95)
Sara d’Amato – This small producer in Châteauneuf was one of the first in this prestigious appellation to bottle its wines to current standards in the early 1900s. Super traditional, the wine is fermented stem and all in concrete and barrel and is a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. This was an immediate hit with me and is a textbook example of this distinguished wine offering plenty of muscle, earth, leather and garrigue.

Ramos Pinto 2013 Duas Quintas, Douro, Portugal ($17.95)
John Szabo – Another fine vintage for this Douro table classic, the 2013 is forward, dark and deeply fruity with sweet currant and blackberry inflected with floral and old wood spice notes. I appreciate the succulence and density, the fine-grained but firm tannins, the impressive weight and length. Terrific value. Best 2015-2023.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas 2013 Angove Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Angove Vineyard 2013 Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Bad Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon is hard to come by so you’ve got great odds when something like the Angove Vineyard Select graces our shelves. A joyful example of this standout style that offers delightfully sweet brine, a touch of iodine along with an abundance of fruit peppered by notes of violets and roses.

Penfolds 2013 Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia ($23.95)
David Lawrason – This is a new mid-priced multi-regional blend from Penfolds. It sports great cabernet lift with soaring eucalyptus, searing blackcurrant, cordite and black pepper aromas. It is full-bodied, dense, tense and focused with great fruit and mint arching across the palate.

And that’s a wrap for this week. I will return next week with the lead up to the August 22 release that features wines scored 90 points by someone, somewhere. As we are not interested in promoting or debating scores by other reviewers we will pass on that theme and simply work to find you the best values, at any price or score. As we always do.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

From VINTAGES August 8th, 2015
Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Sara’s Sommelier Selections
All Reviews
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Part 1: Wine to Chill

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 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Pacific Northwest Tasting - Aug 17th

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British Columbia Wine Report – January 2015

Sub-Regions in British Columbia
by Rhys Pender

Rhys Pender MW

Rhys Pender MW

There are many questions a wine industry must face as it grows. Some of these issues require long-term thinking, such as which grape varieties and wine styles will consistently produce the best wines in the long run. Other issues are more immediate and the decision can have a vital impact on the direction the industry takes. Something that the British Columbia wine industry needs to think hard about right now is the creation of sub-regions. In order for the industry to build the quality reputation it needs to be sustainable, there needs to be a correlation between place, grape variety and style that consumers can start to understand.

There are a few simple reasons why sub-regions are needed for BC wine to flourish. It is mostly about the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan, known as the hub of BC wine, is too big and too varied to have any real meaning to consumers in terms of a recognizable wine style. With 84% of the acreage and probably a much higher percentage of production, although well recognized as a name, it tells you little about what you will get in a bottle. The distance from one end of the Okanagan to the other would, if slapped on a map of Europe, cover areas that could stretch from the northern Rhône to the Côte d’Or or Chianti to Venice. The second reason is that there are too many grape varieties to get any real sense of specialization. You can’t be everything to everyone. The good news from all this, though, is that there are some areas within the Okanagan that are starting to specialize and build a reputation for a certain grape or wine style. Hence the need to capture these developments in sub-regions and give a meaningful sense of terroir to consumers.

One of the big questions is when, when is the right time to carve up the mighty Okanagan? I would argue that the time is now, but that the industry must not rush in and instead concentrate on building a long-term strategy that will develop in complexity only as the industry needs it too. In other words, any new sub-regions must be meaningful to consumers. There are a couple of risks, one being that the sub-regions be driven by regional marketing bodies rather than the wine in the bottle and the other being the temptation to create too many sub-regions too soon. Some have speculated that the Niagara Peninsula’s 10 new sub-appellations in 2005, although based on impressive science, were too many for consumers to grapple with.


There have been a number of opinions as to how the Okanagan should be divided up, with the most scientific study published in Geoscience Canada in December 2005 by Pat Bowen and the team at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland. They broke the Okanagan into five regions, or six including the Similkameen Valley, which already has its own appellation. The five regions were Kelowna, Penticton, Vaseaux – Oliver, Golden Mile and Black Sage – Osoyoos. This study takes into account of a number of the key issues – the difference in the ability to ripen certain grapes as you head further away from the USA border and also the fact that vineyards on the east side of the valley that get long afternoon sun are often hotter than those on the west.

An even simpler, and very consumer friendly method, would be to initially just break the Okanagan Valley into three sub-regions called North Okanagan, Central Okanagan and South Okanagan. There are some logical geographical points where the lines could be drawn and each of these three sub-regions can be quite comfortably linked with a group of different grape varieties that over-perform in the area. To name a few, the North Okanagan, starting from around Peachland, can do some great, lighter Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Central Okanagan makes for firmer, riper versions of the same varieties while the South Okanagan is home to most of the burly red wines from Syrah and the Bordeaux varieties. Of course there are exceptions but the concept holds true for a large percentage of the wines. Further sub-regions could be created once quality, reputation and style have been achieved within these areas.


There is already one sub-region of the Okanagan that has completed the arduous requirements of section 29 of the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation, waiting only to be signed into law to come into use. The first sub-region of BC is Golden Mile Bench. While it might have been ideal to start with a bigger, broader sub-region, as mentioned above, the Golden Mile Bench proposal, which I consulted on, was important because it has laid the groundwork for future applications and helped the BC Wine Authority (BCWA), who decides these things, figure out a process for creating sub-regions that did not yet exist. Golden Mile Bench was one of the few areas distinct enough to be able to be clearly demonstrated as unique in an application.

The creation of sub-regions wouldn’t eliminate the Okanagan Valley as an important region, nor would it necessarily make it appear less prestigious. There are some great wines that are blended from different parts of the Okanagan Valley and these would not change. What would happen is that producers would be able to start developing a reputation for a specific area for specific styles of wine, something meaningful to consumers. Having the right grapes in the right place naturally makes better wines with less winemaking influence needed to try to force the fruit they have into being something it isn’t. With the high cost of making BC wine and the resulting high prices, it only makes sense for consumers to start to be able to hone in on which sub-region is best for which grape variety or style.


The next step is figuring out who is going to be behind the development of further sub-regions. Somebody has to pay for all the science and research that goes into it. Because it will become part of the law, legal terms for labelling that will have to be followed by all wineries, it should likely be a combination between industry and government. The British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI), which represents a large percentage of BC wine production, has recently created a BC Wine Appellation Task Group to work in partnership with the BC Minister of Agriculture and the BC Wine Authority to look into any recommended changes to the Regulation. Open to all interested 100% BC wine producers it will be exciting to get more opinions on the issue out for discussion.

While the BC industry is still young, there are many top quality wines being produced and it is time to start developing a system to help producers showcase which varieties and styles perform best in which areas. As a result, quality can only improve, the reputation for BC wine will continue to grow and producers and consumers alike will be better off. But, it must be approached carefully because creating meaningful sub-regions is something you only get one shot at.


Rhys Pender MW

Photos courtesy of Treve Ring

Canadian Wineries on WineAlign

It’s easy to explore Canadian Wines & Wineries on WineAlign. From the menu bar simply choose Wine >> Wineries.  You can select by region or winery name, or use our interactive map. We are adding new wineries all the time, so please let us know if we are missing your favourite.

Canadian Wineries


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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

In June 2014, WineAlign converged on Penticton, British Columbia for the WineAlign 2014 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.

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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WineAlign Reviews

Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2008