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Top Red Wines Of 2013

30 December 2013

August Kesseler SpätburgunderThis list, especially when taken together with my companion list of whites, illustrates how absolutely delicious wines are being made in all sorts of unexpected places all over the globe. Nowadays, there is simply no reason to confine your drinking to wines from two or three classic regions.

You’ll note that nary a wine from France made the list below, for example. Everyone knows top Bordeaux and Burgundy taste great, and the prices reflect that fame. Taking a risk on something lesser-known can reap significant rewards, both in terms of saving money and broadening the palate.

The planet is encircled with tremendous wine-making talent. Fantastic wine makers can be found in just about every wine region on the map, and just as important, insightful wine growers are exploiting vineyard sites to their full potential, finding new terroir for classic grapes as well as resurrecting nearly forgotten ancient varieties rich in character and history.

We wine lovers have never had it better, whether we’re in California, Italy, Uruguay or British Columbia.  Cheers to the vintners in far-flung places taking risks on unorthodox wines, hoping that we’ll notice their beauty, and cheers to the importers, restaurants and wine shops courageous enough to work with them. My life is much the richer for it.

The most memorable reds I tasted in 2013, in alphabetical order:

 

ART+FARM “THE MESSENGER” RED WINE NUMBER ONE (LOT #612):

This is one complicated blend. No fewer than 11 different Californian wines made their way into the mix, including Cabernets from Lake County and Napa, Merlots from Napa and Sonoma, Malbecs from Napa and Dry Creek, Cabernet Franc from Napa and Montepulciano from the Shenandoah Valley.

After reading the list above, you might be wondering what a Montepulciano is doing in a blend that’s otherwise all standard Bordeaux varieties. According to winemaker Kat McDonald, just 12% of Montepulciano “completely changes the texture and color of this wine. As one of my fellow tasters astutely noted, “It’s dark, but not heavy.” I loved the aromas of mocha and dark fruit, and indeed, it tasted dark and dusky but lively as well, with well-balanced black-pepper spice. Paired with some dried blueberries, additional floral notes came to the fore, and the tannins became even more pronounced. This is one sexy blend, and a fantastic value at $18.

 

Cantele2009 CANTELE SALICE SALENTINO RISERVA:

According to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, the best wines in Italy’s Salice Salentino DOC are its Negroamaro-based reds, and the Cantele certainly did not disappoint. This 100% Negroamaro had tight, powdery red-fruit aroma and ample fruit on the palate. I got a blast of cherries, and others in the group also tasted currants and raisins. Rich but bright, this full-bodied wine had well-balanced, rustic acids and some serious tannins on the finish. Binny’s sells this red beauty for $11,  which is a steal.

 

2008 D.H. LESCOMBES CABERNET FRANC:

This wine was crafted by viticulturalist Emmanuel Lescombes and winemakers Florent and Herve Lescombes under the umbrella of St. Clair Winery, New Mexico’s largest. I sampled their Cabernet Franc in St. Clair’s Albuquerque tasting room and bistro, but the grapes were grown near Deming along the border with Mexico, at an elevation of about 4,500 feet. What a delight — it had an aroma of rich raspberry jam, and dark fruit balanced by bright, broad acids. The wine resolved into some tannins and focused spice on the finish, without a hint of anything vegetal. This wine has the richness and power to justify its rather steep $36 price tag.

 

Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada

Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada

2007 D’ANGELO SETTE COPPA:

This British Columbian blend contains all five of the classic Bordeaux varieties, grown on just eight acres of vineyards. It smells red and surprisingly minerally, and wow, that flavor. It has bright red fruit, focused acids, well-finessed tannins and some metallic earth on the finish. It’s a delight to drink, and a very fine value for $25.

 

2012 DOMAINE TERLATO & CHAPOUTIER SHIRAZ-VIOGNIER:

An appellation of the northern Rhône which never fails to quicken my heart is Côte Rôtie, which produces some of the world’s most coveted Syrah-based wines. These generally unaffordable wines were the inspiration for this Australian collaboration between Anthony Terlato and Rhône-based winemaker Michel Chapoutier. Together, they purchased some land north of Melbourne in the Pyrenees Hills, which is about as far from the Rhône as you can get. Nevertheless, the terroir must be similar, because this Côte Rôtie-style blend of 95% Shiraz (Syrah) and 5% Viognier is an absolute delight to drink. Shiraz, of course, is known to do very well in Australia, and it only makes sense that aromatic Viognier, another variety from the Rhône, would also flourish.

This wine had a startlingly beautiful aroma — jammy and redolent of violets. I loved its rich texture, extravagant fruit, and perfectly balanced spice and tannins. Gorgeously lush, without becoming overblown. Averaging about $17 according to Wine Searcher, this is one of the best red-wine values I’ve tasted all year.

 

2007 GEISEL WEINBAU BRENTANO “R” MARKELSHEIMER PROBSTBERG MERLOT TROCKEN:

I had a devil of a time finding a website for this single-vineyard Merlot (Markelsheimer Probstberg is the vineyard name), but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s produced by the same Geisel family which owns the hotel where I tried it, the Königshof in Munich. The restaurant’s adventurous sommelier, Stephane Thuriot, selected this wine from northern Württemberg in Germany to pair with a main course of rabbit with artichokes, spinach and saffron, and it was startlingly delicious. I knew I was in for a treat when I gave the wine a first sniff, enjoying the aroma of ripe red fruit and earth. It had a velvety texture, rich fruit and big but firmly controlled spice. Absolutely excellent.

 

2009 PALUMBO FAMILY VINEYARDS SANGIOVESE “DUE FIGLI” VINEYARD:

Matt and Joe at Palumbo

Matt and Joe at Palumbo

On a quiet side road away from the big wineries in Temecula, this winery was recommended by almost every local I spoke with. All the fruit for its wines comes from Palumbo’s 13 acres of vineyards, because owner Nicholas Palumbo “believes in producing only what he grows himself,” according to the winery website.

This single-vineyard Sangiovese was brick-red, with an earthy, jammy nose that had me itching to give this wine a taste. I was not disappointed. It was wonderfully lush, with jammy fruit, a luxurious mouthfeel and a tannic finish. Temecula is on few people’s fine-wine radar, but if it can produce wines like this Sangiovese, it’s a region worth keeping an eye on.

 

2005 PISANO “ETXE ONEKO” LICOR DE TANNAT:

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia speaks very highly of the Pisano winery, noting that Eduardo Pisano “has produced some of Uruguay’s best wines in recent years.” I also discovered that this particular Licor de Tannat, a fortified wine made in the manner of port, merited inclusion in The World Atlas of Wine. The original Tannat vines in Uruguay, called “Harriague” by the Basque settlers who brought them, almost all died off over the years. “However,” the Atlas notes, “Gabriel Pisano, a member of the youngest generation of this winemaking family, has developed a liqueur Tannat of rare intensity from surviving old-vine Harriague.” This wine (the name of which means “from the house of a good family” or “the best of the house,” according to Daniel Pisano) blew me away with its richly sweet, jammy fruit and impressively balanced acids. These were followed, as you might expect, by a big bang of tannins. Not only is this wine spectacularly delicious, it’s a taste of history. If you see it on your wine store’s shelf, it’s worth the splurge.

 

2010 RUST EN VREDE ESTATE:

Three South African Bordeaux BlendsThis Stellenbosch estate in the shadow of the Helderberg has produced wine off and on for three centuries, though it took its present form only after 1977, when the Engelbrecht family purchased and restored it. The Rust en Vrede Estate wine blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot in a “hermitaged” style of wine popular in Bordeaux in the 19th century, when producers would sometimes beef up their blends with Syrah from the Rhône’s Hermitage region.

The deep red-fruit aroma was very enticing, marked by additional meaty and floral notes (a fellow taster at the table also detected “man musk,” which led Jean Engelbrecht to half-joke that she was forbidden from sampling any more of his wines). I loved the wine’s silky texture, rich red fruit, firmly controlled white-pepper spice and raisiny finish. The Estate felt very supple, yet it still cut right through the richness of my beef filet. I lamented that I hadn’t tried it with my appetizer of mussels, but Engelbrecht assured me I hadn’t missed anything: “I’m more of a main course kind of wine,” he quipped. But I was rather startled to discover that the Estate also paired well with a side of roasted asparagus, a notoriously difficult vegetable to match.

 

2007 SKOURAS GRAND CUVÉE NEMEA:

The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia calls Greece’s Nemea appellation “relatively reliable,” and the Skouros Agiorgitiko I tasted at the Wine Bloggers Conference more than supports that rather tepid assertion. It was memorably delicious, with a beautiful aroma of tobacco and cherries, plenty of bright acids, ample fruit and luscious notes of mocha. Anyone who still thinks Greece is nothing but a sea of Retsina should taste this.

 

And this concludes my awards for 2013! You can read about my picks for top white wines here, and my favorite spirits and cocktails here. Happy New Year, everyone!

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Top White Wines Of 2013

27 December 2013

White WineLast year, I assembled all my favorites into one list, but because 2013 brought so many memorable wines I wanted to highlight, I had to separate them into top whites and top reds. Many of my favorite white wines of 2013 cost less than $20, and one can be had for less than $10 — yet more evidence that taking a risk on an unusual bottle can really pay off.

The 10 wines below represent a tiny taste of what’s out there beyond the giant industrial-sized brands found in every grocery store. These are wines with heart. They have to be, since most of the companies making these wines have minimal marketing budgets. 

I chose whites that surprised me one way or another, and whites that exhibited impressive balance. When a wine’s fruit, acids and other flavors are tautly in balance, it can be an absolutely thrilling experience. Don’t settle for white wines that are simply sweet and innocuous. There are too many beautifully lively bottles out there to waste your time with anything that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice.

You may not find all the wines below with ease, but if you see one that sounds particularly enticing, bring the description to your local wine shop and ask for something similar. A good wine shop will send you in the right direction.

And now, in alphabetical order, the most memorable white wines I tried in 2013:

 

Art+Farm's Messenger winesART+FARM “THE MESSENGER” WHITE WINE NUMBER ONE (LOT #412):

I’ve never seen a white blend quite like this one, but when I tasted it, I wondered why on earth no one thought of it before. A blend of 69% Sauvignon Blanc, 18% Muscat Canelli (also known as Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains or simply Muscat) and 13% Riesling, this beauty won over my entire crowd of tasters. One remarked, “I don’t usually like sweet wines, but I like this because it has a bite at the end.” Another more laconic taster just said, “Huge fan.”

I was immediately sucked in by the wine’s heady aroma of perfumed apples, leavened with a little funk. In this wine, it was crystal clear to me what each of the parts — sourced from both the 2010 and 2011 vintages — brought to the blend. It had the acids of a Sauvignon Blanc, the perfume of a Muscat and the lush texture of a Riesling. The wine exhibited both focus and restraint, and for $16 a bottle, it’s a smashing value.

 

2012 BOUZA ALBARINO:

The family-owned Bodega Bouza in Uruguay focuses on small production and low yields, according to its website. The Spanish Albariño grape variety has thick skins which help it withstand rot in humid climates, according to the Oxford Companion, which would seem to make Albariño an ideal choice for Uruguay. And indeed, I very much enjoyed this wine’s fresh and spicy aroma and its sharp, attention-grabbing flavors. After a start of juicy fruit, zesty acids kicked in, followed by a thrust of gingery spice and a finish of aspirin-like minerals. Powerful and exciting.

 

2012 LAPOSTOLLE “CASA GRAND SELECTION” SAUVIGNON BLANC:

The grapes for this wine come from the stony Las Kuras Vineyard in Chile’s Cachapoal Valley (south of Santiago), a former riverbed, and the vineyards are certified as both organic and biodynamic. Winemaker Andrea León Iriarte also noted that the grapes are harvested by hand at night, to help preserve freshness in the fruit.

The aroma was very reassuring, the rich lime and chalk notes already indicating a wine of fine balance. Iriarte and Lapostolle sought a round Sauvignon Blanc, in contrast to the sharp wines this variety sometimes produces. They succeeded. This Sauvignon Blanc had creamy fruit and focused, limey acids kept well in check. After a lift of white-pepper spice, the stone in the vineyards became apparent in the long finish. Complex and delicious.

What leaves me practically cross-eyed with disbelief is that this wine, which exhibits no small amount of finesse, can be had for less than $10 at Binny’s. It could stand toe-to-toe with Sancerres which cost more than twice as much. I can’t think of a better Sauvignon Blanc value to be had anywhere.

 

2008 CHIMNEY ROCK “ELEVAGE BLANC”:

I don’t often write about wines from Napa Valley, but this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris blew me away. I couldn’t remember ever tasting a Sauvignon Gris, so I looked it up in my trusty Oxford Companion to Wine. This relatively rare variety is a pink-skinned mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, and “it can produce more substantial wines than many a Sauvignon Blanc,” the Companion asserts. Sauvignon Gris has a following in Bordeaux, the Companion goes on to note, which perhaps explains why the Elevage Blanc reminded me a bit of Pessac-Léognan, one of my favorite whites from Bordeaux (or from anywhere, for that matter). This beautiful wine practically glowed with elegance, its creamy fruit focusing into some carefully restrained white-pepper spice. Voluptuous but perfectly balanced — a joy to drink.

 

Hainle Gewurztraminer Ice Wine2010 HAINLE VINEYARDS ESTATE WINERY GEWÜRZTRAMINER ICE WINE

It’s rare to see a Gewürztraminer ice wine, I learned, because the fruit usually falls off the vine before the first frost, or at the very least loses its acidity. Conditions have to be just right, and with this British Columbian ice wine, Hainle hit a smashing home run. It had a rich but fresh honeysuckle aroma, and such verve on the palate! It started lush and sweet, as you might expect, but then startlingly zesty acids kicked in, followed by a pop of white-pepper spice. On the finish, I got a touch of orange along with an aromatic tobacco note. It was sublime. If you can find a way to get your hands on a bottle of this wine, for God’s sake, do it.

 

2011 MAZZONI PINOT GRIGIO:

Mazzoni Pinot GrigioI had never sampled, to my knowledge, a Tuscan Pinot Grigio. All the quality Italian Pinot Grigios I knew of came from the mountainous north, from Alto Adige or Friuli. A Tuscan Pinot Grigio varietal — a white Super Tuscan — is extremely unusual.

Many of us associate Pinot Grigio with light, inoffensive and bland flavors; it’s a wine for a hot summer pool party or a beach picnic. But this golden-hued beauty had some oomph. After pressing, the juice sits for 24 hours on the skins, giving the wine additional body, followed by 25 days of cold fermentation, increasing the wine’s acidity. The craftsmanship is readily apparent in both the aroma and flavor.

The wine smelled fresh and lively, like a green whiff of spring. On the palate, it exhibited focused and controlled fruit, prickly acids, some aromatic qualities, and a surprisingly lush finish. It was light but complex, and a fine value for the price. Sampled with a white pizza topped with arugula and parmesan, the food-friendly acids kicked into high gear, and the wine became juicier and rounder. A delight.

 

2010 PLANETA CARRICANTE:

Planeta CarricanteThe Carricante variety is “thought to have been growing on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna for at least a thousand years,” according to the Wine Searcher website. The Planeta expression of this ancient variety has a wonderfully seductive aroma with notes of honey, cedar and lily of the valley, one of my favorite flowers (a little like jasmine). A fellow taster remarked that “It smells like the best Kasugai gummy ever created.” I loved the lush fruit, flinty minerals and the focused, almost incense-like spice that just kept going and going. Paired with some pasta with orange cherry tomatoes, fresh fava beans, onions, olive oil, garlic and ground pork, the wine’s acids became even juicier and racier.

It was rich, complex, balanced and elegant, but even more impressive, the wine took me right back to Sicily. I could imagine myself at some trattoria in Taormina, sipping a glass at an outdoor table while I took in the view of Mt. Etna and the sea, a little incense wafting out of a nearby church. This was a wine truly expressive of its terroir.

 

2011 SCHNAITMANN “GRAU WEISS”:

A surprising blend of 20% Grauburgunder, 20% Weissburgunder and 60% Chardonnay, the Grau Weiss sounds a little crazy to me, but if anyone could get away with it, it would be a winery in the warm and sunny Baden-Württemberg region of Germany. A green-yellow color, the wine started with tart fruit, giving way to a buttery, sophisticated, almost Burgundian midsection. It sealed the deal by lifting into an aromatic, spicy finish. What a ride!

 

Simonnet-Febvre Saint-Bris2012 SIMONNET-FEBVRE SAINT-BRIS SAUVIGNON BLANC:

On its label, this Sauvignon Blanc declares itself in no uncertain terms to be a “Grand Vin de Bourgogne.” Not quite believing my eyes, I turned to my trusty reference library for some answers as to what a Sauvignon Blanc was doing in Burgundy. According to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, little Saint-Bris overcame “Burgundy’s Chardonnay-chauvinism” only in 2003, when it was finally granted full AOC status, a designation retroactively applied to the 2001 and 2002 vintages as well. The AOC has only about 250 acres of vineyards located southwest of the famed wine town of Chablis.

The Simonnet-Febvre Saint-Bris had my undivided attention as soon as I took a sniff. It had the classic Sauvignon Blanc aroma — green and juicy, with an unexpected and very enticing floral note on top. The flavor profile was absolutely fascinating. On one plane flowed the wine’s sweet, floral and elegant fruit, and on a parallel plane ran the very tart, pointy acids. These two planes battled it out for dominance in a most exciting fashion, but they didn’t feel integrated until I tried the wine with some food. Paired with a barley risotto studded with butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and bacon, the Saint-Bris’ two planes came together beautifully, balancing each other and cutting right through the richness of the dish. What an incredible value for $12!

 

2012 WEINGUT DR. VON BASSERMAN-JORDAN ÖLBERG

Weingut Dr. von Basserman-JordanThis single-vineyard Riesling from Germany’s Pfalz region is a Grosses Gewächs, a “Great Growth,” indicated by the “GG” on the label. Find those GGs if you can — they designate a vineyard of top quality, and grapes of at least Spätlese ripeness. “Spätlese” often connotes a sweet wine, but GG wines are classified as “trocken” (dry). This remarkable wine had a green, honeyed aroma, rather like a light Sauternes. I loved the rich, peachy fruit; the dry, white-peppercorn spice; and the forcefully driving acids keeping everything in taught balance.

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Favorite Moments Of The Wine Blogger Conference (Part 2)

19 June 2013

Dessert wines from Greece

6. Wines of Greece Tasting: When I tell people that the Wines of Greece tasting was a real highlight of the Wine Bloggers Conference,  many people are taken aback, still traumatized by memories of Retsina. This tasting, however, left no doubt as to the potential of Greek wines today. Sunny whites from Santorini, rich reds made from barely pronounceable varieties like Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, eye-poppingly vivacious dessert wines — taken together, they put to rest the notion that Greeks don’t make great wine. More specifics on this tasting to come.

 

Old Fairview town site

7. Ghost Town Tasting: One evening, we headed to the site of Fairview, a gold-mining boom town which was subsequently abandoned. Little remains today, but the site made for a spectacular progressive wine tasting. We meandered along gently rolling paths from tent to tent, tasting an array of delicious wines, the cloud-capped peak of Old Baldy (above) watching over us in the distance. Some favorites:

  • 2012 Gehringer Brothers Gewürztraminer-Schönburger: This 50/50 blend had a nose of caramel popcorn that made me positively shiver with anticipation. I was not disappointed. I wrote, “Dry, spicy, fruity, aromatic — yes. Yum.”
  • 2012 Oliver Twist “Oliver’s Choice” Kerner: I’ve written positively about Kerner before, and this example also proved delightful. It smelled of honeysuckle, rubber and funk, and it tasted fruity, savory, spicy and exotic. Unusual and great fun.
  • 2012 Tinhorn Creek 2Bench Rosé: This blend of 51% Cabernet Franc and 49% Syrah had a beautiful aroma which made me think of strawberry-topped crème brûlée. The flavor profile was exactly what I look for in a rosé: fruity, juicy, zesty and dry.
  •  2010 Stoneboat Vineyards Pinotage: I never thought a wine made from this South African variety would make my list of favorite anything, but this British Columbian Pinotage had a richly creamy red fruit aroma, a velvety texture, ample red fruit on the palate, rustic acids and a non-overpowering vegetal note. The best Pinotages I’ve had in recent memory.
  • 2005 Fairview Cellars “Two Hoots”: The winery currently sells the 2010 vintage of this Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend, and if that’s all you can find, buy it and lay it down for a couple more years. The 2005 sucked me right in with a very deep, jammy aroma, and despite the rich fruit, its structure managed to be tight and focused. Delicious, especially considering that this is a wine “priced for daily consumption.”

 

Jon and the Feet of God!

8. The Feet of God!: Jon makes a superlative Argentinean Malbec called “Hand of God,” which you should snap up immediately should you be fortunate enough to come across a bottle. It has a richly dark, plummy aroma, some zingy acids and powerful focus. But Jon’s bright-orange shoes stole the show, especially in the black light of the bus. “Those are the feet of God!” a gleefully stentorian Jon pronounced.

 

One bajillon grapes go into every bottle!!!

9. The Inniskillin Ice Wine Presentation: This presentation felt too salesy, but it proceeded smoothly enough until this PowerPoint slide hit the screen. Then there it was, in giant font, the biggest whopper I’d heard since Eric Holder denied being involved in the subpoena of news media phone records. One half a ton (please forgive the American spelling) of grapes in every bottle of ice wine. Zow.

Now I’m just guessing here, but I think that would mean the entire grape harvest of North America would have to be diverted to Inniskillin. A couple of alert audience members questioned the speaker, and I tweeted my incredulity about the numbers. Nk’Mip Cellars responded to my tweet, writing, “Our bad. Our winemaker Randy Picton advises its more like 500, 375ml bottles. Thanks for checking in.”

Two bottles, 500 bottles… it’s just a rounding error, really.

 

Riunite, baby!

10. Lambrusco Tasting in the Riunite RV: There came a time on the last evening of the Wine Bloggers Conference when the pull of the Riunite RV finally became irresistible. I collected some of my favorite people at the conference, including noted Vancouver-based wine writer Kristof Gillese and Steve and Jane of the well-regarded 2 Hollywood Winos blog, pulled them out of a perfectly lovely Jordan Winery after party, and headed down to the hotel’s parking lot. The Riunite RV gleamed under the lot’s lights, and we climbed aboard.

Inside, we discovered two leather sofas and a distressingly red queen-size bed, along with plenty of swag such as red-and-white Riunite-emblazoned sunglasses. The Riunite rep encouraged me to try a Lambrusco and beef jerky pairing. And by God, if in that moment — in that wonderfully ridiculous RV, after days of carefully contemplating dozens and dozens of serious wines — that sweet/salty pairing wasn’t perfectly delicious, my name isn’t Odd Bacchus.

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Favorite Moments Of The Wine Blogger Conference (Part 1)

15 June 2013

Lake Okanagan

1. Waking up each morning to this view of Lake Okanagan.

 

The view from Tsillan

2. Dinner with Tsillan Cellars‘ owners Mr. & Mrs. Bob Jankelson. The hillside setting of Tsillan presents panoramic views of Lake Chelan, and the well-crafted wines — available only in the tasting room or through the wine club — provide yet more incentive to visit. The Chardonnay tasted rich but balanced and focused; I enjoyed the tight and earthy Sinistra (a Sangiovese-based blend); and about the fruity and full-bodied Bellissima Rossa, I wrote “Yes.” The company was just as good as the wines. My favorite part of the evening came when Mrs. Jankelson asked, with disarming frankness, “So, can you tell me, what is wine blogging? And why is it important?”

 

Karma owner Julie Pittsinger and winemaker Craig Mitrakul

3. Sparkling Wine Brunch at Karma Vineyards. This winery convinced me, along with quite a few of my fellow bloggers, that Lake Chelan’s specialty might well be sparkling wines. Each of the wines we tasted had impressively small, pointy bubbles and bright acids, ensuring that they pair well with a range of foods. My favorites were the 2010 Karma Brut, which had rich apple fruit and balanced lemony acids, and (despite the unfortunate name) the 2011 Hard Row to Hoe “Good in Bed” Blanc de Noir, with its beautiful texture, pronounced berry flavor and juicy, orangey acids.

 

Sarah pouring Moon Curser

4. Bus Tastings. We spent a lot of time on buses at the Wine Blogger Conference this year, for better or worse, and the conference organizers had no intention of wasting that time. Why just sit there when you can be drinking wine? The best bus tasting culminated with a 2011 Moon Curser Petit Verdot, a variety which appears in Bordeaux-style blends far more often than in a varietal wine. It had a gorgeous mocha aroma, dark fruit, rustic tannins, a zing of acids and an aromatic finish. Delicious. The winery takes its name from local gold smugglers, who would curse the full moon as they tried to sneak their booty across the border at night.

 

Hainle Gewürztraminer Ice Wine

5. 2010 Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery Gewürztraminer Ice Wine. Kristof Gillese led a fascinating session about judging wine, selecting several delicious British Columbian wines for us to sample. I very much enjoyed the rich and lively 1996 Summerhill Pyramid Winery sparkling wine, the cheery and earthy 2008 Tinhorn Creek Old Field Series Pinot Noir, and the velvety and peppery 2009 Painted Rock Merlot.

But the Hainle Gewürztraminer Ice Wine was staggeringly delicious. It’s rare to see a Gewürztraminer ice wine, I learned, because the fruit usually falls off the vine before the first frost, or at the very least loses its acidity. Conditions have to be just right, and with this wine, Hainle hit a home run. It had a rich but fresh honeysuckle aroma, and such verve on the palate! It started lush and sweet, as you might expect, but then startlingly zesty acids kicked in, followed by a pop of white-pepper spice. On the finish, I got a touch of orange along with an aromatic tobacco note. It was sublime. If you can find a way to get to Hainle to taste this wine, for God’s sake, do it.

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Penticton Speed Blogging (Part 2)

9 June 2013

I can’t deny that — as challenging as these speed wine blogging sessions can be — I am rubbing my hands together in anticipation of tasting some more British Columbia reds. The ones I’ve sampled so far at this conference have been, by and large, of good to excellent quality. There is some serious wine being made in these sunny, lakeside hills, and I am seriously ready to wrap my palate around some more of it.

Here we go!

2007 D’Angelo Sette Coppa: This blend contains all five of the classic Bordeaux varieties, grown on just eight acres of vineyards. It smells red and surprisingly minerally, and wow, that flavor. It has bright red fruit, focused acids, well-finessed tannins and some metallic earth on the finish. It’s a delight to drink. And though it’s above my usual budget at $25 per bottle, this is a wine I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase with my own money.

2009 Mt. Boucherie Zinfandel: Only three wineries make Zinfandel in the Okanagan Valley, and this is one of them. It’s a very transparent brick-red, which would have led me to guess it was a Pinot Noir. Could this Canadian Zin possibly work? The aroma of raspberry jam and cardamom is certainly appealing. The flavor is not what I think of as Zinfandel, but that’s not a bad thing — it has plenty of red fruit, some white pepper and something herbaceous in there. This is no pot of jam, but if you think good Zin can’t be made in BC, think again.

2006 Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cabernet Franc: The Cabernet Franc fruit ripens latest in the Summerhill vineyards, and the harvest usually comes just before winter’s chill sets in. This could just be the winemaker over my shoulder influencing me, but this wine really does smell like fruitcake. Ripe fruit, a tobacco middle, and a zing of focused acids. Summerhill was the first organic winery in British Columbia, and they’re working towards being biodynamic, an effort I can only applaud, especially when it leads to wines of this quality. If you don’t like herbaceous Cab Francs, this could be your wine. A good value at $30.

2009 Hillside Winery Cabernet Franc: This winery is one of the oldest on the Naramata Bench, founded in 1984. According to the presenter, 2009 was one of the hottest years in recent memory, which theoretically leads to a lot of big fruit extraction. In this case, the wine has a creamy red fruit aroma mixed with some black pepper, a winning combo in my book. It starts really fruity but quickly dries right out, blanketing my tongue with tannins. Again, there’s none of that green pepper quality often associated with Cab Franc, which is a plus in my book. Even so, it seems a bit of a stretch at $25.

2009 McWatters Collection Meritage: This is only the second vintage of the McWatters label, but it comes from relatively old vines planted in 1993. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it has a heady, almost jammy aroma. And woo! It has big ripe fruit, full but focused acids, and a spicy, tannic finish. A very fine value at $30. Can I get a steak over here please?

2010 Laughing Stock Vineyards “Portfolio”: This winery is a husband and wife team, but they work on opposite ends of the business “in order to keep the marriage intact.” In equally sensible fashion, the blend of this wine changes a bit from year to year, depending on what happened in the vineyard, and in this vintage, it’s 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. What a lovely aroma of mocha and black peppercorns. Richly ripe fruit, big body and a bang of tannins on the finish. Not too shabby! Wait, I have to move on to the next wine?

2011 Bench 1775 Cabernet Merlot: A blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Bordeaux-style blend has a surprising and intriguingly creamy aroma, tight fruit up front and some dry pasta in the middle, with some nice tannins on the finish. It’s a restrained wine, without too many fireworks, but it’s undeniably classy. Still, I won’t be rushing out to buy it at $23.

2010 Cedar Creek “Home Block” Pinot Noir: The winery’s top Pinot Noir, this is a 50/50 blend of their block 2 and block 4 Pinot vineyards, each of which has its own character, according to the presenter. The aroma certainly supports that distinction. It smells almost jammy, with a little chocolate in there. Fascinating! It has a really lush texture, ample fruit, and a quick hit of white pepper before it resolves into a wash of tannins. Unexpected, but undeniably well-made, and priced just about right at $40.

2009 Quails Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir: This is the flagship wine of Quails Gate, a winery located in Kelowna, about an hour north of Pentiction. It has that classic meaty red-fruit aroma mixed with earth, cherry/Robitussin-flavored fruit, some violets, bright acids and even some tannins on the finish. Nicely balanced. It’s $45, but hey, it’s pretty darn fun, and it will surely surprise your dinner party guests.

2010 Gray Monk “Odyssey” Merlot: Gray Monk is British Columbia’s oldest family owned and operated winery, and the founders have been making wine for 30 years. The vineyards are in the south of the Okanagan Valley, growing in a combination of sand and clay, depending on the specific vineyard. It has a green, spicy aroma, along with some creamy fruit. I would give you some tasting notes, but the presenter was listing off flavors literally right in my ear as I took my taste. “Do you get the sage? Or is that leading you?” Yes, it’s leading me. $23

There were a number of home runs in that tasting, and if there were any lingering doubts in my mind about the capacity of British Columbia to produce big, delicious red wines, they have been decisively and permanently quashed.

If you liked this round-up of British Columbia reds, check out my previous red wine speed blogging effort here.

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