Tuesday, May 22, 2018
A little over a year ago, I participated in my first vertical tasting, ever. I was at Hester Creek for their first Crush Party and, on the Cellar Tour, we were given the opportunity to try out three different vintages of their flagship blend, The Judge. I loved tasting the differences between the different vintages/ You can read more about it here but the reason I mention it is because I recently got the chance to try another vertical tasting, but on my own terms!
Recently, I was in Kelowna visiting with my daughter and son-in-law (who both work for wineries in the Okanagan). My son-in-law, Dan, is an expert sommelier and has a wonderful wine collection that he and my daughter are very generous to share whenever we visit. On the last night of our recent visit, he suggested that we do a vertical tasting - and it was a very memorable time!
First of all, to do a vertical tasting, it is probably a good idea to have three wines. It's much more fun to go back and forth between the different vintages.
The second thing you need is enough wine glasses so that everyone can have all of the wines in front of them. When we went to Hester Creek last year, we used the same glass so you only had your memory to go by when comparing. With 9 glasses laid out, the three of us were free to go back and forth between the different vintages.
Coravin which is one that is proven to work well for preserving - maybe not forever but certainly for a several months at least. Lots of tests have been done on coravined bottles and wine will last upwards of a year. The Coravin works like this - a thin needle goes through the cork of the bottle and allows wine to go out of the bottle while you pump argon into the bottle (thus avoiding oxygenation). The needle comes out and, when you're done, the cork self-seals, and you put what's left in the cellar.
The wines we tasted were all Quail's Gate 'The Boswell" Syrah. There was a 2013, a 2014, and 2015. The list price on all of them is $54.99 but I am not sure if you are actually able to get all of them anymore. Dan collected them over the last couple of years.
The 2014, at first, seemed very good compared to my initial taste of the 2013. This, however, started to change as time went on. It had lost it's fruitiness (that the 2015 had) but had not yet fully developed the earthy flavours of the 2013. Sometimes, when you lay down a wine, it has a time where it is transitioning and does not quite taste like a fresh, new wine nor does it quite taste like an earthy, complex classic. After going back to the 2014 several times, this wine tasted like it was on the road to developing some complex, earthy flavours but was not quite there yet. Still a very good wine, but one that was sort of stuck in the middle. Luckily, thanks to the Coravin, Dan put the rest of the wine back in the cellar for, hopefully, another six to twelve months.
The 2015 was a very nice wine. Although it had fairly strong tannins, thanks to its youth, the black fruits like black plums and black currants were very strong on the nose as well as the palate along with black cherries and pepper. It also had some really nice complexity - you can tell that this wine will be a fantastic, complex wine, comparable to the 2013. I would definitely put this one in the cellar for two to three years - but it was still complex and interesting enough to drink right away.
It was an amazing experience to try these fantastic Okanagan wines. It is incredible to actually smell and taste how different these wines were, even though they were from the same grape - the same vineyard, in fact - but just differed by year. To top it off, after our tasting there was still a half a bottle left in each one which was resealed thanks to the Coravin, waiting for some other wine aficionados to try them out.
All I need is a Coravin!
Monday, May 14, 2018
We arrived about a half hour early (my wife wanted a good choice of parking so we could easily lug our wine home) and wandered into the wine shop. We were offered a tasting but when we declined, saying that we wanted to save ourselves for the party, the wine shop associate delivered three large glasses of ice water while we waited outside on the sun drenched patio. Nice touch!
A half hour later, we walked into the party, greeted by a couple of people including a friendly guy who I would later find out was the manager. In our tasting wine glass, were 2 coupons for glasses of wine and a sample card for their special release, the Garland, commemorating 50 years.
We walked into the courtyard where the party was taking place and, after getting a pour of their rosé, wandered over to the charcuterie section. There were different cheeses, breads, pepperoni, chilled clams, tomato tapenade, rillette, pickles, olives and host of other wonderful savoury foods, all prepared by Rod Bitters, the mastermind behind Raudz in Kelowna as well as Terrafina at Hester Creek.
We sat down at one of the many tables and enjoyed our food in the shade when my daughter noticed the hot food at the other side of the courtyard. Rod, himself, was one of the people serving up a great selection of food including a wonderful pork sausage, beef meatballs, and coleslaw, all which could be made into a slider. There was also pasta, salad and pizza - nicely prepared and very tasty. It was worth being in the club for the food alone!
There was a fairly strong breeze blowing and when I had returned with my food, I had discovered that my quarter glass of rosé had blown over, splashing my daughter's fancy dress! Luckily, it was a dark dress so was well disguised!
By the way, we are "Loyalty" members - all we had to do was make an initial purchase of a case of wine - and now we are in the club! No fees, no yearly commitment to buy wine (although we manage to purchase some every year), and no unexpected deliveries. Plus, you generate points with each purchase which can be used to buy more wine! It's the best wine club deal I've seen in the Okanagan.
At that point, we decided to go over to the Terra Unica section. Terra Unica wines are only available to wine club members (another good reason to be in their wine club) and we tried two whites that were delicious. The first was a 2016 Riesling - an off dry, flavourful wine with tastes of honey, apricot and pear while the second was a 2017 Semillon - refreshingly dry, it had flavours of apple and peach as well as something more substantial. It would be perfect with a nice fish like grilled halibut or even foie gras.
The first event that we had signed up for was the Cellar Tour. The winemaker, Rob Summers, was great the previous year where his passion for wine was so apparent. This year, Rob again led the tour where we escaped the hot sun into the coolness of the winery cellar.
The first wine we tried was a 2017 Old VinesTrebbiano ($24) - an Italian grape that is usually used for blending. Hester Creek is the only winery in the Okanagan to make Trebbiano and the vines that they grow it from are 50 years old. The wine was very pale and the aroma of pears was subtle. The taste was fruity and light - this would make a wonderful patio sipper. I commented to my daughter that I could drink this one all day long (and got an eye roll in return).
The other wine that I really liked - and I mean really liked - was their 2015 Block 3 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($29). This wine was spectacular - it had everything that I wanted in a Cab Franc. There was a boldness of taste that the last Cab Franc I had was definitely lacking. It was all there - red fruits, plums, strawberry, black currant, and wonderful blueberries and lots of tannins to give this wine some excellent structure.
Rob definitely talked about the wine but what I enjoyed last year, as well as this year, was the stories he told - and he told a bunch. My favourite was when someone asked about how the winery dealt with animals that affected the grapes like birds (they use sound cannons - other than that, there isn't significant loss) and bears.
He first talked about how bears will eat a few grapes from one vine and then, 'squirrel!", will see the nice red grape of the next vine and eat a few there - and so on until they have eaten some of every plant in the row, compromising all of those grapes!
|With Rob Summers, the extremely personable winemaker of Hester Creek|
Before Rob was winemaker, the common practice was to shoot the bears - not a difficult feat because once the bear had finished eating, it would lay down and go to sleep in the vineyard, knowing there were plenty of grapes for the next meal. Rob found this to be rather cruel so he spend $10,000 to build a fence around his winery - and got the other two wineries nearby to do the same - and now the bears are not a big problem- most of the time. The occasional bear does wander down the main road (where there is no fence) and, if they get in, will be trapped in the vineyard with all those beautiful grapes! Then it's time to play Shoo, Bear!
After our excellent visit,we tried the Garland, which is their special commemorative once-in-a-lifetime wine as the winery is actually 50 years old! A blend of Cab, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, the Garland ($60 - named after the owner, I believe) is a wonderful Bordeaux/Meritage style blend. I'm not sure where you can get it other than the winery, but it is certainly worth tracking down. The taste I had was wonderfully complex but this wine probably needs to age for five years. I purchased a bottle for the cellar - let's see how long I can keep my hands of it for.
I had a full glass of the Cab Franc (did I mention that I really liked this wine?) with my second ticket and then we headed off for our second tour, the Vineyard Tour.
This tour was held by the president, Mark Sheridan. The previous tour had shown a passionate winemaker in Rob Summers and this tour showed how Mark was equally passionate about growing grapes. While we sipped on a tasty 2017 Pinot Gris ($18), he explained the workings of the vineyard, and answered many questions from the group.
Being from Australia, where water has always been a scarce resource, he said that he was initially shocked by the early irrigation practices in the Okanagan where vineyards would basically use sprinklers to water the vines - an ineffective way to do this. Now, with global warming a reality, he has implemented much more eco-friendly practices such as drip irrigation which are effective but also conserve water.
|In the vineyard with Mark Sheridan, president of Hester Creek|
After listening to Rob and Mark, I had a whole new appreciation for Hester Creek. What a passionate team! Hunger satiated and feeling good, even if a little baked, we headed for the wine store to stock up on this year's fine release of wines. A marvellous day!
Thursday, April 19, 2018
One thing that I've learned since taking my WSET course is that there is a world of wine. Just because you've had a Shiraz from Australia, doesn't mean that you know what all Shiraz (or Syrah) wines taste like. There's Syrah from the Côtes du Rhone, Syrah from the Okanagan, Syrah from the Columbia Valley, and Syrah from California. You can also find Syrah from Argentina, South Africa, and Spain, just to name a few - and it all tastes different!
There were times when I looked down at Okanagan wines for being too bland and times when I drank only Okanagan wines because they were so spectacular! I've also gone through other periods such as my French phase, where I would only look at the French wine aisle in the liquor store.
I have learned from my errors and now, I try to drink a variety of different wines with different grapes from different parts of the world. I do have a bit of a soft spot for BC wines but I am aware that there are so many other wines out there that I would be remiss if I were to not try as many of them as I can!
Over the past three weeks, three wines have really stuck out - one from France, one from Spain and one from the Okanagan. All were excellent wines that I will definitely have again.
First was a Cru Bourgeois from France. A little history; basically mon ami Napolean asked for a system of classifying wines (in Bordeaux) for the 1855 Frnech Expo and his underlings came up with the current classification system in France. There have been a few updates since then but hardly any. Coming much later, Cru Bourgeois are, ostensibly, a level below cru, premier cru and grand cru. But these vineyards did not have the wines assigned in 1855. Producers actually have to apply every year and, if they get the Cru Bourgeois designation, it is a sign that this is a really good wine! It only applies to Medoc and the wines are much better priced than other Bordeaux wines.
The Cru Bourgeois I had as a 2010 Chateau Bel Orme Tronquoy de Lalande Cru Bourgeois from Haut Medoc ($30). I decanted it for an hour before we drank it and it was marvellous! It did not have the fruitiness that I used to think was necessary for a good wine but, instead, had an intensity and a minerality that I have grown to value in an aged wine. There were good tannins and black fruit but also tastes of tobacco, leather and earth. It is a blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot.
Ah, but once I had it with a rich duck sausage and mushrooms, the taste was extraordinary. The tannins in the wine cut nicely into the richness of the duck and the funky earthiness of the wine complemented the earthiness of the mushrooms. It was truly a food friendly wine - but also tasted great as I sipped it while I cooked.
The next wine was one that I picked up at the Wine Festival in Vancouver. It was a 2013 Herederos del Marques de Riscal Rioja ($30). I didn't decant this initially but. after the first sip or two, I realized that this needed some opening up. I decanted the rest while my wife and I madly swirled our glasses to get some air into the wine. It was another excellent wine with some tobacco and leather taste but there was also some fruitiness - mostly red fruit - that was on the palate.
This wine was great to sip and was also a food friendly wine. We enjoyed beef sausages (is there some pattern here?) that tasted great with the wine. To be honest, 3/4 of the bottle was gone before dinner was ready, and it was fantastic just to sip away on. This wine was a blend of mostly Tempranillo with some Graciano and some Mazuelo (also known as Carignan).
The last wine was brought by good friends who came over for a special birthday dinner. We served a great Daydreamer wine (that was very nice) but that was trumped by the 2014 Painted Rock Syrah ($35). This wine was a special bottle that our friends had kept for around a year, saving for a special occasion.
The Syrah was so smooth - yet also had definite fruit tastes of blueberries and raspberries as well as some black fruit. It was accompanying grilled leg of lamb with potatoes and was a perfect match. And what a finish! Long and rich - this was a wine that wanted you to remember it! I was really impressed with this wine and would give it top marks.
These three wines were all excellent wines from different parts of the world. They were all what I consider a bit of a splurge at around $30 but, for what you get, they were definitely worth it!
Friday, March 30, 2018
On our Spring Break trip, the last destination before re-entering Canada was Walla Walla, Washington.
Rewind to the Wine Festival - we tried some wines from Charles Smith that were so good - and that they didn't have in the on-site liquor store - that we decided to change our itinerary so we could stop in Walla Walla.
Ah, can't resist this brief film clip....
The wine that we loved at the festivals was called Motor City Kitty and is made by a winery in the Charles Smith group called K Vintners. We went to K Vintners and were shocked to find that the winery was closed! Upon careful examination, however, we found a small note telling us that their wine was available in the tasting room in Walla Walla.
The tasting room was lovely. Charles Smith has a real love of old cars and the tasting room is in a building that was originally built as the Johnson Auto Electric Building in 1917. The was also how Motor City Kitty (MCK) wine got its name - because of Charles Smith's love of cars.
|Kayla, our wonderful wine taster!|
We got all of this great information from Kayla, our wine tasting room associate. She did a wonderful job of telling us the story behind each wine, not just the number of points or the flavours we were supposed to taste.
The first wine was the wonderful Motor City Kitty ($35 US). It is a big, giant Syrah that makes you stand up and take notice! I absolutely love this wine - and purchased two bottles of our precious four bottle duty free wine allowance.
The tasting moved along wonderfully - we had some very enjoyable wines but the other one that stuck was the Stoneridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon made by Wines of Substance - a winery that is also part of Charles Smith, like K Vintners. This one is their high end Cab and it is big and bold. There is a cheaper version available in BC Liquor Stores - it's good but not as good as the Stoneridge. Mind you, the cheaper one is only $25 while the Stoneridge is $45 US.
Well, we bought a bottle of that as well - together with the two MCKs and the Oregon Pinot Noir, we had our full allotment.
The thing I really like about American tasting rooms is that they are a bit like craft breweries here. Not only can you buy the wine and taste it, you can also buy a glass and have a snack. Which is exactly what we did. We both had a glass of the Cab and had a wonderful charcuterie plate. We were in heaven!
Afterwards, we wandered around Walla Walla for a bit - not too long, however, as it was getting a bit chilly.
We eventually stumbled on a boutique winery called Eternal Wines. This was not the same slick operation that was Charles Smith. However, the wine taster was passionate about her wines and the prices were a bit better. The wines were all hand labelled so I was a bit hesitant at first but the wines turned out to be quite tasty.
We purchased a Carmenere, a red blend, and a Cab Sauv. All were just $26. All were good.
The next day, we came to the tiny border at Oroville and confessed that we had 3 bottles too many. The kind border guard ended up cracking a joke and let us through without paying extra duty - wonderful!
I really enjoyed the wines from the two wineries that we tried in Walla Walla but there are a lot we didn't get to. I would like to come back and spend a couple of nights - which would mean a whole lot of tasting rooms - and get a better sense of the industry in the Columbia Valley.
It was a great end to the holiday!
Sunday, March 25, 2018
On our Spring Break trip, we decided that we would check out some wineries in Oregon on our first day.
Turns out, the Willamette Valley is quite the distance from Vancouver....
But first, a little background.
The Willamette (rhymes with Dammit) Valley basically stretches along I-5 south of Portland (although most fo the wineries looked like they were west of the highway) until Eugene, a 250 km long valley. Because mountains surround three sides of this region, it has an almost Mediterranean climate which is perfect for the very difficult to grow Pinot Noir grape. In fact, I have heard, many times, that Willamette Pinot Noir is the closest you can come to Burgundy without actually being in Burgundy.
According to my second hand copy of The Oxford Companion to Wine (which I just picked up in a used book store in Penticton), the Willamette Valley has been producing good quality wine since the 90s and has focused on making high quality wines rather than a lot of cheap wine. Still, there are 21,000 acres under wine production compared to a little over 10,000 acres in the Okanagan.
After talking to a couple of people there, we realized that the thing to do would be to stay in McMinnville as there are numerous wineries there and there are also tasting rooms in the downtown area that you can stumble between. There are also some fancy spas to keep better halves happy and content.
However, we didn't go there.
I looked on Trip Advisor for the top ten winery experiences and made a list, complete with addresses, thinking that we could probably visit at least four of them.
We made it to one.
By the time we rolled up to the gates of Domaine Serene (number one of the Trip Advisor list), it was already 4pm - even though we had left the lower mainland at 7am.
We first parked our car in a giant parking lot - this was a much larger scale place than most in the Okanagan - think Mission Hill. We then wandered around the area to what we thought was the tasting room - and read a sign called "The Clubhouse". Confused, I looked around for golfers or a golf course but, upon finding none, decided that this must be a fancy name for the tasting room - which it was.
Wearing my Deadpool T-Shirt, we strode into the clubhouse and, after being greeted by the three (!) young ladies at the foyer, we made our way to the tasting bar.
I have to say that I was a little excited - when we went to the Vancouver Wine Festival, there wasn't any representation from Oregon so I was keen on trying some of their wines.
Looking over the tasting menu, we had two choices - the 'basic' flight for $20 and the 'prestige' fight for $40. These prices were definitely like Napa, not like the Okanagan. Looking over the choices, I decided that we may not be here again for a long time so I bit the bullet and chose the $40 prestige flight (which my wife and I split).
The flight included two wines from their sister (?) winery in France and three of their own Pinot Noir wines.
The two wines from France were very nice - sorry, no tasting notes - as were the local Pinot Noir wines but, by far, our favourite was the 2014 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. Interesting, we liked it quite a lot more than the 2015 Evenstad, even though the 2015 had more points. Mind you, after we made the purchase, the pourer mentioned that he had decanted the 2014 but not the 2015.
If we bought six bottles of wine, we would get our $40 back - however, with the wines costing between $70 and $95, we opted on buying just one - the 2014 Evenstad (which we still have at home).
At this point, we had to make a decision. Were we going to continue on to yet another winery or stick around the clubhouse? I felt my somewhat slimmer wallet and decided that we still had a lot of holiday left so maybe it was better to visit more wineries another time.
We ordered a couple glasses of the Evenstad Pinot Noir, a charcuterie plate, and sat outside on the patio of the winery, enjoying the view of the Willamette Valley. Although it was a bit of a pricey visit, the experience was worth it.
Friday, March 9, 2018
|Another lovely Cava from Segura Viudas|
That's the main premise behind the Vancouver Wine Festival.
And the people! They were so interesting! Most people were dressed rather smartly but there was the occasional chill dude in a t-shrit and jeans. There were also some women dressed in rather short, tight dresses that maybe weren't the most comfortable for a wine tasting - especially with stiletto heels... And, of course, there was the odd person wearing running shoes - probably a very smart idea as we all spent most of the three hours on our feet.
At many of the booths were people with blue lanyards attached to their name tags. These were the actual winemakers and they were great to talk to. They were passionate and answered all of my questions - even though they had probably heard them many times before - with an enthusiasm that was riveting.
Onto the wines, again.
We'll start with Portugal, the other country featured in the festival.
The last one from this winery was the first of the ports that I tried - and boy, did I enjoy trying.
The 2013 Quinta de Crasto Late Bottle Vintage Port was a good Port - not too sweet and with balanced tannins. It was about $26 at the festival which is a killer good deal. I hope that it ends up in the liquor store on a regular basis.
Fonseca had some damned fine Ports as well. My two favourites were the 2015 Guimaraens Vintage Port ($74 at the festival $87 at Devine Wines in Edmonton - 2012 vintage $82 at Everything Wine) with its raisiny elegance and the 2008 Vintage Port Quinta do Panascal($60 at festival, $44 - Marquis Wines in Vancouver) with its rich, creamy, black fruit flavours.
I had never heard of Warre's Port before and was thrilled to try this 1985 Vintage Port. What a rich, smooth, yet powerful Port. A wonderful taste. ($135 at the festival, $129 at Devine's in Edmonton).
Ah, but there's always the one that got away. My youngest is a Supervisor at Brewery Creek and was able to try a 50 year old Taylor Fladgate Port at the Industry Tasting in the afternoon. Fifty year old! However, when I got to their table, I was told that the Industry people drained the bottle! Damn!
Moving on in our world tasing was a delicious Pinot Gris from New Zealand. The Villa Maria Pinot Gris Seddon Vineyard ($33) was so crisp, honey-like and fruity that I immediately thought of that wonderful Fort Beren's Pinot Gris ($20) I had last spring. Although this one tasted very similar, the price point seemed just a bit high.
We tried a few wineries from France but the one that I enjoyed the best was from a negociant (and I'm sorry to say, I can't remember which one!). They specialize in Bordeaux wines and I was privileged to have one of the winemakers from one of the wineries they represent lead me through a tasting of exceptional wines.
I started with a 2009 L'Egerie de Chateau Chereau from Saint-Emilion ($32) which was a Merlot/Cab Sauv/Cab Franc blend. It was good but not outstanding.
The next wine I tried was a 2009 Chateau du Taillan Cru Bourgeois ($37 - looks like it might be regularly stocked in BC liquor stores) from Haut Medoc. A Cru Bourgeois wine has to earn that classification each year which is no easy feat. It has Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc and is a wonderful black fruit, black cherry wine. A super deal.
I finished with a 2005 Chateau Verdignan also from Haut Medoc ($52) which was a blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot. A very accessible wine that would pair nicely wth food but is delicious on its own. A splurge that would merit a special occasion.
Our final stop was our friends down south, the USA. I did skip the Canadian wines because there is only so much time to sample and I can try Canadian wines anytime. The three hours just fly along, especially when you take a couple shopping breaks.
The first winery was Charles Smith / K Vintners from Walla Walla, Washington. I liked all of their wines but I loved one - their 2014 M.C.K. - Motor City Kitty Syrah ($50). This powerful wine had delicious dark fruits and a super long finish. I couldn't find it in the onsite liquor store so we have altered our planned trip over Spring Break so that we go through Walla Walla on the way back from Las Vegas, just so I can pick up some of this wonderful stuff!
Finally, near the end of the night, we went to the California section to a winery we had actually visited in Napa seven years ago, St. Supery. We enjoyed all of their wines but the big standout for me was their Cab Sauv - and I was sure to pick up a bottle of this. I know, the photo is of the Sauvignon Blanc - and that's what happens when you are taking photos at the end of the evening! However, rest assured that their Estate Cab Sauv ($61) is a classic Cab Sauv with strong tannins but a balanced taste due to the fruitiness of the wine.
Thanks to the BC Liquor Store, we didn't actually have to pack our case of wine home - they will ship it to our local liquor store in a week or two for pick up.
As I finished my last glass (and, to be honest, I had stopped dumping when there was a half hour left so I could fully appreciate drinking, not just tasting, the wines), I said goodbye to my frat brothers from all of those years ago as my wife and I sauntered back to the hotel. We both had a fantastic time and really enjoyed ourselves. I am already looking forward to next year's wine festival.