Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Report from ... British Columbia Day 11 & 12 Finishing Up – August 1-2, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

With only two days to go we had finished our list of wineries, shocked that we were able to do as many as
we had in only 10 days. Now it was time to go over those lists again, and through a few brochures, to make sure we hadn’t miss any that we wanted to hit. So on the night of July 31st, mom and I found ourselves poring over everything we had picked up along the way. Lo and behold we had missed a few, be it our fault, their fault, it doesn’t matter, with the weekend ahead we had to make a few pits stops to make sure we made all efforts to visit ALL the wineries of the Okanagan.

North we traveled, passed the construction Highway 97 to get to First Estate and Hainle (these two were just around the corner from each other north of Peachland). First Estate was hard to find, and once we did they had a huge sign that said they were closed – no other explanation given. Hainle, which had been closed due to illness and a no show on the day we did their neck of the woods, (Day 7) was one we finally got into. With the time marching on towards a road closure we decided to make a pit-stop in the bustling hamlet of Peachland, think Niagara-on-the-Lake without the expanse of cute shops. But we did find a very good place for lunch at the end (or was that the start) of the main street: Gasthaus Restaurant proved to make a good salad and fish and chips. From there we made our way to Hijas Bonitas, which we had just totally missed on our “South of the construction day” (Day 8) – and more fantastic scenery. Dinner was at a Greek/Mediterranean place called Theo’s – too much good food … we rolled home.

Our last day proved to be a very frustrating day. With a few wineries, and other places, we wanted to visit being either closed or sold out … but lunch was a fantastic Thai meal at a little hole-in-the-wall called The Hungry Monk, which had been recommended to us over and over, and it was just bad luck and timing that kept us from getting in for a meal sooner. This was even better than our previous Thai dinner at Iyara a few nights previous.

Wineries Visited in Order:

Friday … First Estate (closed), Hainle Vineyards, Hijas Bonitas.

Saturday … Kettle Valley (sold out of the recommended Old Main Red),
Van Westen (ghost winery), Therapy (sold out of Pink Freud), Howling Bluff.

Pottery shop with a huge OPEN sign, turned out to have no o
ne answering the knocker at 11:30 on a Saturday morning.

Wines of Note:

Hainle Vineyards
2003 Z3 – Zweigelt/Merlot/Pinot Noir ($26.95)

Hijas Bonitas 2004 Merlot ($25.00); 2006 Rosa ($21.00)
Howling Bluff 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($18.70)

By the Numbers:
12 Days

77 Wineries Visited or attempted to visit

72 successful visit – doors open, wine poured
400+ wines tasted … lost count.

Final Thought: The trip was so worth it - I recommend taking the time and visiting as many wineries as humanly possible ... but do keep in mind that prices for wines are high, both at the wineries and in some of the private liquor stores. Value always remains t
he key to visiting a winery; that and neat-o finds of wines you can't get anywhere else ... but remember no matter what the winery staff tells you, or how many awards a wine has won - it's not a value unless you believe it is.

Also, VQA stores are great to venture into, and a big treat for someone from
Ontario, sometimes they have the wines that have already been sold out at the winery. And every bottle on the shelf is BC VQA product, every bottle.

Report from ... British Columbia Day 9 & 10 Going South – July 30-31, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

We took to the South of the Okanagan as we
took to the north, dividing up the region from the furthest to the closest.

We began the day by moving as far south as we could – which we had been told was Nk’Mip, but there is one that is just a hair further south these days, Twisted Tree. It’s interesting to note that we began and ended day 9 without a drop of wine.

We had been told by fellow wine writer Michael Vaughan, to visit the Nk’Mip Cultural Center; so we popped in to see what the big deal was about. The sign said that i
t was a good idea to have a hat, water and sunblock for the 1.5km walk – I had no hat so instead of doing it “tomorrow”, as mom and I debated, I bought a hat, that either made me look local or yokel, still not sure (you decide – see right). Between mom and myself we also bought about $100 worth of souvenirs (making sure they were all made in Canada). We ended the day back at Golden Mile Cellars, where Mick took us on a 45-minute vineyard tour. This man is passionate about his vines, his fruit, his workers, everything to make better wine. From thinning and pruning to paying his workers top dollar to get a better days work … you get what you pay for is one of Mick’s many philosophies. Mick is doing wine on his terms (this from a 5 year farmer) and it shows in the glass that is presented to you at the tasting bar. I was very impressed by what I saw. I’m sure that Mick would like me to mention his good looks, smarts and humility, but I have never lied to my readers and I won’t start now (see day 4).

As for the wines in this part of the Okanagan, once again we were confronted with over inflated prices for wine that would not fetch that much normally, especially in Ontario, but that’s the price you pay for being in a “hot region”. I talked to a number of winery principals about the price gap and one said to me, in confidence, “This bubble is going to burst and there will be a shake up, right now the prices are high and we’re all willing to ride it out until the shake up occurs. For now we just call it a sun-tax and smile.” The wines that are good are real standouts, and are worth the price that is being asked, for the most part. But like anywhere, there is an enormous amount of over-priced wine made by people trying to make their money back quickly. There is no way I (or anyone) should even consider paying $42 for an unoaked (or lightly oaked) Merlot … that’s absurd. It’s pricing like that, and with a few simple questions, that you can determine who is in it for the long haul; they’re the ones whose prices seem more in line or even slightly under where everyone else is. Quality and price always should match, or be under priced … that’s how you know value. Below is my list of wines that were worth their price.

Wineries Visited in Order:
Wednesday … Twisted Tree, La Stella, Orchard Hill Cidery, Desert Hills,
Golden Beaver, Silver Sage, Oliver Twist, Antelope Ridge.

Thursday … Chandra (ghost winery), Le Vieux Pin, Quinta Ferreira, Fa
irview (closed – sold out), Dunham & Froese, Noble Ridge, Tangled Vines, Blue Mountain, Pentage (closed – appointment only).

Wines of Note:
Twisted Tree 2005 Merlot ($25.00)

Desert Hills 2005 Mirage ($34.90)
Golden Beaver 2006 Merlot ($19.50)

Silver Sage 2007 Pinot Blanc ($15.95); 2006 Pinot Noir ($21.95); 2007 Pinot Blanc Peach/Apricot ($24.95 / 375ml); 2007 Raspberry ($24.95 / 375ml)
Oliver Twist 2007 Kerner ($17.90)
Antelope Ridge 2006 Cabernet Franc ($23.00)
Quinta Ferreira 2007 Unoaked Chardonnay ($19.90); 2006 Merlot ($29.
Dunham & Froese 2007 Amicitia – White ($25.00); 2006 Amicitia – Red ($28.00); 2007 Rosé ($17.00)

Report from ... British Columbia Day 7 & 8 Heading North – July 28-29, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

With the Naramata Bench fully completed in two days we now had a big decision ahead of us: go North or
go South.

North seemed the most likely. With a number of interesting and well-known wineries up that way, and having covered quite a bit of the south already, it seemed the most logical choice. And besides, looking at the map we felt we had our work cut out for us. BC is expanding Highway 97, the main artery to Kelowna (where most of these wineries center around) from Pentiction (where we are staying) – the road gets closed 3 times during the day between Summerland and Peachland for blasting away and the clean up of rocks. This works out to be about the halfway point between the two cities. We decided to do as many above the construction zone on the Monday and below the construction zone Tuesday. We did these wineries in a “sip and leave” fashion: you try a few wines and if nothing impresses you, leave … if you find some wines that do impress, try more of their wines. Some winery names you’ll recognize because we have seen their names in Ontario or we have heard of them from others who visit.

I noticed that wineries in BC are hit and miss, like they are in any region
. BC has this strong, fierce self-identity and self-awareness that all BC wines are the best … wish we had that attitude in Ontario. But mom and I are learning that just like in any region there are good producers and fair producers. As we learned on the Naramata Bench over the past few days, the difference between a very good winery and an average winery is passion – and you can make that distinction in the glass. Passion shows through, and so does plain old profiteering. On our northerly trip this topic kept coming up, and that perception really stuck with us as we continued into the south on days 9 and 10. The scenery remained, as always, awe-inspiring.

ies Visited in Order:
Gray Monk, Arrowleaf, Cedar Creek, St. Hubertus, Summerhill, Tantalus (closed), Calona/Peller/Sandhill, Rollingdale, Mt. Boucherie, Greata Ranch.

Tuesday … Sleeping Giant (fruit winery), Sonoran, Silk Scarf, Dirty Laundry, Hollywood and Vine, 8th Generation (formerly Adora)

Wines o
f Note:
Gray Monk 2007 Pinot Gris ($17.99); 2006 Riesling ($15.99); 2007 Gewur
ztraminer ($16.99); 2005 Odyssey Merlot ($23.99)
Arrowleaf 2006 Snow Tropics Vidal ($15.99)
Cedar Creek 2005 Merlot ($20.00)
St. Hubertus 2006 Pinot Meunier ($15.99); 2006 Gamay Noir ($14.99)

Sandhill 2006 Cabernet-Merlot ($19.99)
Peller 2006 Private Reserve Syrah ($19.99)
Sandhill 2004 Three ($34.99)
Mt. Boucherie 2006 Semillon ($15.99); 2005 Merlot Summit Reserve ($21.99); 2006 Gamay Noir ($14.99)
Greata Ranch 2006 Reserve Chardonnay ($25.00); 20
06 Cabernet-Merlot ($19.00)
Sleeping Giant Blackberry ($15.95); Blueberry ($15.95); Strawberry Rhubarb ($14.95)
Silk Scarf 2007 Cherry Wine ($20.00)
Thornhaven 2007 Gewurztraminer ($16.90)
Dirty Laundry Threadbare Gewurztraminer ($17.95); Woo Woo Wines Gewurztraminer ($17.95); Madame Vines Gewurztraminer ($19.95)
8th Generation 2007 Riesling ($19.90)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Report from ... Lake Erie North Shore Vintage Tasting - August 10, 2008

This used ot be called the "New" Vintages Festival for the Lake Erie North Shore wineries, and it’s kinda true, this 14 year old event was mostly about “New” wines; but this year there was also a fair share of old favourites kicking about too. The reason for the format change, or so I am told, by two sources (so it must be true), is that a few years back, during the bad winters and new winery emergence/growth, some of the wineries did not have new wines to pour at the festival, so then bent the rules a little to include older stuff – and well it seems the rules were never bent back. But for the most part the majority of the wines were from newer vintages (all except for Viewpointe – who I understand is having trouble getting glassware, ie: bottles; and Alexsander, whose recently bottled wines were still in shock, so they brought some of their old favourites). Otherwise every winery had at least 2 new wines and some, like Colio, had only new stuff.

You’ll notice, if you have a handy dandy calendar with you, that the tasting took place on a Sunday – an odd day for sure, and there was some grumbling about the c
hange of day (usually held on a Saturday), but the event was still a sell out and a real showcase for that up and comer Mastronardi … who put on quite a spread. As Eadie Mastonardi said to me, “That’s just the way we role around here,” before she ducked into a bathroom. Decked out in purple and her usual whiter-than-white welcoming smile Eadie was the perfect host, making sure glasses were full, everyone was enjoying themselves and the food was always available and replenished, if necessary. She weaved her way through the throng with the grace and ease of somebody born to host; and if you have ever been to their Dionysus event, you know that she is well practiced.

The Lake Erie festival is one of the most civilized of the New Vintage tasting
s in Ontario … held at a different winery every year, it allows the host winery to sell their wares to the attending guests. Until the Government of Ontario changes their arcane laws about selling booze at events/tastings this seems the best way for each winery to benefit.

A note of interest … I happened to be around Harold Wagner’s table during one of the “speech moments”, when Eadie Mastronardi and Lyse LeBlanc took to the stage to announce the financial support of the Wine Council of Ontario in funding this event. Harold, not one to hold his thoughts or his feeling
s, has a very vehement reaction to the Wine Council. Being a fruit winery, Wagner’s is not recognized as an Ontario winery and was even banned from advertising in the Wine Council’s Ontario winery map … “They treat me worst than a black man in Alabama in the 60’s” he said … and while an overstatement, he is treated like a second class citizen in the wine world. And althought this is not the arena to get into this issue I will tell you to keep your eyes peeled for an article in an upcoming issue of my newsletter (

It’s now time to see/taste how the wineries are faring down in the Lake Erie North Shore Area … as is customary I try to make some top picks from the event are here they are:

Best New
Red …
Colchester Ridge Estate Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - $24.95
In a few short years, the winery also known as CREW, has become a real player and innovator down in the region. They took home a big Chardonnay prize at the Ontario Wine Awards earlier this year, and I can only see them building on this success. Bernard Gorski, the own
er and winemaker, used American “water bent” barrels, which means the barrels are soaked in water before being bent and toasted, allowing for a deeper toast and possibly, a longer life span. This wine spent 14 months in these barrels and has really developed into something special. The nose is loaded with vanilla, cinnamon, lots of black fruit and sweet, sweet oak. The taste is going to come around slowly over the next couple of years, but currently there is a great toasted vanilla, spiced cherry and red berry flavours here. Keep your eye on this winery for more great wines to come.

Runner Up - Red ...
Colio Estate Winery 2006 CEV Six Barrel Shiraz - $24.95
As the name comes right out and tells you, only 6 barrels of this beaut
y were made. New winemaker, Tim Reilly, got the chance to make the first Shiraz in Colio’s 28-year long history. With long time winemaker Carlo Negri now retired there’s a new sheriff in town and he’s willing to try some new things to put his signature on ColioTown. 22 months in six barrels, of which one-third are new and all are Eastern European oak, this wine exhibits a great white pepper nose, but little else at this time; but in the mouth it’s a completely different story. Nice pepper notes with spice and black fruit, woody and a lingering pepper and spice finish. Nothing beats coming out of the gate with a winner.

Best Value Red …
Pelee Island Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc - $12.95
The new Pelee Island LCBO general list Cabernet Franc sports a new label but keeps the same value it always has. The nose is pretty off putting at this time – it’s only been in bottle for about 3 weeks, so I suspect this is going to come around. Light oak treatment of no more than 6 months makes this wine a pleasure to drink now. Ripe fruit in the mouth with a great cherry tobacco mid-palate and pleasant medium length finish. The new label is a classy burgundy-red on a very complimentary black background, still present, but in a
different colour, is the newt – now golden. The label is now as appealing as the wine.

Best New White …
Sanson Estate Winery 2007 Riesling - $14.95
When Maureen, of Sanson Estate Winery, called me up and said, “Dennis has just made his first Riesling, I hope you get a chance to try it at the Vintage tasting this weekend.” I was surprised. I thought for sure that by now Dennis had made a few Rieslings in his day. But Dennis is a finicky winemaker, he makes what he likes to make, and even if he has success with a variety he’ll ditch it from his repertoire if he isn’t happy with it, which is what happened with his Shiraz. But one thing I have learned about Dennis is he makes good wines, so if he has decided to try his hand at a wine you best take notice. This Rieslin
g has a nice Bosc pear nose, but there’s little else on the smell, this should open up over time. In the mouth you’ll find a heck of a lot more to reel you in: pear, lemon, touch of peach and a fine sweetness on the mid-palate before it ends up dry. I recommend picking up a few bottles this year … but just don’t get too attached to being able to get it all the time.

Runner Up and Best Value - White ...
Erie Shore Vineyard 2007 Vidal - $9.95
Yippee Ki-Yi-Yah Mother … well any movie fan should know the rest of this one, so let’s move on from the cliché to something tangible. This is a great little Vidal – I know n
ot the world’s most respectable grape, and saying that a winery makes the “Best Vidal”, to some is kind of a back handed compliment. But when you can take my mind away from the usual sweet syrupy sticky we call Icewine and get me to enjoy a tasty little table wine, you know you’re doing something right. Harvey Hollingshead, winemaker/owner, has made what he believes is his best Vidal since 2003 … the nose is a peach-apple combo, but in the mouth you’re going to have to delve little deeper, as it becomes all tropical with papaya, pineapple and mango … amazingly sippable, and great for entertaining. And what a great price.

Best … “I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-with-it wine” …
Wagner’s Vidal-Cherry-Raspberry
Harold has “no idea” what to do with this blend of fruit and grape. “I might box it for early consumption and every day enjoyment,” he told me. The fruit comes through with lots of cherry and raspberry flavours, while the Vidal adds a touch of tropical; and while the wine ranks in at about a 3 on the sugar scale, there is no way you would guess it. The acid and sweetness balance off nicely and it’s a pleasant easy-going sipper that I would stick quite happily in the rosé category. “I’m thinking of putting it in 3L boxes and selling it for thirty-bucks.” Well-worth it. Nothing’s wrong with having this everyday drinker for before, during or after dinner – heck make it an afternoon snack and I’d come over..

You made a WHAT??? ...
D’Angelo Estate Winery 2006 Iced Foch - $15.00 / 375ml
You’ll see very few Marechal Foch reviews on my site, the reason is that very few really impress me. But here I am looking at this half-bottle of Foch Ice and wondering what the heck Sal D’Angelo was thinking. But my intrepid curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give it a go. And by George isn’t this one of the nicest dessert wines I have tasted in a while, with a scent to match. Raspberry jam and black cherry greet the nose, while in the mouth it’s very cherry and cranberry; a drier than expected finish makes it seem much less than the 23 it is on the sweetness scale. Maybe a touch thick, but not cloying. And look at that price … makes a great gift, and a rare one at that.

Report from ... Taste of the Danforth Kick off Party - August 6, 2008

I am told these kick off parties are usually a lot busier, but then again I am told they are also held on Thursday at another locale … so that might explain the low turn out, though it was still a fairly packed patio. This being my first (Taste of the Danforth Kick off) I can tell you I was very impressed. Held for the first time at Mr. Greek on the Danforth, this one heck of a kick off bash. Lots of tasty Greek food and Greek wine, along with personalities and celebrity from around Toronto, and especially the Danforth. While I have to say that the wine was unimpressive and uninspiring, both the red and white seemed perfect for the crowd and the situation. One of the nicest things you can say about wine is it is a social drink, and sometimes the impact of a wine has nothing to do with the winemaking, the grapes, the terroir or anything technical, and has everything to do with the place, company and situation. These wines were perfect examples of this axiom. As I sat on the Mr. Greek patio with my homeboy Dean Tudor (fellow wine writer) the non-descript throw-back-your-head-and-enjoy wines made all the difference to the good time we were having. Also, the extra shot of Sambuca and Ouzo we ordered were nice touches to finish the evening – now if they had been able to provide some Pernod it would have been perfect.

Best drink of the evening … although the wine left a little to be desired to the connoisseur there was a drink being passed around near the end of the evening called “Skinos” ( … it is a liqueur made from Mastiha, which is grown in one place on earth, the Greek Island of Chios. This was truly an amazing product and due to be in the LCBO come October at a retail price of $38.00 / 700ml. It was explained to us that it is a great mixer or perfect for cooking with. But I could not see enjoying this any other way than the way we did: over ice with a slice of lemon. I would have to say that after the 4th I forgot what it tasted like, but Dean reminds me that it was like nothing we’ve ever tasted before – lemonade with a shot of cane sugar and an incredible dry finish. All I can say is wow – what a great summer refresher; what the LCBO is doing releasing this in October I’ll never know; but I can imagine this also being quite the celebratory drink over the holidays. Opa!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Report from ... British Columbia Day 5 & 6 Naramata Bench – July 26-27, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

With all our appointments over with we have a relaxing day ahead … yeah right! Now comes the days of winery hopping, trying to get as many places in as we possibly can. Because it is the weekend we figure we should stay off the main highway (Highway 97) and do the wineries in our immediate area, The Naramata Bench. By my count, and the map we used, there are 23 wineries in the area. La Frenz we did on Wednesday, so that leaves us 22 for the weekend … La Joie is not open to the public, so that leaves us 21, I know I can do it, the question is can mom? As we tour about we also learn that Howling Bluff and Van Western have yet to open – or is it that we just can’t find them. More likely they are not open yet because out handy dandy GPS is doing a great job finding all the winery addresses we program into her (my mother has anthropomorphized her because she has a female voice and helps us along our way).

On Saturday we end up going at what some might consider a break-neck pace and hit 13 wineries; on Sunday we finish off the Bench with an easy day of just 6. By Sunday mom has learned to spit like a pro (I think she can hit the eye of a needle at 50 yards), she’s also learning to hide her distaste for the wines she does not like; though we haven’t quite mastered “the look” to one another and to know what the other is thinking. We end the tasting on Sunday at about two and take a much-needed break. Mom does some knitting and reading. I finally get some time on the internet to upload a Vintages report and some other notes. We eat dinner on the porch of our cabin watching the sun go down over the mountains … cool.

Wineries Visited in Order:
Saturday …
Red Rooster, Township 7, Spiller, Stonehill, Mistral, Poplar Grove, Hillside, Laughing Stock, Lake Breeze, Marichel, Zero Balance, Soaring Eagle, Black Widow.
Sunday …
Nichol, Therapy, Kettle Valley, Elephant Island, Lang Vineyard, D’ Angelo (where we are staying).

Wines of Note:
Red Rooster 2007 Reserve Gewurztraminer ($19.99); 2005 Syrah ($29.99); 2005 Meritage ($24.99)
Township 7 2005 Merlot ($24.99)
Poplar Grove 2004 Merlot ($40.00)
Hillside Estate 2007 Riesling ($17.99); 2007 Gewurztraminer ($17.99); 2007 Reserve Muscat Ottonell ($19.99); 2006 Merlot ($18.99); 2006 Cabernet Franc ($22.99)
Laughing Stock 2006 Blind Trust ($29.99)
Lake Breeze 2007 Semillon ($18.90)
Soaring Eagle 2006 Pinot Meunier
Black Widow 2007 Pinot Gris ($20.00); 2007 Gewurztraminer ($20.00); 2006 Cabernet-Merlot ($38.00); 2007 Dessert Schonburger ($15.00 / 500ml)
Nichols 2005 Syrah ($29.00); 2006 Capriccio ($25.00)
Therapy Vineyards 2007 Pink Freud ($18.99); 2006 Freud’s Ego ($20.00); 2006 Super Ego ($36.99)
Elephant Island 2007 Framboise
D’Angelo Estate 2005 Pinot Noir ($25.00); 2005 Merlot-Cabernet ($20.00); 2005 Setta Coppa ($30.00)

Report from ... British Columbia Day 4 - July 25, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

Another ear
ly morning … we were suppose to catch a few zzz’s and not start touring till about 11, but the urge to see Burrowing Owl seemed to be calling out to us. So, in the AM, before the official part of the day began we all decided to make our way to see the Owl. Because Alan McGinty had a slightly different schedule than we did, we drove down the Valley in tandum – getting lost a few times along the way (probably my fault as I was in the lead car).

Burrowing Owl … In the early morning this is a sight to behold as it ri
ses out of the dessert with all the vineyards surrounding it. This is the place where much of the southern Okanagan grapes are grown, as we later learned not all the grapes and vines as far as the eye can see is Burrowing Owl land … but what an expanse of grapes. The Inn looks to be fabulous and yet is remote and quiet – what a great place to stay.

Wines of Note: 2007 Pinot Gris ($20.00), 2006 Cabernet Franc ($33.00), 2
006 Merlot ($30.00)

orn Creek … We manage to make it, and only 10 minutes late – I am told that is a wine writer’s trait, I have it down pat. We meet with Shaun Everest, recently promoted General Manager, who takes us on a tour of the property and explains that a new restaurant it planned to break ground “any day now” for a summer 2009 opening. After tasting a few of the “recommended” places to eat just north in Oliver, I would say a new dining establishment would be very welcome. 3 whites and 3 reds are the focus of Tinhorn and the grounds are beautiful.

Wines of Note: 2007 Pinot Gris ($16.50), 2007 Gewurztraminer ($16.50), 2005 Cabernet Franc ($17.9
9), 2007 Kerner Icewine ($24.99 / 200ml)

Osoyoos LaRose … For details of the wine/winery see my report from February 20, 2008 … we were suppose to meet with Pascal, but unfortunately he got one of “th
ose” calls that pulled him away unexpectedly (his brother had suffered a heart attack back in France), he called us from the airport to make his apologies. We met instead with Catherine Scott-Taggart (Assistant Vineyard and Winery Manager), herself a re-located Ontarian, who is absolutely loving her job. We tasted through the years of Osoyoos-Larose wines from the 2002 to the 2005 Grand Vin, with a sneak peak at the 2007 (the ’06 was not for showing at this moment). We also tried the Petales d’Osoyoos, the second label, from 2004 and 2005.

Wines of Note: 2004 Grand Vin is showing very well right now. 2005 Grand Vin shows great potential for aging. The 2007 is going to be another beauty. The Petales are wonderful and for only $25 are a steal … currently available is the 2005 at the local liquor stores, I got 2.

We part company with Alan as he is heading further south than we are … though we have one last drink with him at a coffee emporium called Cock and Bull, so far the best eating establishment in Oliver – though we did not eat a thing, the c
offee and tea were excellent.

Golden M
ile Cellars … Ever go to a place when you are tired and worn out and think, “How in the world did I get myself into this?” And on your way there you wonder how quickly you can get out of it. But then when you get there you don’t want to leave … welcome to our Golden Mile visit. Mom and I are tired from the 3 days of bombing around from winery to winery, appointment to appointment and just want a moment to ourselves. On the way we wonder if this will ever end and look forward to Saturday when we can plan our own day. We arrive at Golden Mile cellars and meet with Pam, Mick and Michael … their warm hospitality, jovial nature and irreverent sense of humours make us feel at ease right away, and part of the gang. What a welcome change from the sometimes stuffiness of other places we have visited – it’s nice be at a place that takes it’s wines and vines seriously but nothing else. The jokes fly freely, the barbs go back and forth and the wine flows each with a taste that show the meticulous nature the vines are cared for. The name of the game here is respect and fun. Michael Bartier is the winemaker whom everybody respects, Pam Luckhurst is the palate that everyone respects, Mick Luckhurst is the “farmer” with little taste for wine, a passion for his vineyard, and seemingly, no one respects him (that is the on going joke anyway). We unfortunately run out of time on our tour and tasting as we are scheduled for dinner back at Burrowing Owl … but we are coming back for a vineyard tour – gotta learn more about those 40+ year old Chenin Blanc vines.

Wines of Notes: 2006 Riesling ($18.99), 2006 Pinot Noir ($22.99), 2005 Black Arts 5th Element Red ($35.99), 2006 Zinfandel ($29.99)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Report from ... British Columbia Day 3 - July 24, 2008

For my mother's 70th birthday she wanted to travel the Okanagan tasting wine ... I being the curious wine writer that I am decided that sounded like a really good idea ...

Day 3 was a hectic day for McGinty, Mom and myself, visiting the Grand Estates of the Okanagan Valley – aka Vincor properties: See Ya Later Ranch (formerly Hawthorne Mountain), Jackson-Triggs Okanagan, Inniskillin, Nk’Mip, and Sumac Ridge.

The day start
ed with a trip up the mountain to See Ya Later Ranch … the views are absolutely spectacular from there … and the wines, mostly whites, are mass market made for all palates. I am not saying this as a bad thing, because some of the wines are wonderful – but winemaker Dave Carson said that he is trying to hit a broad spectrum of wine lovers.

Wines of Note:
2006 Gewurztraminer ($16.99), 2007 Riesling ($16.99), 2006 Pinot Gris ($19.99) and 2005 Ehrenfelser Icewine ($29.99 / 200ml)

Next stop Jackson Triggs … D
ave was kind enough to run us down the mountain – we followed him in our car through some twisty turning backs roads with lovely scenery and mountain lakes all over the place. For those of you who know the Jackson-Triggs building in Niagara as a tourist destination, you would be sorely disappointed in their Okanagan venue. It is a functional wine store with minimal attraction – but they have won plenty of awards, the most recent Red Wine of the Year at the 2008 All Canadian Wine Championships. Here we were introduced to the Sun Rock Vineyard line of wines – which is the equivalent to the Delaine Vineyard in Ontario – though I was admonished for making the comparison, “This is BC Wine,” I was told. Wine Acquired: 2005 Sun Rock Vineyard Meritage.

Wines of Note:
2005 Grand Reserve
White Meritage ($21.99 … outstanding), 2007 Grand Reserve Riesling ($21.99); 2005 Sun Rock Vineyard Shiraz ($35.00), and 2005 Sun Rock Vineyard Meritage ($35.00 – the ACWC winner … amazing).

As the day progressed the further south we go. It’s on to Inniskillin where we meet up with winemaker Sandor Mayer (pronounced Shander), who has been with the property since 1990, when he helped plant the vineyard for the then Okanagan Vineyards. In 1996, Inniskillin bought the property. Sandor has been there through it all, and these days he keeps himself busy and interested with his Discovery Series of wines: grapes that are rarely seen in the Okanagan: Tempranillo, Pinotage, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Zinfandel, in single varietal bottlings. We had a sneak peak at the 2007 Chenin Blanc and the 2006 Malbec, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel (all are excellent and worth purchasing when they are released in September). Being on a tight schedule we didn’t get much of a chance to try many other wines at the tasting bar; we didn’t mind though, Sandor kept us interested in the wines and history until we had to depart. But being a huge Zinfandel fan I snuck into the tasting room to try the 2005 version of the Discovery Zin – incredible. Wine Acquired: 2005 and 2006 Discovery Series Zinfandel.

Wines of Note:
2005 Zinfandel ($29.99) a
nd all the above pre-releases.

One more stop in the south, down the valley to the furtherest point, Nk’Mip – the world’s first, or at least Canada’s first, native owned winery. Where we learned plenty about the band and the winery. Surprisingly only 3 band members work in the
winery, the two assistant winemakers and Tilly, who works in the wine store. We had a very nice lunch/snack of bison, venison, wild rice, smoked-candied salmon, and the most delicious grilled shrimp I’ve had in a long time. There was plenty to see and do, and through a surprising phone call from a fellow wine writer, was advised to make some time and visit the Cultural Centre down the road – hopefully we can get a chance to do that later in the week. Interesting fact: Qwam Qwmt (Q2) is the name of their “reserve” wine; though I was told by our tour guide Barry, “we don’t like to use that term around here.

Wines of Note
: 2005 Q2 Merlot ($24.99), 2005 Q2 Cabernet Sauvignon ($34.99) and 2006 Q2 Meritage ($34.99).

Having hit the very bottom of the Valley it w
as time to head back north for our final destination, about half way back up just past Summerland (about a 45 minute to an hour drive) to Sumac Ridge where we met Mark Wendenburg, the winemaker, executive chef for the Okanagan Estates, Rodger, and Blaine the happy-go-lucky, ever-smiling all-around-good-guy sales representative. Mark ran us through the majority of the wines, until other duties called him away and we were left in the hands of Blaine … and Rodger, who also joined us for a stint in the private tasting room. The price-to-quality ratio of the wines is exceptional. Black Sage Vineyard (Single Vineyard) wines were $19.99 for the Merlot and Cabernet Franc while the Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage were five and ten dollars more respectively. The piece-de-résistance was dinner. Joining us on the terrace overlooking the valley was Chef Rodger, as he discussed the restaurant, his philosophy and ran us through each course, even going as far as to whet our appetites for things not being served, he even took the time to eat with us. The food was wonderful.

Wines of Note:
2007 Private Reserve Gew
urztraminer ($14.99), 2005 Black Sage Cabernet Franc ($19.99), 2005 Black Sage Merlot ($19.99), 2005 Black Sage Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99), 2005 Black Sage Meritage ($29.99), Stellar’s Jay Sparkling (available in 3 sizes - $15.99 - $40.00) and 2001 Sparkling Pinnacle ($35.00).

With full bellies and happy hearts we traveled down the valley 20km to our Bed and Breakfast in Penticton, dropping Alan back as his hotel along the way.

Report from ... Chateau des Charmes Farm-to-Table Experience with Chef Tony DeLuca – July 20, 2008

With the notion of the 100-mile menu (know-where-your-food comes-from) firmly entrenched in our consciousness, Chateau-des-Charmes brings us the Farm to Table series with celebrity chefs from around Niagara (Stephen Treadwell, Tony DeLuca and Michael & Anna Olson). Tonight, Tony DeLuca took center stage with farm partner for the evening Beth Smith, from Ridge Meadow Farms. Tony talked about his food creations, using Beth’s freshly grown and very recently picked (like that morning) ingredients … Beth introduced us to her farm, her family history, and the organic veggies she and her husband are growing at Ridege Meadow. Their talks centered on the diversity of flavours in the region and warned against “monoculture” as it pertains to food; Tony referenced the Irish potato famine, as it pertained to the issue, Beth nodded her ascent. Heirloom tomatoes, coloured carrots, arugula and more were on the menu for out tastebuds to try this evening.

The event started with Michele Bosc taking us on a vineyard tour of our celebrity grape of the evening: Gewurztraminer. Then it was back to our starting point, the VIP lounge upstairs, where Tony and Beth gave their between course talks, before the food was served – they talked about the food and magically the food arrived. Tony spoke about an “embarrassment of riches” from which he got to pick his ingredients on a regular basis; Beth talked about all the farms in the area (with specific reference to her own of course) and how the demand from the area is so great that they have not had enough produce to start up their store, though it is in the works. Tony made the most interesting comment of the evening when he said “what we are experiencing tonight is the new fast food – from the ground to the table as fast as possible.” What a great way to describe these delicacies he had prepared.

First course consisted of: tomatoes, arugula, scallops and cheese.
Second course: zucchini blossoms, goat cheese and lamb
All paired with the 2006 Gewurztraminer.

The next farm to table is with Michael & Anna Olson on August 10 and is sold out; but there are still tickets for the 3-in-1 evening, where all three (four really) chefs put their collective expertise together to create the Harvest Feast, September 21. See the Chateau des Charmes website for details.

Report from ... Fiesta Buckhorn – July 19, 2008

On lecture days I don’t do much sampling, my feeling is that your lecturer should at least start out coherent and sober. I’m usually running around, checking out the room, acquiring the wine, poring over my notes (or should that be "pouring"), putting the wine into a semblance of order – and then, if I have some time, I wonder out into the festival and check out some of the wines for tasting.

Buckhorn is a favourite venue for many wineries. They get out of the confines of the wine store and cellar and drive out to the country (30 minutes north of Peterborough) to enjoy the outdoors lifestyle – that is why you’ll usually find so many winery principals at this event; who wouldn’t volunteer to go to cottage country for the weekend?

For those who have never been to Buckhorn, it is probably one of the most unique wine events in Ontario. Held at the same place every year at the end of July, the Buckhorn Community Centre. This unique venue has cabins in the backyard, 11 in total, which form a circle around the property. Each cabin is home to a few drinking establishments (be it winery or brewery) and a few food booths. You walk from open-air cabin to open-air cabin picking up samples along the way. It’s a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable day of food, drink and … did I mention the live music that’s held in the gazebo located in the center of the circle. For those who weren’t there and are interested, you missed a great lecture, I poured 10 wines and everybody had a good time drinking, listening and hopefully a little learnin’ happened along the way.

As for my notes on those wineries I did get a chance to visit, I have many cheers and a couple of jeers to pass on to you …

Hurray to Legends Estates for their 2006 Malbec ($18.95), great price for this first year labour of love product from owner and winemaker Paul Lizak. 22 months in French oak, this wine really packs a punch; smooth with black fruit and spicy characteristics, medium alcohol (13%), but has a big taste in the mouth with a bit of heat. Pepper and black cherry as well as a finish that’s ripe with peppered-strawberries.

Hurray to Frogpond Farms, Ontario’s only organic winery, for both a 2007 Chambourcin ($14.00) which delivers a chalky-cherry taste with a good finish of black cherry and tobacco, which is almost Franc like in nature, and extremely chillable; and their 2007 Cabernet-Merlot ($16.00 / 500ml), aged 6 months in 2500L German oak barrels: blackberries, a touch woodsy and earthy along with tons of black fruit and an ageability factor of 5+ years.

Hurray to Downey’s, who bucked the usual pour-your-wines trend and made delicious Sangria with their Raspberyy-Apple ($12.95) and Strawberry-Rhubarb ($12.95) … they did this to show the versatility of fruit wine and they succeeded admirably.

Hurray to Inniskillin, who, for the very first time in their 15 year history of producing their Late Autumn Riesling ($12.95), have made the wine a VQA product (or so my server told me) … a lovely sipper full of apple, peach, pineapple and other tropical smells and tastes.

Hurray to Angels Gate, who gave those in attendance a sneak peak of their soon to be released 2005 Cabernet-Merlot ($15.95). This 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Franc and 10% Merlot spent 9 months in mainly French oak, and a whack of time in bottle, to smooth out this big bomb: earthy, black fruit and full of wow in the mouth tannins … a big wine from a big year that’s big on taste – though it needs some time to settle down, it’s still a bit tight.

Hurray to Harbour Estates, who previewed their upcoming LCBO release, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.95), sweet strawberries mixing in with black fruit along with cherry and cassis. This one was aged 6 months in French oak and now a further year in bottle. It’s smoothing out developing nicely. They were also pouring their 2002 Premier Vintages ($35.95) a 5 Bordeaux varietal blend (Sauv, Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec) made only in good years. Still a beauty with dried fruit nuances through the mid palate … if you have some it’s time to drink it – but you also have another 2 to 4 years to decant and enjoy. Next Premier Vintage being assembled is the 2007 edition.

Finally … a BIG FAT boo-hiss-hiss boo (that’s the jeer folks) to Jackson-Triggs, who pulled off a double shame-on-them. First, at an Ontario wine event that focuses and showcases Ontario products (wine, food, beer, ingredients, etc) they had the audacity to pour their blends: Esprit and Naked Grape concoctions; but that’s only the beginning of their faux pas. The biggest travesty was the bottle of Black Label Jackson-Triggs 2005 Merlot … as many of you are hopefully aware, Jackson-Triggs had always distinguished their off-shore and VQA products with a White Label (blend) and Black Label (VQA – 100% Ontario) … seems they are pulling a fast one to fool the public; the 2005 Merlot Black Label is a non-VQA made from “a higher level and quality New Zealand grapes,” according to my server, as if that makes this ruse more palatable. Does this company have no shame, or pride, left?

And that’s my report from Buckhorn, there is so much good happening here that it just shouldn’t be missed, just make sure you’re watching for those VQA labels.