Speed Dating For Wine Lovers
New and fresh at this year's Banee', sponsored and organized by the South OkanaganWinery Association, was “Speed Dating Wine Tasting,” an event that took place on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Walnut Beach Resort in Osoyoos.
Fortified with a light lunch that included Farmed Fresh Bacon, cut thick and griddle-fried, Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches along with a dessert accent of wild, organic blueberry mousse prepared by Walnut Beach Resort Head Chef, Justin Paakunainen, a group of about twenty of us wine-taster-speed-daters were ushered into the afternoon of speed- dating-wine-tasting with the SOWA wineries.
I happened to get placed next to Anthony Gismondi in the circular round of 18 Wine Tasting “stations” that event organizers dubbed “the ladies,” and we tasters were the “men” who were given 5 minutes at each of the 18 wineries represented. With Gismondi, who is described as B.C.'s premier wine taster, - along with John Schreiner, Sid Cross and Tim Pawsey - it was fortunate placement. Since Gismondi, who has had a “bit of a hand” (quoting him here) in the organizing of the Playhouse International Wine Festival over the years in Vancouver, had hatched the idea of “Speed Dating Wine Tastings” which they've been promoting for months now, he was pleased to see that his brainchild had manifested and multiplied.
Speed Dating Wine Tasting
My afternoon of “dating” began with Desert Hills where Winery Proprietor Randy Toor poured no less than seven wines. At his Black Sage Bench property earlier that morning, he had informed the group that in the hottest part of summer he waters only once a week for 7-8 hours. Considering that last summer temperatures in the region reached into the 40's c. we're talking stressed vines,which, as any seasoned winemaker will tell you, yields the better fruit.
The South Okanagan is known for their reds and a couple of stars, amongst distinguished contenders, to come out of the Golden Mile this year are Fairview Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon '09 which Bill Eggert has aged 16 months in his Radoux French Oak. He'll tell you that his best wine comes from one row of grapes, uniquely yielding because of the “pure sand seam that goes right across my vineyard,” and the “alluvial fan” that characterizes the land his vineyard sits on there in the Golden Mile. This is what he's pulled this vintage from. Put your orders in now. He had just bottled it hours before pouring it at the Speed Dating Wine Tasting this past weekend. Price is $120 per bottle, a Valley first.
It's All About The Terroir?
Remarkable to note is that both Randy's (Desert Hills) and Bill's (Fairview) properties are right next to one another there on the Black Sage Bench. As you follow along Road 22, both are nestled in the same “alluvial fan” and both have similar sandy, silty-with-very-little-topsoil ground to play with. And yet the wines are richly and distinctly different catering almost to not just a different mood or dish but almost even altogether different palates. Desert Hills' Gewurztraminer '09 reflects this dynamic of thirst-quenching freshness, and keeping with the theme of summertime and bbq'ing, the Desert Hills Gamay can go down chilled though not to be missed is their '07 Malbec Proprietor's Reserve, their “pride.”
Steady And Strong
Wine choices that are “fool-proof” and “fail-safe” are Burrowing Owl's Merlot '07 – rich, ripe and red. As John Schreiner puts it, “it's just damned good.” Bertus, their new winemaker, says that in another six months it will be even better when it has a chance to open up. Their Meritage '07 also gives a full flavor profile though, again, Bertus says you can give it another year – or 10 or 15, too, even. The structure is that solid. I find these wines to be masculine. They're strong and vibrant and there's virility that trembles beneath the notes.
Hester Creek's Trebbiano and their Merlot '08. The Trebbiano comes from the only Italian vines planted in the Okanagan, which Hester Creek's owners brought from Italy 40 years ago. Rob, the winemaker's, expertise is in smoothing out the tannins in their full-bodied reds, so you get all of the flavor of a Merlot without the bite. Andrew Moon, Tinhorn Creek's Aussie winemaker of less than a year, explains something about the tannins of the region: The tannins in the Merlot here can “blow your head off,” he says, explaining the importance of tannin management for South Okanagan winemaking, adding that "we'll never get to the levels of a Bordeaux." Okanagan wine educator and consultant, Rhys Pender, explains that "No other place in the world has such a short, hot climate." Tinhorn Creek and Hester Creek wineries are next door neighbors on the Golden Mile.
Inniskillin's '07 Tempranillo. There are only 200 cases. This is only the 2nd vintage. Go. Buy. It. Now.
We kid you not. This is one of the most outstanding, not to mention smooth, hearty and amiable wines to come out of the region. And it's not a grape that anyone else in the valley plants. They've aged it in new French oak about 30% and then for the remainder 70% in 1 and 2 year old barrels. Bottled in May will be their '08 Malbec.
Cassini's '07 Pinot Noir Reserve is their first pinot noir vintage. They've only done 115 cases. Count yourself lucky if you score yourself a bottle before it's sold out. Their Nobilus is 100% Merlot, unusual these days when many of the winemakers are going towards blends. Casssini's Adrian Capeneata is just simply all about no-frills good, solid wine.
People know Road 13 well for their reds. 'Nough said. We'll tell you, watch for their Chenin Blanc '09. It's only been out two weeks now, it's got beautiful acidic balance. Bartier, Mick and Pam have created another big hit that's a phenomenal food wine. Don't forget, too, that '09 saw significant crop damage so only half the crop was harvested. That translates into get it while the gettin's good. [500 cases total]. Also, if you get your hands on a bottle of their '07 Jackpot Chardonnay, made from grapes that were, “in a word – perfect,” then pressed whole cluster, drink up!
Nk'Mip's new release is their '08 Pinot Noir grown on their Black Sage Bench vines, as opposed to their Osoyoos property. Assistant winemaker Justin describes the French Oak aging process altogether too humbly. We're fans, of course, of their Q2 Meritage '07 which we've already written about here.
Le Vieux Pin's Apogee Merlot and Epoque Merlot are too deserving of applause not to be mentioned here. They've been hitting it out of the ballpark since their first vintage in '05, and people keep talking about LVP's '06 vintage. New and not yet labeled is a Rose' coming from their Golden Mile vineyards. Shhhh...though. Some wines are just so good, they shouldn't even be legal to drink!
More on the Whites...
Stoneboat's Chorus '09. Winemaker Tim Martiniuk, a young man, has blended a proprietary signature vintage that no one in the Valley can duplicate. He credits their soil's calcerous deposits and heavy gravel for the juice he was able to get from his pinot blanc, pinot gris, Kerner and Viognier grapes which he used to make Chorus. This is the wine we enjoyed with our salmon and grilled vegetable dinner. A perfect pairing. Stoneboat's Pinot Blanc '09 was blessed with botrytis so the 25-year old vines give notes of honey and cloves; the nose, surprisingly, is sweeter than the taste.
Oliver Twist's '09 Viognier is 5 years aged, slight notes of tobacco. It's a nice contrast to their Chardonnay '08 which took B.C. Gold in the Fall Wine Fest.
Quinta Ferreira's Mistura Branca '08 is a Muskat Gewurz blend. Michael, by nature a reserved winemaker, showed uncharacteristic exuberance when pouring. And I'd have to agree, it's wine worth the enthusiasm.
Gehringer does white wines well. Their Auxerrois pinot blanc is fail-safe and as the genetic sister to the more commonly known pinot blanc, it won't throw your palate off. Private Reserve Riesling '09 has now been bottled from their stainless steel tanks and offers good value.
Jackson-Triggs '09 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc offers a greener, acidic backbone; the fruit comes from the start of the Black Sage Bench Road, so the slight difference in temperatures is evident in the juice.
Let's Talk Rose'
Rose' is this year's “come-back kid.” Oft-dismissed as betwixt and between, when you get your hands on the right one, it most certainly stands on its own. Rose' beckons and celebrates summer. And we welcome summer!
Jackson-Triggs '09 Rose' makes a delightful showing this Spring. It's the first year Derek has made the wine with Merlot grapes rather than Cabernet Franc. He ferments it as you would a white and the yield is something altogether too easy to reach for - sip and savor.
Tinhorn Creek's Sandy will tell you that she was up 'til 4 a.m. the other night bottling her 2 Bench Rose'. She's blended 40% cabernet franc and merlot with pinot gris. They've done 103 cases and we recommend a try. Their Pinot Gris '09, at approximately 6,000 cases, makes their Rose' vintage a Proprietor's Reserve Blend.
Golden Beaver's “Heart of Gold,” '09 is a blend of Viognier, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc. And lest your mind starts to wander down the more imaginative path, Bruno and Stella explain that they are both music lovers and enthusiasts, - their neighbors describe their living room walls as "covered" with guitars and music paraphernalia. Stella has named their next release, “Heartbreaker,” after one of her Led Zeppelin favorites, since Bruno named Heart of Gold after the Neil Young hit song. Their Late Harvest Pinot Blanc '08 has 20g. of sugar in it but really it tastes only medium sweet. It's worth a try and as a foodie it allows you to get creative with the pairing. It will be out in May.
Silver Sage has some unique offerings. Their Sunset '08 has the look and feel of a rose'. It's a blend of white wine and berries with aromas of cranberry and raspberry. This is a brunch with the girls wine; it's their “golfer's special,” and it's also great to have a few bottles on hand for the girlfriends' mani-pedi-spa day. Their Flame '09 is a dessert wine and it's spicy! These are cocktail wines.
Rustico Farm and Cellars is the new kid on the block and Bruce has crafted stories for each of his wines. He'd love to tell you all about his Gewurztraminer “Farmer's Daughter,” when you stop by the winery there in the South Okanagan for a sample.
Speed Dating Summary
Speed Dating for Wine Lovers offered fantastic insight into the complex variations of a region's wines and winemakers. One of the most informative take-homes was how grapes grown in the same soil, with the same sun, even on the same or neighboring alluvial fan, can yield such different vintages. The South Okanagan has, of course, the difference of the two sides, the “right bank” and “left bank” with significant variations of sun exposure and even slight temperature variation from the north part of the acreage to 20 km. or so to the south of the SOWA region. It does give you a glimpse into the tremendous input that a the winemaker has on the final outcome of a vintage.
We're definitely in keeping with the consensus of the other Speed Daters, Tim Pawsey, Sid Cross, Christina Burridge, Anthony Gismondi, John Schreiner, Terry David Mulligan and the rest: that it's a great way to taste nearly a hundred wines in just under an hour and a half and and that it's absolutely most effective when the wineries keep their selections to a range of no more than three wines.