Champagne All Day!

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With the WSET Diploma Unit 2 exam written and two days of class completed, it was time to head off on the little bonus trip that was purely for fun – visiting another wine region, and not just any wine region – Champagne! It gave us an opportunity not only to visit a wonderful friend (@girlsgogrape) who is living there for a year, and her family, but to explore a new-to-me region. And the added bonus above all was the ability to affordably drink champagne , a lot of champagne!Champagne Wine Region

Travelling to the Champagne region from London is very quick and easy. In the end we opted to fly London-Paris, and rented a car to allow us to tour as much of the region as possible in the four and a half days we would be there. I always love driving in France, so was more than happy to take on the role of driver with @vinewineandwander acting as navigator. We arrived after dark in the tiny village of Chavot-Courcourt, about ten minutes south of Épernay, and were greeted with hugs, cheese, charcuterie and, of course, champagne.

We had a full day of appointments planned for our first full day in the Champagne region. Wine touring in France is not the same as it is in North America. With a few exceptions, appointments must be made in advance in order to visit wineries. We had done a bit of research in advance of the trip and had made a few bookings, and @girlsgogrape had made a couple for us as well. We started our day toward the south end of the Côte des Blancs in the lovely town of Vertus for a tour and tasting at Champagne Larmandier-Bernier.

Larmandier-Bernier was established in 1971, although the history of involvement in Champagne for the Larmandier and Bernier families dates back to the French Revolution. The Champagne house is currently owned by Pierre and Sophie Larmandier, and their son Arthur is also now working in the family business. The estate is made up of 17 ha (42 acres) of vineyards throughout the Côte des Blancs, made up of 60 different plots containing 15 ha (37 acres) of Chardonnay and 2 ha (5 acres) of Pinot Noir. Pierre began farming without agrochemicals in 1992 and by 1999 he was farming the estate biodynamically and making use of the natural yeasts present on the grapes in order to begin fermentation without commercial yeast strains. Unlike most champagne which relies on blending for complexity, Larmandier-Bernier has created a series of single vineyard expression wines, in order to showcase the individual terroirs, which is helped greatly by the biodynamic farming.

In the Larmandier-Bernier portfolio, there are 5 blanc de blancs – 2 blended wines and 3 single vineyard wines, a Saignée Rosé champagne and two still wines under the Coteaux Champenois AOC – a Premier Cru Pinot Noir (Vertus Rouge) and a Grand Cru Chardonnay (Cramant Nature). All of the Chardonnay is fermented in Austrian oak, which is becoming more popular in Champagne due to its more delicate flavours, with different size vessels dependent upon the size of the vineyard. After the alcoholic fermentation, it goes through full malolactic fermentation and then remains on the lees for approximately 10 months. For the Saignée Rosé, the Pinot Noir grapes undergo 2-3 days of maceration before the juice is pressed off. The juice is split into two different types of vessels – about 20% goes into concrete eggs and the remainder goes into stainless steel tanks for both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations. Before bottling, the two lots of Pinot Noir are blended, along with a small amount of both Pinot Gris and Chardonnay (about 2% each). The Rosé and ‘Latitude’, one of the blended blanc de blancs, are both aged for a minimum of two years before disgorgement, whereas all of the other blanc de blancs are aged between four and eight years before disgorgement. All of the wines are dry, with the maximum dosage being a minimal 4g/L of sugar, in the form of concentrated organic grape must. For the blended wines, a solera reserve was started in 2004. Each July, some of the wine is removed from the solera to be added to the new vintage, and then it is topped up with some of the new wine later that fall. This reserve wine is blended in to add complexity to the ‘Latitude’ and ‘Longitude’ blanc de blancs. After a tour of the winemaking facility and the cellar, we returned to the main reception area to taste through five of the wines.

The Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru Extra-brut (56€/bottle) is from the 2015 vintage and has a dosage of 3g/L. It is pale salmon in colour with light red fruit and floral aromas. It is dry with high acidity, a fine mousse and a lovely freshness on the palate. It has flavours of strawberry, raspberry with a wonderful flinty character.

The ‘Latitude’ Extra-brut blanc de blancs (36.50€/bottle) is made exclusively from Chardonnay that comes from the vineyards in Vertus, where the soils are made up of approximately 2 feet of clay on top of chalk. Its base wine (60%) is from the 2015 vintage, with 40% of the solera reserve added to it and a dosage of 4g/L. It has aromas of citrus and toast. It is dry with high acidity and a fine mousse. It is round and creamy on the palate with flavours of lemon and toasty brioche, with some minerality.

The ‘Longitude’  Premier Cru Extra-brut (39€/bottle) is made from Chardonnay that comes from vineyards in Vertus, Oger, Avize and Cramant, running further north up the Côte des Blancs, where the soils have about half the amount clay on top of the chalk soils. Its base wine (70%) is from the 2014 vintage, with 30% of the solera reserve added to it and a dosage of 4g/L. It has a toasty brioche nose. It is dry with high acidity and a fine mousse and flavours of lemon, green apple, some nutty toastiness and minerality. It has a lot of complexity and is one of the bottles that came home with me.

The Terre de Vertus Premier Cru Non Dosé 2012 (53€/bottle) is one of the single vineyard expressions, coming from the mid-slope terroir of Vertus. It is a Brut Nature, which means that it has not received any dosage after disgorgement – it is simply topped up with the same wine that is in the bottle. It has a nose that I could just smell endlessly – very complex. It is dry, with high acidity and is medium-bodied – fuller than the previous wines, with a creamy round mouthfeel. It has aromas and flavours of lemon, apple, pear, brioche, honey and has noticeable salinity/minerality. We were given a little tip to look for on bottles of Larmandier-Bernier champagne – there is a laser code imprinted on all the bottles at the time of disgorgement. It contains a code for each lot. In the case of this bottle the code was TV12 0318 – ‘TV’ for Terre Vertus, ’12’ for vintage 2012, ‘0318’ for having been disgorged in March of 2018.

The Vieille Vigne du Levant Grand Cru Extra-brut 2009 (72€/bottle) comes from 50 to 80 year old vines in a single vineyard in Cramant. It has a dosage of 2g/L. It has a lovely nose of citrus and stonefruit and some floral notes. It is dry with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) body and a complex palate of lemon, honey, peach, apricot, tropical fruit, some herbal notes with lean minerality and a very long finish. It is delicious!

Following a lovely lunch at a café in Vertus (I’d like to comment on how wonderful the restaurant meals were around Champagne, and for reasonable prices – two huge courses, including delicious cheese plates and a glass of wine for only 13€) we went to our second appointment of the day. This had been a recommendation of @girlsgogrape – Champagne Jean Milan in Oger, about 10 minutes up the road from Vertus. After ringing the bell out at the street, we were escorted through their courtyard to the main tasting room. Champagne Jean Milan is a small family operation (only 8 people on staff, including 3 family members) that was started in 1864 and is now in the hands of the 5th generation – Jean-Charles Milan. The estate consists of 6 ha (15 acres) of vineyards in the Grand Cru appellation of Oger. They are open year-round for tastings by appointment.

The first wine that we tasted was their Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs (20€/bottle), which is a blend of Chardonnay from the 2014 and 2015 vintages with three years ‘en tirage‘ and a dosage of 3g/L. It has a honeyed nose, is dry with high acidity, refreshing fruit and flavours of lemon, lime, green apple, nice complexity and minerality with a medium (+) finish.

The Brut Blanc de Blancs (23€/bottle) is a blend of Chardonnay from the 2013 and 2014 vintages with four years ‘en tirage‘ and a dosage of 8g/L. It has aromas of lemon, peach, apple and pear on the nose. It is dry with high acidity, fine mousse, a round mouthfeel and flavours of red apple,ripe pear, peach and lemon, with a long finish. It is delicious and approachable.

The Brut Grande Reserve 1864 Sélection 2013 Blanc de Blancs (38€/bottle) is made of reserve wine vinified in oak for 12 months before spending a further four years ‘en tirage‘ and being riddled by hand. It has a dosage of 6g/L and is then bottled not with the traditional cork and cage, but the more ancient method of cork with string and wax. It has aromas of toast, brioche, lemon curd and apple on the nose. It is dry, with high acidity and medium body with complex flavours of lemon-lime, green apple, brioche, toasted nuts and baking spice, with nice minerality and a long finish.

The Coteaux Champenois Blanc 2016 (29€/bottle) is a limited edition still Chardonnay that was aged for 1 year in an oak barrel – only 200 bottles were produced! It has aromas of peach, apricot, pear and apple. It is dry with high acidity, medium body, a lovely minerality/salinity and flavours of lemon-lime, green apple, peach and toasty pie crust, with a long finish. It is fresh and nicely balanced.

The Brut Rosé 2014 (30€/bottle) is a special release for the 150th celebration of Jean Milan. It is a blend of 90% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Oger and 10% Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Bouzy, with a dosage of 8g/L. It is medium salmon in colour with loads of red fruit on the nose – strawberry, raspberry and red currant, along with some more savoury/earthy notes. It is dry with high acidity, persistent bubbles and flavours of strawberry, red currant, cranberry, cherry and lemon with flinty minerality and a medium (+) finish.

The Sec ‘Tendresse’ Blanc de Blancs (20€/bottle) uses the same base wine as the Extra-Brut, from the 2014 and 2015 vintages and with three years ‘en tirage‘, but with a dosage of 20g/L. It has aromas of peach, apricot, apple, pear and floral notes on the nose. It is off-dry with high acidity and flavours of green apple, peach, apricot and ripe pear. It is rounder but still fresh, and has a long finish.

Our final appointment of the day, at Champagne J&H Fagot, was a bit of a further drive away (32 kms to Rilly-La-Montagne on the northern slopes of la Montagne de Reims) but we had some time to spare so decided to take the scenic route of smaller roadways, avoiding going through the centre of Épernay. It was very cool to be driving past all these vineyards and seeing all the small markers to the side of the road with the familiar names of the bigger champagne houses that we see in the BC market (Moët et Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Tattinger, Laurent-Perrier, etc.) Rilly-La-Montagne is a picturesque little town overlooking the sprawling Reims and is home to 314 ha (775 acres) of Premier Cru vineyards, 6 Champagne Houses, 36 Champagne Growers and 1 Cooperative. The majority of the vines in the area are Pinot Meunier, followed by Pinot Noir and some Chardonnay. J&H Fagot is one of the growers, controlling 12 ha (30 acres) of vines that are split between 60 different plots and are dedicated to equal amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. After tasting primarily Chardonnay-based wines earlier in the day it was interesting to see how Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier can alter the texture and flavours in champagne. All of the wines listed below are Premier Cru.

The Blanc de blancs Brut (15.50€/bottle) is 100% Chardonnay with two years ‘en tirage‘ and a dosage of 5.5g/L. It has fresh, clean aromas of citrus. It is dry with high acidity and a fine mousse, with flavours of lemon and hazelnut with a creamy texture and a long finish.

The ‘Carte Blanche’ Brut (14.50€/bottle) is a blend of one third each of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay with two years ‘en tirage‘ and a dosage of 8g/L. It has a lot of red fruit notes on the nose, along with some lemon, apple and toasty brioche. It is dry with high acidity, a fine mousse and flavours of lemon, apple, pear, red currant and hazelnut. It is well-balanced with a long finish. A half bottle (7.90€/bottle) made its way back to Canada to share with friends.

The Rosé Brut (16.50€/bottle) is 100% Pinot Noir – 80% of it pressed off directly, and 20% of it has 8-10 days of skin contact before pressing. It spends 3 years ‘en tirage‘ and has a dosage of 8g/L. It has lovely aromas of strawberry, raspberry and cherry. It is dry with high acidity, medium (+) body and a fine mousse, with pronounced intensity on the palate with some savoury notes and flavours of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, red currant, along with minerality, lots of complexity, persistent bubbles and a long finish. I quite enjoyed this wine and it was among my purchases here.IMG_5827

The Millésime vintage 2009 (19.30€/bottle) is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir and 60% Chardonnay with 7 years spent ‘en tirage‘ and a dosage of 5.5g/L. It has a very complex nose with aromas of apple, pear, some salinity and almost something along the lines of some biological ageing. It is dry with high acidity and pronounced intensity on the palate with flavours of green apple, pear, lemon curd, pie crust and a hint of baking spice with good length.

The ‘Cuvée Fondateur’ (24.30€/bottle) is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay with 5 years spent ‘en tirage‘ and a dosage of 4g/L. Both of the cuvées are from 2011. It has a complex and intense nose with smoky, flinty aromas along with lemon and some nuttiness. It is dry with high acidity and pronounced intensity with flavours of hazelnut, lemon, green apple, pie crust and minerality. It is rich, complex, elegant and beautifully balanced with a very long finish. This also made its way back to Canada with me.

After our tasting, Béatrice Fagot showed us down to the cellar as she put together our orders. We got to see the labelling machine in operation, getting some bottles ready for export to Asia.IMG_5829

By the end of the day, @vinewineandwander and I both felt like we had exercised restraint in our purchases, yet this is what the trunk of the little Fiat looked like upon our return to Chavot-Courcourt… 20181026_175925

Yes, that’s restraint shown by two WSET Diploma students in Champagne. 😉

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If I must… (rubber arm twisting)

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I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, if one needs to write an exam, there are worse places to have to do it than London, England. I must admit that this did somewhat factor in to my plan when I was researching the different APPs (Approved Programme Providers) that offer the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 4 Diploma. Never mind the fact that it’s drastically cheaper to take the diploma straight from the source than to take it locally in Western Canada (even with travel factored in), but it’s LONDON! Which means that not only is it a fabulous city to visit, but it’s also very close to many Old World wine regions! My study buddy/travel partner on this long road of the WSET Diploma, @vinewineandwander, agreed with me on this so, after spending 8 weeks studying the first unit (Unit 2 – Wine Production) and completing online coursework, we set off on a plane to London to sit our first exam and spend two days in class at WSET School London.20181021_153702

Although we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the city outside of class, we crammed in as much as we could in terms of food & drink: 3 pubs, 3 wine bars, 1 food market, 1 dim sum restaurant (that has a female chef and only features wines, beers, ciders and spirits made by women), 1 Portuguese restaurant, and 2 amazing pop-up community-driven spaces that focus on small local producers of food from all different ethnicities, craft beer, craft cider, craft spirits, all under an umbrella of social responsibility and community sustainability: Pop Brixton and Mercato Metropolitano. Although I could go on about these last two for ages, all I will say is that something like this would be SO FABULOUS in the Okanagan.

We also were fortunate enough with the timing of our trip, to be able to attend a Georgian Wine Tasting put on by Georgian Wine UK and held at the venerable 67 Pall Mall. This was the first opportunity that I had had since visiting Georgia in 2014 to taste so many of the wines in one sitting – there were 73 wines and 1 whiskey that took us the better part of 3 hours to get through. These included 3 sparkling wines, 4 dry white wines (European winemaking), 21 qvevri amber wines (traditional Georgian), 17 qvevri red wines (traditional Georgian), 25 dry red wines (European winemaking), and 2 off-dry red wines. It was quite the experience, being in a room with many of the ‘who’s who’ in the wine world, but it was also reassuring to overhear tasting notes that aligned with my own! The wines that I found to stand out in the tasting are shown below.

As part of this trip, we added 4 days in the Champagne region in France (it’s only a 45 minute flight plus a one-hour drive away!) and I will post soon about our adventures in Champagne. Stay tuned!

Echo Bay Vineyard

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20180915_164359I spent some time yesterday with the lovely Rufiange family – Kathy, Mark & Kelsey – at their Echo Bay property in Okanagan Falls. The property itself has been in Kathy’s family for five generations and served as a family gathering place on the shores of Skaha Lake. They planted their 5-acre vineyard in 2013 to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. Their first two vintages, 2015 and 2016, were made with the help of Alan Dickenson at Synchromesh Wines. Echo Bay has similar ideals in viticulture and oenology as Synchromesh – keeping very much along the lines of chemical-free farming (organic, biodynamic) as well as minimal-intervention winemaking, so that relationship makes sense to me. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of their wines, ever since I had a sneak peek taste of their 2015 Cabernet Franc, courtesy of a colleague this past winter, so when I saw a little note on social media recently that their wines would be released soon, I got in touch!

Kelsey Rufiange, who studied Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University in New Zealand and is now the winemaker for the Echo Bay wines, showed me around their cellar – a nice simple barn-shaped design – and led me through a tasting of their two current wines, in their rock-walled barrel room.20180915_164016

20180915_154359We began with the 2015 Synoptic, whose name refers to the synoptic weather symbols that cover their labels. This is their field blend red, the percentages of each component subject to change each year. This vintage is made up of 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 3% Carmenère & 3% Petit Verdot, from 3 year old vines. It was fermented naturally (not innoculated with commercial yeast), with most of the varieties each being fermented separately but the Petit Verdot and Carmenère were co-fermented. The wine was aged 19 months in 30% new French Oak before being blended and bottled last summer. It has a very aromatic, perfumed nose, with elegant layers of dark berries, violets, dark cherry and Damson plum. On the palate it is dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium ripe tannins, medium-plus body and flavours of cherry, plum, dark berries and some oak spice that is not fully integrated yet, with a long finish. This is a complex and elegant wine that will benefit from a bit more time in the bottle.

The second wine that I tasted was the 2015 Cabernet Franc, which is the wine that initially got me hooked on Echo Bay Vineyard. This wine has complex aromas of raspberry, spice, dark berries, some earthy notes and a hint of something herbal and a few things that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It is dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium body, medium-plus ripe tannins and flavours of cherry, red plum, liquorice, and spice. It is lovely and complex with a lingering finish. I wish I could have walked out with a case or more, but with its production only being 50 cases, there is a 2-bottle limit and it’s almost gone.

This is one of those small, quality wine producers that I’d really love to keep all to myself because I know that, once word gets out, their wines will be snapped up quickly every year, along the lines of Synchromesh and Bella Wines. But I also want to see them succeed, and so here I am sharing this little secret gem. For more information on Echo Bay Vineyard and how to get their wines, please check out their Instagram & website.

 

 

Garagiste North 2018

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This afternoon I was up in Kelowna attending the most recent Garagiste North Festival, which has been showcasing small BC wine producers since its inaugural event in 2014, hosted this year by Sperling Vineyards. The festival is organized by Jennifer Schell and Terry Meyer Stone, each of them garagistes, with Schell Wines and Anarchist Vineyard respectively. In speaking with several people at the event, I realised how long it’s been since I’ve done any writing on this blog, and decided to jump back into it.

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Garagiste North is one of my favourite wine events each year – the producers are all so passionate about their wines, and it’s fun to taste wines that are made in such tiny quantities – some as little as 1 barrel, or 25 cases. In order to participate, the wineries must make fewer than 2000 cases per year, and many only make a fraction of that. This year 21 producers were participating including, for the first time,  a new craft brewery – Vice & Virtue Brewing, and craft cidery – Truck 59 Ciderhouse! 20180819_143853Especially with the large growth in craft beers and craft ciders over the past five years, it’s great to see them included in this passionate group. My picks from each of them are the Love Potion Raspberry ‘BerlinerVice’ from Vice & Virtue, a fruity, refreshing, slightly sour beer, and the Classic Dry Apple Cider from Truck 59, perfect for a hot summer’s day.20180819_144617

Some of the wines that stood out to me today include the following:

2016 Mayhem from Anarchist Vineyard, an elegant, medium-bodied blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

The new Wild Ferment Brut from Anthony Buchanan, a lovely aromatic sparkling Riesling.

2015 The Syndicate from Black Market Wine Co, a delicious Bordeaux-style blend.

The 2016 Viognier from Bottega Wine Studio, this is elegant, with ripe fruit and bright acidity.

The 2015 Carmenere from Lariana Cellars, medium-bodied with ripe juicy fruit and a hint of spice.

The 2017 Siegerebbe from Nagging Doubt Wines, this aromatic white is done in a light, dry style that is quite lovely.

The 2014 Merlot from Skaha Vineyard, so very drinkable – it has soft tannins and ripe fruit with lovely minerality running through it.

The 2017 Semillon from Tall Tale Wines – I missed this wine on my round of whites, so am glad that I found it later, with crisp acidity, nice depth of fruit and lovely texture.

The 2016 Petit Claret from VinAmité Cellars, an easy-drinking blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Thanks to Jennifer and Terry for inviting me this afternoon, and to all the wineries that were participating: Anarchist Mountain Vineyard, Anthony Buchanan Wines, BC Wine Studio, Black Cloud Winery, Black Market Wine Co., Bottega Wine Studio, Coolshanagh Vineyard, Dames Wine, Giant Head Estate, Lariana Cellars, Marionette Winery, MOCOJO Winery, Nagging Doubt Wines, Origin Wines, Schell Wines, Skaha Vineyard, Tall Tale Wines, Truck 59 Ciderhouse, Vice & Virtue Brewing, vinAmité Cellars, Winemakers Cut. Also thanks to RauDZ for making pizzas, to Fairview Liquor for operating the on-site store and to Sperling Vineyards for providing a lovely venue!

More New Okanagan Wineries

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Over the past couple of months I have managed to get to a few new wineries in the central and south Okanagan. One new winery that is making some waves on the Naramata Bench is Little Engine Winery. It is located immediately south of Red Rooster Winery and has knocked it out of the ballpark for its opening vintage release. I had reasonably high hopes for the wines prior to visiting as I am familiar with previous wines made by winemaker Scott Robinson, formerly of LaFrenz. Little Engine has a great team in place, from owners Steven and Nicole French, winemaker Scott, viticulturist Pénélope Roche, and tasting room manager Audralee Daum. The winery and tasting room building is pretty great as well, designed by Heather Shedden of People Plus Space, and built by Ritchie Custom Homes.20160622_161803

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Steven French (L) and Scott Robinson (R)

I visited within their first couple of weeks of being open, joined by my friend Christine of Girls Go Grape with promises of amazing Chardonnays (she and I both consider ourselves to be #Chardcore). Scott met us there and walked us through the wines. The 2015 Rosé is made up of 80% Merlot and 20% Pinot Noir from Naramata. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and a creamy texture. It has flavours of strawberry and raspberry with a long spicy finish. The 2015 Silver Sauvignon Blanc is mainly done in stainless steel but has 5% fermented in neutral French oak for some more mouthfeel. It has aromas of grapefruit and guava. It is dry with high acidity and medium-minus body with flavours of grapefruit, tropical notes and gooseberry. It has a long finish, is well-balanced and delicious.

The 2015 Silver Chardonnay is a blend of three different clones of Chardonnay, sourced from two vineyards in Naramata and one in Kaleden. It has been fermented 50/50 in stainless steel and in barrel (half new, half neutral), aged 5-6 months on lees. It is pale lemon in colour with aromas of citrus, apple and smoke. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of lemon, cream, apricot and spice, with a long finish. The 2014 Gold Chardonnay (Reserve) spent 15 months in barrel with lees stirring and includes fruit from 26 year old vines, giving much more complexity to the wine. It is pale gold in colour with aromas of baking spice, lemon and peach. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body, with flavours of buttered popcorn, pineapple, butterscotch, tropical fruit and spice. It is well-balanced with a very long finish – quite delicious, but will certainly benefit from some cellar-aging.

The 2014 Silver Pinot Noir is medium garnet in colour with earthy aromas, spice, raspberry jam and a hint of floral notes. It is dry with medium-acidity, medium body and medium (fine) tannins with flavours of red cherry, raspberry and spice. It has a long finish with lovely balance and intensity. The 2014 Gold Pinot Noir is medium-plus ruby with a garnet rim. It has a rich ripe nose of darker fruit in a jammier style to the Silver. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body and medium-plus (ripe) tannins with flavour of ripe black cherry, blackforest cake and baking spice with a really long finish.

The 2014 Silver Merlot is medium purple-ruby with aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry, spice and liquorice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body, full (ripe) tannins and nice intensity, with nice length and balance.

 

Up in East Kelowna, with sweeping views of the city and Okanagan Lake beyond, is Kitsch Wines, owned by Trent and Ria Kitsch. Having followed their progress on social media over the past year, I decided to go check out their tasting room and meet up with winemaker Grant Biggs. We were greeted out at the parking lot by a golf cart to drive us around the estate home that houses Kitsch in the large garage space. The panoramic view met us behind the building.

Kitsch currently has three wines produced from their two vineyard properties. The 2015 Pinot Gris spent 20 hours with skin contact prior to fermentation. It has fresh aromas of pear and melon. It is dry with medium acidity and light body with flavours of peach, pear and apple. It is very well-balanced. The 2015 Chardonnay comes from young vines in third leaf and has spent 50 days in French oak barrels – 40% 1 year old barrels and 60% neutral. It has aromas of apricot, apple and hints of smoke. It is dry with medium acidity, medium body and a creamy texture. It has delicate flavours of apple and hints of floral. The 2015 Riesling was fermented in two separate lots, keeping two different blocks (with different elevation and characteristics) apart. It has a fairly light, but very pleasant, nose. It is dry with high acidity and medium body with juicy fruit flavours of peach, lemon, lime and nice minerality. It is well-balanced, clean, fresh and has a really nice texture, which is in part due to some time in neutral French oak barrels.

 

Penticton now has another winery-with-restaurant option at the south end of town, overlooking Skaha Lake with Play Winery. Open now for a couple of months, and located in the Skaha Hills development above the airport, in a partnership between Stage West Hospitality out of Calgary and the Penticton Indian Band.

Recently I met up with Mohamed Awad, general manager and winemaker, for a tour, tasting and lunch, and I’ll definitely be back again for more, particularly as it’s a great option for a meal out close to home! I decided to sample a couple of their First Act (lighter bite) options for my lunch – the Seared Scallop with beetroot yogurt, fried beet ribbons and micro herbs, along with the Forest Mushroom Arancini with caramelized onion purée, pickled shimiji mushrooms, parmesan and toasted hazelnuts. Both dishes were delicious and beautifully presented by Executive Chef Jeff Burns.20160704_142223

Following a quick tour of the barrel room and production facility (located below the restaurant and tasting room) we returned to the tasting bar to go through their lineup. The wine names certainly fit with the connection with Stage West, with names such as Ad Lib and Improv for their white and red blends. The 2014 Ad Lib is 76% Sauvignon Blanc and 24% Semillon. It has a tropical nose, is dry wtih medium-plus acidity and medium body. It has flavours of citrus, almond, apple, pear and floral notes. It is refreshing with some nice complexity and a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Viognier has a third of it aged in new French oak, which I worried would overwhelm the wine, but it has been handled really well. It has aromas of spice, floral, apricot, peach and some tropical notes. It is dry with a round mouthfeel, medium acidity and medium body, with flavours of apricot, citrus, ginger and a hint of oak with a long finish.

The 2014 Syrah has a medium ruby colour with aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, spice and a touch of oak. It is dry with medium acidity, medium body and tannins with flavours of cherry, blackberry and a hint of spice. It is a more delicate fruit-forward style of Syrah, with a long finish. The 2014 Improv is a very easy-drinking blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Syrah. It is medium ruby in colour with aromas and flavours of ripe cherry, juicy plum and baking spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and tannins.

The 2015 Moscato is a blend of Muscat Ottonel, Orange Muscat and White Muscat. It has a very typical, highly aromatic, muscat/floral nose. It is off-dry, clean, fresh, fruity and juicy – a highly dangerous wine that can go down just a little too easily.20160704_135455 The 2014 Dramatic White Blend is made up of 59% Sauvignon Blanc, 39% Viognier and 2% Gewurztraminer. It has aromas of citrus, stone fruit and some floral notes. It is dry but fruity with medium acidity and medium-minus body, with flavours of citrus, apricot and pear rind with a medium finish. The 2013 Dramatic Red Blend is made up of 70% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has aromas of ripe cherry, plum and spice. It is dry but fruity with medium acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins, with flavours of cassis, cherry, plum and some oak with a medium finish.20160704_135603

Getting out to some new Okanagan wineries: Summerland

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There are more and more new wineries popping up throughout BC, almost daily it seems at times. This summer I will endeavour to visit as many of them as I can (although I don’t know how many trips outside of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Shuswap I’ll be able to make).  I have recently updated my Wine Region pages to include all new winery and cidery licenses in BC.

A few weekends ago I decided to visit a few wineries in Summerland – one that I’ve visited before but they have many new products out; one whose wines I have sampled but to whose tasting room I’ve never been; and one that I’d heard good things about but never tried the wines or visited.

I started out by driving to the north end of Summerland to Sage Hills Organic Estate Vineyard & Winery. Perched on the bluffs overlooking Okanagan Lake, with clear views up to Peachland and over to the Naramata Bench, it is a clean modern tasting room and winemaking facility.20160612_154734 Rick Thrussell is the owner of the winery & vineyard, with his partner Toby and his son Keenan helping out in the vineyard, the cellar and the tasting room. Tom DiBello is their winemaker. They have a very strong belief about farming the grapes in a way that they refer to as “beyond organic”, striving to farm organically, beyond what is required for a certification process. The vineyard is planted to Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir, and this is what the portfolio is primarily made up of, with the more recent addition of a Syrah and a Syrah rosé, from fruit sourced from Covert Farms in Oliver.

Before visiting Sage Hills, you should be aware that there is a tasting fee of $20. This may turn some people away, but for this fee you can taste through the entire portfolio of whites, reds, orange, rosé and a fortified wine, and the tasting fee is waived if you buy a bottle. Rick began my tasting with the Brut Sauvage 2014 ($39), a sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Gris. It is pale gold in colour with aromas of pear, apple and some toasty notes. It is dry with high acidity, a fine mousse and some nice minerality. It has flavours of citrus, Granny Smith apple and toastiness. The 2015 Syrah Rosé ($28) is a medium salmon colour, from the 3 hours of skin contact. It has a beautiful nose of strawberry, spice, watermelon and red currants. It is dry with medium acidity and a creamy mouthfeel, with flavours of strawberries & cream, rhubarb and a hint of spice – quite lovely! The 2015 Gewürztraminer ($27) is pale straw in colour with aromas of lychee, rose, grapefruit, orange blossom and mandarin orange. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of lemon, pink grapefruit and apple with a medium-plus finish. The 2015 Pinot Gris ($25) is pale straw in colour with aromas of pear, melon, spice and tropical notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon rind, pear rind and juicy melon, with a long finish. The 2015 ‘Rhymes with Orange’ ($26) is made from 100% Pinot Gris that was fermented with 5 days of skin contact to give its medium salmon colour and some structure and complexity. It has a smoky nose and savoury aromas. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins. In some ways, the palate reminds me of scotch, without the alcoholic burn, with smoke, citrus notes, a distinct peatiness and a hint of fruitiness. The 2014 Syrah ($55) is medium purple in colour with jammy aromas of dark berries, plum, blackberry, black cherry, with some meaty notes and smokiness. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, body and tannins with flavours of blackberry jam, pepper and smoke, with a long finish. The 2013 Aft ($29) is a 3-year barrel aged Syrah, fortified with grappa made with their own grape product by Maple Leaf Spirits. It is medium ruby in colour with floral notes, spice, black cherry and plum on the nose. It is off-dry with medium acidity and medium-plus body and balanced alcohol. It has flavours of blackberry, blueberry and violets. It is very smooth and more-ish.

Next up was Okanagan Crush Pad, which seems to have something new every time I visit! The patio seating was being well used on the sunny day that I arrived, and a secondary tasting bar was set up in the main part of the facility, alongside a great display of foodie-centric items from Edible Canada, including cotton candy, a host of jams, marinades, spices, and flavoured tonics to pair with the new Narrative gin being produced on site, now that OCP also has a distillery license.

Krissy Neilsen led me on an extensive portfolio tasting, beginning with the 2014 Samantha Chardonnay (from sommelier Samantha Rahn, of Araxi Restaurant in Whistler), fermented and aged in concrete.It has a pear and apple nose, is dry with medium acidity and body with a creamy mouthfeel. The 2014 Switchback Pinot Gris fermented for 9 months in concrete. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body with flavours of pear and lemon. The 2015 Secrest Gamay Noir Rosé is a pale salmon colour with a strawberry nose. It is fresh and dry with medium acidity and light body with flavours of melon and strawberry. The 2015 Switchback Wild Ferment Pinot Gris spent 9 months on skins in a clay amphora. It is a pale salmon colour and has a complex nose. It is dry with medium body and medium-minus body and flavours of apple, dried apricot and citrus. The 2014 Free Form Sauvignon Blanc has a lovely nose of quince and apricot. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with a complex palate with multiple layers of flavour – lovely. The 2014 Free Form Red is Pinot Noir that spent 5 months on skins in a clay amphora and then just the free run juice from that. It is pale ruby in colour and slightly off-dry with medium acidity, medium body and medium fine tannins. It has flavours of strawberries, with some sweet herbal notes. The 2014 Samantha Gamay was a wild ferment, part in concrete and part in stainless steel. It is pale ruby in colour with a rich nose. It is dry with medium acid, medium-minus body and medium tannins. It has nice complexity on the palate with ripe flavours of red plum, raspberry and spice – very tasty. The Narrative XC Method sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made in Charmat tanks with 100 days lees contact. It has a fresh, toasty, fruity nose with a nice mousse. I finished off with a Fortified that is a combination of 60% Syrah and 40% Merlot. It is smooth with rich ripe dark fruit flavours with a hint of pepper and mint.20160612_164112

My third winery of the day was Lunessence, which opened last year (in the former location of Sonoran Estate Winery after they returned to their original location to the north of Summerland). They have done a lovely refresh of the building outside and in. The primary focus at Lunessence is in the vineyard and the harmony achieved through an integrated protection plan, following biodynamic principles and the rhythms of the moon, and introducing classical music throughout the vineyard, winery and tasting room. It certainly makes for a serene tasting experience.20160612_173201  I met Michael, the winemaker, and he led me through most of my tasting. The 2014 Chardonnay ($28) had a third of the wine spend 6 months in new Slovakian oak barrels but didn’t see any malolactic fermentation, giving it some very lovely aromatics. It is very delicate and pretty on the nose with fresh aromas of apple and pear with some light floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It has flavours of citrus, apple and a hint of spice.

The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) had a similar barrel program to the Chardonnay having one third spend 5 months in Slovakian barrels.It is a pretty wine with tropical notes, citrus and lemongrass on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of gooseberry, citrus and tropical fruit. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Muscat ($22) is a field blend made up of approximately 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Muscat Canelli, with the remaining 10% made up of Chardonnay, Semillon and Viognier. It is crisp with lovely aromatics and is well-balanced. The 2014 Riesling has aromas of citrus, apricot and peach. It is off-dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and a creamy mouthfeel. It has flavours of lemon-lime, peach and apricot and a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Gewürztraminer has 5% Semillon and 5% Schönberger blended in. It has aromas of lemon, lychee and rose petal. It is off-dry with medium acidity, medium body and is fresh on the palate with flavours of lemon meringue and lychee with a long finish. The 2015 Rosé ($18) is made up of 70% Cabernet Franc from Osoyoos and 30% Pinot Noir from Naramata. It is medium salmon in colour. It is off-dry and I was surprised to know that the residual sugar is at 22g/L, because it does not come across as that sweet. The acidity is kept high enough to nicely balance it out. This rosé is pure juicy strawberry.

The 2014 Merlot ($28) spent 6 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and Slovakian barrels, followed by 8 month in stainless tanks. It has a rich nose of ripe dark plum and cherry with some liquorice. it is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus body and medium-plus-plus fine tannins. On the rich palate there are dried herbs, plum, cherry and spice with a long finish. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)  spent 6 months in Slovakian and neutral French barrels, followed by 6 months in stainless steel. It has very rich ripe nose of black cherry and liquorice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body and medium-plus-plus tannins. It has flavours of black cherry, plum and eucalyptus. I enjoyed my tasting at Lunessence and will hope to return.

Sonoma Tour: Healdsburg Part 2

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Venturing up Dry Creek Road on the northwest side of Healdsburg was probably one of my favourite parts of my Sonoma trip. I really enjoyed that area, particularly venturing off the main road onto winding roads lined with vineyards, olive trees and with the mustard in full bloom. I visited a handful of the many wineries in the area, and kept wishing for more time to spend there.20160226_163814

The first winery that I stopped at was Papapietro Perry. It is part of a complex that houses several tasting rooms, spread out in various buildings around a common parking area. Papapietro Perry started out as a true garagiste winery back in the 1980s, and opened commercially in the 1990s, with a focus on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. The current offerings include ten different Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Noir Rosé, a Chardonnay, and a Zinfandel.

I began my tasting with the 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir. It is pale salmon in colour with light aromas of strawberry and some floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, light body and flavours of citrus, red plum and strawberry. The 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is pale ruby-garnet in colour with aromas of cherry, raspberry and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, light tannins and body with flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of raspberry, strawberry and a bit of earthiness. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, light tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry and raspberry.20160226_151707 The 2013 Russian River Valley Leras Family Vineyard Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of red fruit, mushroom and earthy notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cola, raspberry and spice. The 2012 Dry Creek Zinfandel is pale ruby in colour with a rich nose of blackberry, cocoa and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins, and medium body with flavours of baking spice, brambleberry, pepper and blueberry. It is elegant with a medium-plus finish. Just as I was about to leave, some beautiful barrels were being delivered as part of a local art project – a great idea!

While at Papapietro Perry, it was suggested that I stop in at Sbragia Winery, a few minutes up the road to taste the wines and particularly to check out the views. The tasting room was pretty busy when I arrived and I didn’t have a lot of time so I didn’t end up tasting but I did snap a few photos of the views. I can imagine that it would be particularly lovely on a blue-sky day.20160226_153827

I made my way to Amista Vineyards toward the end of my day of touring and was amazed to find many of the vines already in budbreak. It seemed so early, although I suppose Sonoma and Napa are typically around 6 weeks ahead of the Okanagan.IMG_3623 I was offered a couple of sparkling wines to start my tasting. The Sparkling Blanc de Blancs had lovely citrus and toast on the nose and palate and a nice mousse. The Sparkling Syrah was a nice change to some of the Sparkling Shirazes that I’ve had before from Australia. I was prepared for something dark and rich and verging on sweet. Instead, this Sparkling Syrah has a lovely berry nose, is crisp and dry with a nice creamy mousse. A very pleasant surprise. The 2012 Chardonnay Estate spent 16 months in neutral French oak. It is pale lemon in colour with fresh aromas of apple, light tropical fruit and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity and light body with flavours of apple, tropical fruit, some creaminess to the palate and a medium-plus finish.20160226_160000 I got to try two single vineyard Zinfandels side by side. The 2012 Hill Block Zinfandel is medium ruby-purple with a lighter nose of plum and a bit of spice. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body with rich flavours of dark fruit, spice and earthiness – tasty. The 2012 Gene’s Block Zinfandel is medium ruby-purple with a ripe nose of dark berries. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of cherry, dusty notes and blueberry with a long finish.

I next got to compare two vintages of Syrah (their flagship). The 2011 Syrah is medium purple-ruby with a fresher nose or dark berries and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body with flavours of cherry, red berry and blueberry. The 2012 Syrah (currently available to wine club members only) has a smoky, meaty nose. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and body with a richer palate of smoky bacon and dark berries.20160226_161120 The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is medium-plus purple-ruby in colour with aromas of chocolate and hints of green bell pepper. It is dry with medium acidity, tannin and body with flavours of cassis, green bell pepper and spice. I finished with a Port-style fortified wine made of Zinfandel and Syrah, called Ilusion. It has aromas and flavours of rich ripe dark fruit and a bit of spice. It was quite nice – not too sweet. I had a great time at Amista, chatting with the tasting room staff.20160226_162248

The following day I went back to The Barlow in Sebastopol to meet a friend for coffee and to pass along some BC wines to her that I had brought down with me. I arrived a bit early and decided to do a tasting at Marimar Estate’s tasting room. Michael was a wonderful host at the tasting bar and gave me history on the winery while pouring through their lineup. I began with the 2014 Albariño with its lovely aromatics. It is dry with medium acidity and a rich mouthfeel. It has flavours of peach, pear, apple and floral and is crisp and clean.

The 2013 La Masia Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) is pale gold in colour with fresh aromas of citrus, toast and peach. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of citrus, apple and spice – nicely balanced. The 2013 La Masia Pinot Noir from Don Miguel Vineyard is pale ruby in colour with clean aromas of red fruit. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and spice – very fresh.

The 2012 Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir from the Doña Margarita Vineyard in Sonoma Coast is pale garnet in colour with aromas of spice and red fruit. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of dried raspberry, cranberry and cherry with a long finish. The 2013 Cristina Pinot Noir is made from select barrels. It is pale ruby in colour with a complex nose of baking spice and red fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium dusty tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry, red currants and hints of spice. It is elegant, balanced and has a long finish. The 2013 Método Antiguo Pinot Noir is from the Doña Margarita Vineyard in Sonoma Coast and undergoes carbonic maceration. It is pale ruby in colour with aromas of bright fruit and some herbal notes. It is dry with medium acidity, light tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of red fruit, floral notes and a hint of earthiness.

The 2012 Syrah from Don Miguel Vineyard in the Russian River Valley is medium ruby with a fuchsia hue with aromas of dark berries. It is dry with medium-minus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of dark berries and baking spice with a medium-plus finish.

I think that my favourite Sonoma winery of my trip was the last one I ended up visiting. After tasting their Grenache at Thea’s place, I could not head over to Napa without taking a bit of a detour back up Dry Creek Valley to stop in at Mounts Family Vineyard. Not only was it a beautiful drive to get there, the tasting space was simple, no-frills farm tasting and I loved each of the wines that I sampled.IMG_365120160227_141833IMG_3653IMG_365620160227_142136IMG_3661IMG_3665IMG_3666IMG_3669 The 2014 Viognier has a lovely nose of apricot and honeysuckle. It is dry with medium acidity and flavours of citrus and apricot.

The 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is elegant with flavours of dark berries and pepper. The 2013 Verah is a blend of 53% Mourvèdre, 24% Grenache and 23% Syrah. It is medium-plus purple-ruby with aromas of dark fruit and floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body with flavours of juicy red and dark fruit and spice. It is well-balanced with a long finish.

The 2012 Cabernet Franc is medium ruby with aromas of dark fruit and chocolate. It is dry with medium acidity, ripe tannins and medium body with balanced flavours of dried dark red fruit and spice and a long finish.

As much as I’d hoped (and planned) to visit Jordan Winery for their Taste of Healdsburg event before heading over to Napa, I simply ran short of time. It will be top of my list for my next trip.IMG_3682_crop

Sonoma Tour: Healdsburg Part 1

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I took a bit of an off-season holiday this February. I managed to sneak in six days in California between teaching some wine courses and the opening of the tasting room for the season. There never seem to be enough days in a holiday, and this was no different, particularly as I was exploring a new-to-me wine region for part of that time – Sonoma. Don’t get me wrong, I have certainly drank Sonoma wines before, but I had never explored the region in person. I started my time in California in and around San Francisco, getting a bit of city time in and visiting family. The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny – something that I certainly did not complain about. I managed a bus tour of San Francisco sitting on the open top deck of the bus, in a sleeveless top, and only needing a sweater when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Not bad for the end of February!IMG_3418

For my scant two days and two nights in the Sonoma wine region, my friend and fellow wine blogger, Thea of Luscious Lushes opened her home to me, guided me to several of her favourite local wineries and shared bottles of other favourites. In any wine region, it’s always so helpful to have a local’s perspective as many of the guidebooks don’t have decent maps and don’t tend to focus on the types of wineries that I enjoy visiting. I arrived at Thea’s only to be whisked off to The Barlow in Sebastopol – a fabulous former apple cannery that is now home to wineries, restaurants, a distillery, a brewery, food markets, artists, etc. This is something that I would so dearly love to see in the Okanagan, but sadly would require changes to current liquor laws. MacPhail Family Wines was hosting an evening of wine and goat cheese pairings with Redwood Hill Farm. I very much enjoyed sampling the MacPhail Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs with the delicious array of goat cheeses, and learning all about the different types of cheese.

The next day I decided to venture out and get a better idea of the sense of scale of Sonoma. It’s one thing to look at a map and distances, but there’s no way of knowing how long it actually takes to drive from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg for example. As it turns out, it doesn’t take very long to get anywhere, as long as traffic is cooperative, and with the help of the Wine Road Map, I found my way around easily. I started out my day in central Healdsburg, where there are close to 30 wineries’ tasting rooms all within walking distance (approximately 6 block radius of the main plaza).

Many of these wineries are small to medium sized producers who either make their wines at custom crush facilities, or have a primary winery and tasting room located out of town and this is a second tasting room for them. I figured this would be a great way to visit several wineries in a reasonably short time.

My first stop, after getting some coffee and breakfast into me, was to Banshee Wines. I loved the relaxed vintage vibe as soon as I stepped into the tasting room. Amy greeted me and told me to choose a seat – there are many comfortable chairs and sofas throughout the space.

The first wine poured was the 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir, from fruit sourced in Mendocino County. It is a pale salmon colour with cherry, strawberry, red currant and floral notes on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of Meyer lemon, raspberry, and cranberry with a medium-plus finish – very tasty.20160226_114149 The 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is pale lemon in colour with lemon cream on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon, spice. It has a nice amount of oak to it, without losing the fruit, and is quite elegant.20160226_114708 The 2014 Sonoma County Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of cherry, pepper and raspberry jam. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cranberry, sour cherry, earthy notes and spice with a long finish. 20160226_115251The 2013 Tina Marie Vineyard Pinot Noir is from Green Valley in Sebastopol. It is pale ruby with a fuchsia hue and a rich ripe nose of cherry with a hint of spice. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body, and flavours of cherry, red currant, cranberry with some earthiness and spice with a long finish.20160226_115721 My favourite of the reds was the 2013 Mordecai Red, which is a blend of 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 24% Zinfandel, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Grenache, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot & 3% Barbera. The fruit was sourced from various sites in Dry Creek Valley AVA, Russian River Valley AVA, Alexander Valley AVA and Napa. It is medium ruby in colour with flavours of blackberry, plus, cassis, black cherry and blueberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, dusty ripe tannins and medium body. It is elegant, with flavours of blackberry, plum, earthy notes and cocoa with a super long finish – delicious! I think I need to replenish my supply.20160226_120141 The final wine to taste was the 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain AVA. It is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc. It is medium-plus ruby-purple with a rich nose of cassis, plum and blackberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body, with flavours of plum, coffee, dark berries, some cassis and spice with a long finish.20160226_120943

Next stop was at Cartograph, right across the street from Banshee. I was curious about the place names with longitudes and latitudes on the wall behind the tasting bar. It turns out that this makes up the story behind the label, about the places that great wines can take you, about the story of the winery owners, where they’ve been and how they’ve gotten to where they are.IMG_3581

A “Cartograph” is a visual marking of ideas, either over time or place. The cartograph on our labels is a visual depiction of the journey that brought us to winemaking and the ideas that have propelled that journey. – Alan Baker & Serena Lourie, Owners, Cartograph Wines

The first wine I tasted here was the 2014 Greenwood Ridge Riesling. It is pale lemon in colour with peach and citrus on the nose. It is dry with high acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon, lime and green apple with a medium finish. The 2014 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer, from the Russian River Valley AVA, is pale lemon in colour with apple, honeysuckle, lemon and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and body, with flavours of grapefruit and lychee with a medium finish. We then went into the Pinot Noir portfolio – with four different Pinot Noirs. The 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of cola, strawberry, spice and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cherry, cola, cranberry, strawberry and spice with a medium finish. The 2013 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) is pale ruby in colour and has very light aromas. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cherry, cranberry, cocoa and earthy notes. The 2013 Choate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Green Valley AVA) is pale ruby in colour with an earthy nose with aromas of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry and chocolate. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry and chocolate. The 2013 Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge AVA) is pale ruby in colour with aromas of plum and some earthy notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of plum, pepper, cranberry and orange zest with a long finish.

Gustafson Family Vineyards is located perched in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma, however they have recently opened a tasting room in central Healdsburg and this is where I was able to experience their wines.

The 2014 Rosé of Syrah was fermented in neutral oak barrels. It has a juicy clean nose of red fruit and watermelon. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of cherry and strawberry with a lovely creamy texture. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc contains 20% Sauvignon Musqué. It has peach and pear aromas, is dry with a round mouthfeel and flavours of lemon, peach and floral notes – quite pleasant. The 2013 Riesling, from the Heritage Tree Vineyard, has aromas of green apple, petrol and lemon. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with flavours of lemon, lime and some stone fruit.20160226_170658 The 2012 Estate Mountain Cuvée Zinfandel is 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and 5% Syrah. It has aromas of chocolate, spice and dark fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body with flavours of dried dark fruit, spice and cocoa. The 2011 Estate Heritage Tree Zinfandel is 90% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Sirah. It has a rich ripe nose with aromas of dried dark fruit and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body and medium-plus-plus tannins. It has intense flavours of cocoa, black cherry, plum, dark berry with a long finish. The 2011 Estate Syrah has aromas of pepper and dark fruit with a hint of vanilla. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus-plus body and tannins with flavours of ripe fruit, pepper, blueberry and blackberry with some nice minerality. The 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It has aromas of blackberry, cherry and chocolate. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and body with flavours of ripe dark fruit and spice. The 2012 Estate Petite Sirah is the flagship wine with a juicy nose of chocolate, dark fruit and some floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, ripe tannins and medium-plus body. It is fresh on the palate with flavours of ripe blueberry, black berry, cassis, plum, lavender and liquorice.20160226_172049

I took a bit of a longer stroll through a Healdsburg neighbourhood to get to Davis Family Vineyards, located along the banks of the Russian River. There is a great garden area surrounding a covered patio that I imagine must be popular in the summer months. IMG_3596I began my tasting with a sparkling wine – the 2013 Rosé de Noir, made from 100% Pinot Noir from the Dutton Ranch Vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, nice mousse and flavours of cranberry, strawberry and citrus.20160226_130954 The 2014 Cuvée Luke, from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley AVA, is a blend of 48% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne and 17% Viognier. It has a lovely apricot nose, is dry with medium acidity and body, with a rich creamy mouthfeel and flavours of stone fruit and a bit of citrus with a deliciously long finish. The 2014 Estate Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) is a mix of 70% barrel-fermented with full malo and 30% stainless steel fermented fruit.  It has aromas of citrus, spice, apple and peach. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of citrus, golden delicious apple and has some nice salinity/minerality. It is an elegant wine with a long finish. The 2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of spice, raspberry, cherry and orange zest. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of cherry, raspberry and vanilla. The 2012 Starr Ridge Pinot Noir is pale ruby with a fuchsia hue. It has a clean nose with aromas of plums. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and light body with flavours of plum, currants and liquorice. The 2012 Throne is the first vintage of a blend of 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 12$ Mourvèdre. It has aromas of blackberry, plum and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body, with flavours of ripe plum, dark berry and spice. The 2011 Syrah was cofermented with 3% Viognier. It is a medium ruby-fuchsia in colour with aromas of blackberry, cherry, spice and floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body, medium-plus-plus tannins and flavours of dried cherry, dark chocolate, dark berries and spice.

I couldn’t spend a day in and around Healdsburg without eating at KINsmoke, The United State of BBQ. The aromas wafting from the building were enough to pull me in. In honour of the Okanagan Burger Tour crew I opted for the KIN Burger with sides of sautéed kale and frickles. Definitely delicious, albeit filling, and on my next trip to Healdsburg (and there will be another trip – it’s too awesome an area to not explore further) I will have to pay more attention to their Pit menu.20160226_175809

To hear more about my other winery finds in Sonoma and Napa, please stay tuned to my next blog posts.

Canadian Culinary Championships’ Gold Medal Plates

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This weekend, Gold Medal Plates is happening at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna. This is the grand finale of the Canadian Culinary Championships, presented by Deloitte. The goal of Gold Medal Plates is to raise substantial funds for Canada’s high performance athletes, while celebrating Canadian excellence. Since 2004, this event has received tremendous support and accolades all across Canada, and generated a combined net total of nearly $11 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes! Net proceeds from Gold Medal Plates are given to the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support athletes through high performance programs such as Own the Podium.

Throughout October and November, Canadian chefs competed in eleven major centres across the country for a chance to represent their region at the Gold Medal Plates, which is considered to be the ultimate celebration of Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, entertainment and athletic achievement. The competing chefs this year include:

Representing British Columbia – Alex Chen (Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, Vancouver)

Representing Calgary – Matthew Batey (The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar)

Representing Edmonton – Jan Trittenbach (Solstice Seasonal Cuisine)

Representing Regina – Jonathan Thauberger (Crave Kitchen + Wine Bar)

Representing Saskatoon – Darren Craddock (Riverside Country Club)

Representing Winnipeg – Norm Pastorin (The Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant)

Representing Toronto – Stuart Cameron (Byblos)

Representing Ottawa – Marc Lepine (Atelier)

Representing Montreal – Guillaume Cantin (Les 400 Coups)

Representing St. John’s – Roger Andrews (Relish Gourmet Burgers)

Representing Halifax – Martin Ruiz Salvador (Fleur De Sel, Lunenberg)

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

I attended a Wine & Media event yesterday as part of the Gold Medal Plates weekend, which featured the wines from the Bottleneck Drive winery association from Summerland. IMG_3372While I am quite familiar with the wineries, it was nice to be able to try some more recent vintages and some wines that were new to me, while chatting with the wineries’ representatives. Also included in the association are two new cideries. I sampled the Thornhaven 2014 Pinot Gris first. It has aromas and flavours of apple, pear and citrus and is an easy sipper.IMG_3368 Sage Hills’ 2013 Pinot Gris has a bit of toastiness on the nose, with aromas of apple, pear and citrus. It has a creamy mouthfeel and nice complexity on the palate.IMG_3364 The 2013 Ehrenfelser from Sonoran Estate has a very floral nose. It is a pleasant off-dry wine that is quite fruity and aromatic.IMG_3362 The Gala Apple wine from Sleeping Giant Fruit Winery is an off-dry easy sipper.IMG_3363 The 2014 Muscat Ottonel from Summer Gate Winery has a very aromatic nose, with notes of floral, fruit and a hint of spice. It is off-dry with fresh flavours of lychee fruit and spice.IMG_3367 The 2014 Riesling from 8th Generation has aromas of citrus, apple and a touch of honey. It is off-dry with flavours of lemon, lime, green apple, peach and honey, with a long finish.IMG_3380 Two ciders were featured – the new Dominion Cider is dry with great flavour and light effervescence.IMG_3378 The Porter’s Dry Cider from Summerland Heritage Cider Co. is another great dry cider with earthy rich flavours.IMG_3379 The 2014 Rosé from TH Wines was one of my favourite rosés of last summer, with a candied red fruit nose. It is dry, fresh, with flavours of juicy red fruit and a hint of spice.IMG_3366 The 2013 Gamay from Heaven’s Gate has a nose of plum and dark berries, with flavours of dark cherry and raisins and smooth tannins.IMG_3375 The 2013 Shiraz Viognier from Silkscarf has a ripe berry nose with a hint of spice. It is dry and elegant with ripe tannins and flavours of cherry, blueberry and spice with a long finish.IMG_3376 The 2012 Pinot Noir from 8th Generation has aromas of cherry and raspberry with a hint of earthiness. It is dry, with nice acidity and flavours of ripe cherry, spice and raspberry with a medium-plus finish.IMG_3385 The 2014 Pinot Noir from Giant Head Winery has delicate floral notes alongside aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry, with a slightly candied nose. It is dry and fresh, with a light body and medium finish.IMG_3383 The 2013 Haywire Pinot Noir, raised in concrete, has an earthy nose with aromas of cherry and spice. It is dry with good acidity, medium tannins and flavours of sour cherry, red currant and spice.IMG_3381 The 2013 Unoaked Merlot from Saxon has aromas of ripe red cherry and plum jam. It is dry with light tannins and flavours of sour cherry and damson plum.IMG_3370 The 2014 Cabernet Merlot from Evolve Cellars is full of dark fruit and caramel on the nose. It is dry, full-bodied with medium-plus tannins and flavours of ripe cherry, cassis and spice.IMG_3384 The 2013 Merlot from Black Sage Vineyard (Sumac Ridge) has aromas of cherry, plum and spice. It is dry, full-bodied with grippy tannins and flavours of plum, dark berries, vanilla and spice.IMG_3386 The 2013 Kay-Syrah from Dirty Laundry has a smoky nose, alongside dark fruit. It is dry, with medium-plus body, ripe tannins and flavours of dark berries, chocolate, smoke and spice.IMG_3387

Following the Bottleneck Drive tasting, the Mystery Wine Pairing took place. The Mystery Wine Competition is the first of three gruelling challenges for the competing chefs, each of whom has won the Gold Medal Plates competition qualifying event in their respective cities. Less than 24 hours before the Mystery Wine Competition, they were given the Mystery Wine – Gamay Noir from the Tawse Winery in the Niagara Peninsula along with a food budget of $500 with which to feed 400 guests.  Friday morning they had to decide on the perfect dish to pair with the wine and then find all of the ingredients in Kelowna.

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

David Lawrason, national wine advisor for Gold Medal Plates was instrumental in choosing the Mystery Wine for this year’s competition.  “This Gamay Noir from Tawse Winery was a mystery indeed. When selecting the wine it’s important to ensure three things: the wine will challenge the chefs and give latitude to do their own thing; it must be a wine that our 400 guests will enjoy drinking for 90 minutes and it will create mystery, debate and discussion. I heard a lot of great guesses tonight and some people even got the varietal right.“

Alex Chen from Boulevard Kitchen and Bar in Vancouver, representing British Columbia won the People’s Choice award.  The award does not affect the official judging scores for the ultimate title – the 2016 Canadian Culinary Champion – but it is a nice feather in the cap for Chef Chen.

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

“It feels good to win the People’s Choice Award this evening,” says Chef Chen. “We worked hard and it’s a nice way to end the first day of the competition. The win gives us an extra boost of energy and confidence going into tomorrow’s competitions but we know we still have two competitions ahead of us.” Chef Chen paired the mystery wine with a menu of Slow Braised Boneless Oxtail with Smoked Mayonnaise, Parsley Garlic Purée and a Borsht Emulsion.

photo credit: Impact Events

photo credit: Impact Events

The competition continues today with The Black Box Competition at Okanagan College Culinary Arts Department and The Grand Finale at Delta Grand Okanagan tonight.

BC Wine is not just from the Okanagan

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While the Okanagan certainly represents the lion’s share of BC wineries and vineyards, it is not the only region producing BC wine. In the past month I visited two other regions: the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, and one of the emerging regions, Lytton-Lillooet.

According to the 2014 BC Grape Acreage Survey, Vancouver Island is home to 50 vineyards, making up just under 400 acres, or 3.8% of the total planted throughout the province. And according to the Liquor Control & Licensing Branch (LCLB), as of August this year there were 32 licensed wineries on Vancouver Island. Over the last few years I have visited a handful of them but unfortunately I don’t get down to the Island more often than once every 12-18 months.

On a recent trip with friends to Vancouver Island we were focussing a lot on food, wine, beer & cider: visiting many restaurants, brew pubs, a couple of wineries, and one cidery (that happened to be playing host to over 20 cideries for a special event). Although we were based down in Victoria, it was an easy day trip to visit some wineries in and around Duncan (only 60 km north). We decided to start with Averill Creek (established in 2001) as we had sampled some of their wines before but had never visited the winery. It’s a lovely west-coast modern building in a picture-perfect hillside setting on the southeastern slopes of Mount Prevost (overlooking Satellite Channel, with Salt Spring Island beyond. I could see how the patio would be a very popular picnic spot in the summer months.IMG_3025IMG_3026IMG_3037IMG_3036We were greeted in the tasting room and led through some wines. We began with the 2014 Gewürztraminer, with grapefruit and lychee on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It has flavours of grapefruit and lychee with some tropical notes.IMG_3035 Next was a particularly interesting wine – the 2014 Foch-Eh! This is a light, fruity, easy-drinking, unoaked style of Marechal Foch that was fermented using a technique called carbonic maceration. It is a vibrant fuchsia in colour with aromas of juicy red currants and strawberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity medium-minus body and flavours of red berries and pomegranate. For those who aren’t huge fans of Foch, I would recommend trying this wine and serving it slightly chilled on a warm summer’s day.IMG_3033 The 2011 Pinot Noir (2010 pictured below) is medium ruby in colour, with a hint of purple. It has a perfumed nose of raspberry and ripe plum. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins, with flavours of damson plum, raspberry and bit of spice, with a medium-plus finish. IMG_3030The 2012 Foch Cab is a blend of 60% Marechal Foch, 15% Cabernet Foch, 15% Cabernet Libre (both Blattner varietals) and 10% Merlot. It is medium garnet in colour with a smoky nose, with some dark fruit and savoury notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus body and medium tannins. It has flavours of red berries, black currants and some gamey notes.IMG_3032 We finished our tasting with the 2008 Cowichan Tawny, a barrel-aged fortified blackberry dessert wine with aromas and flavours of dried fruits, nuts and spice.

After stopping for a bit of sightseeing and a bite for lunch in Cowichan Bay, we headed to Blue Grouse Estate Winery & Vineyard, a 45 acre estate with 7 acres of vineyard planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Muller Thurgau, Ortega, Black Muscat, Siegerrebe and Bacchus. IMG_3066We were greeted by tasting room manager Derek and he began our tasting before owner Paul Brunner stepped in to explain the different lineups of wine offered at Blue Grouse. There is the Quill line of wines, which are made either entirely from grapes not grown on the estate (but still BC grapes), or blends of non-estate and estate grapes. Then there is the Estate line of wines, made from 100% estate-grown grapes. We began with the 2014 Quill Rosé, made from 100% Gamay Noir grapes, some from Blue Grouse and some from another vineyard 15km north. It is a crisp, refreshing, dry wine with aromas and flavours of strawberry and red currant. Definitely my kind of rosé! The 2013 Estate Ortega has a lovely aromatic nose, is dry with medium-plus acid and a light body. It has flavours of citrus, apple, almond & peach. The 2013 Quill Dry White is a blend of 36% Ortega, 39% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewürztraminer and 10% Müller-Thurgau. It has aromas of apple and peach, is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lychee, apple and citrus. Very pleasant, easy-drinking.BlueGrouse1 The 2014 Estate Bacchus was a surprise. I’ve typically enjoyed Bacchus wines in the past, but they’ve been typically done in an off-dry style, pretty, but easy, nothing overly complex or interesting about them. Not this Bacchus though! Winemaker Bailey Williamson has outdone himself on this one. It has a very pronounced nose with notes of elderflower and juniper. It is dry with high acidity, medium body and is highly aromatic. It has delicate floral notes, some savoury notes, flavours of orchard fruits and some unexpected complexity with a long finish. The 2014 Estate Siegerebbe has aromas of grapefruit, lychee and peach. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It is clean and fresh with flavours of citrus and white peach. The 2014 Quill Riesling (sourced from a vineyard near Tuc el Nuit Lake in Oliver) has a nose of peach, orchard fruit and light floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus body. It has flavours of crisp green apple and lemon with a very long finish. The 2012 Paula is Bailey’s first release of a traditional method sparkling wine at Blue Grouse. It is a blend of Pinot Gris, Ortega, Müller-Thurgau, and a small percentage of Pinot Blanc. It has persistent fine bubbles and aromas of citrus and brioche. On the palate it has a fine mousse and flavours of green apple and citrus with toasty notes and a hint of sweet fruit. It is a lovely, very quaffable sparkling wine. We finished the tasting with the 2013 Quill Red, which is a blend of 44% Marechal Foch, 28% Cabernet Franc and 28% Merlot. The Foch was sourced from the Cowichan Valley, while the Cab Franc and Merlot were sourced from Oliver. It is a medium ruby in colour with aromas of ripe cherry and plum. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and medium-minus tannins. It has flavours of cherry, plum and red currant with a medium finish.BlueGrouse2

Following our tasting, Paul took us on an extensive tour of the new facilities. Although the new building only opened earlier this year, the property has had vines for close to 40 years, first as experimental plantings in 1977, then in earnest by previous owner Hanz Kiltz from the late 1980s. Blue Grouse Winery was established in the early 1990s. Paul and his family purchased the winery in 2012 and had the new state-of-the-art facility built on to the existing facility. The modern sustainable building relies on geothermal heating and cooling, which makes for one of the coolest mechanical rooms (I admit it, the architectural geek in me came out on this tour). The bright tasting room features double tasting bars and a fireplace lounge area.IMG_3106-2IMG_3083The upper level lounge which overlooks the tasting room, pays homage to Hanz Kiltz and the history of the property, while opening up views over the vineyards and the stunning surrounding landscape of rolling hills. IMG_3082IMG_3074IMG_3076IMG_3081

Following a quick trip earlier this month to attend the Cornucopia Wine Festival in Whistler, I stopped in at Fort Berens Winery in Lillooet on my way home. I hadn’t been out there since August of 2012, as part of my initial winery tour for this blog, and a lot has changed since then. Back in 2012, the tasting room was essentially in a barn and the only washroom was a porta-potty! Now there is a bright new tasting room and winemaking facility, which officially opened last year.IMG_328220151109_14000020151109_14001820151109_135022 I tasted through the portfolio, starting with the 2014 Pinot Gris with pear and melon on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It is fresh and fruit-forward with flavours of pear, melon and peach. The 2014 Unoaked Chardonnay has citrus and tropical notes, is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body. It has flavours of apple, pear and lemon with a medium-plus finish. The 2014 Riesling has aromas of stone fruit and some floral notes. It is dry with a hint of sweetness, medium body and a round mouthfeel. It has flavours of apricot, peach and citrus.FB-Whites The 2013 Pinot Noir has a rich nose of cherry, raspberry, spice and a hint of earthiness. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins, medium body and flavours of raspberry, cranberry, red cherry and a hint of spice. It is elegant, with some complexity and a long finish – quite lovely. The 2013 Cabernet Franc has aromas of smoke, raspberry and spice. It is dry with medium-acidity, medium-plus tannins, medium-plus body and flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice. It is nicely balanced with a long finish. The 2013 Meritage is a blend of 60%Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc & 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has aromas of smoke, plum, cassis, cherry and some savoury notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus silky tannins and medium body. It has flavours of cherry, spice, plum and cassis with a medium-plus finish. The 2013 Late Harvest Riesling has a ripe pear nose. It is off-dry with medium-minus acidity and medium body with flavours of pear nectar, lychee and ripe mango. FB-Reds