By: John Schreiner
One of the major Okanagan wineries chose to sit out Taste – Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine because winery officials thought the turnout for last year’s Taste (the first) was a bit lukewarm.I have news: this year’s turnout was better and, from my observation, the 33 British Columbia wineries attending were happy with the response. In fact, Vivianne Hanson, one of owners of Seven Stones Winery, a rising star in the Similkameen, was ecstatic at how consumers were responding to the Seven Stones wines. Numerous Okanagan and Similkameen wineries were at Taste for the first time. For some, it may have been the first time that they were showing wines in Victoria. Of course, it is a reflection of the times. The number of wineries in British Columbia has tripled in the last decade. Getting and keeping market share is a lot harder than it once was.The winery I was most surprised (and pleased) to see there was Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars. In the 1990s, this was the Okanagan’s original cult winery. Fans clamoured for Blue Mountain wines, which usually sold out in days or weeks of release.These days, Blue Mountain wines no longer sell out in a blink. The wines are as good as ever but there is a growing list of competing cult wineries. So Blue Mountain is showing up a more festivals, doing some winemaker dinners and offering wine for sale in private wine stores.Sitting out events like Taste may not be an option.The 33 producers at Thursday evening’s public tasting included two Vancouver Island cideries, Victoria Gin and Artisan SakeMaker at Granville Island. These 33 had tables throughout Victoria’s Crystal Gardens, intermingled with food stations from some of the city’s best restaurants. Crystal Gardens is spacious enough that there seemed no serious overcrowding in front of winery or restaurant tables. Even so, it was not possible to visit everyone in the time available.I did my best. Here are notes on some of the more notable wines.Alderlea Vineyards 2007 Merlot ($28). There is only one way to ripen Merlot on Vancouver Island and that is to start it growing each spring under a plastic tent. Alderlea’s Roger Dosman was one of the earliest of island producers to tent. The result is a big, generous, plummy wine. 88-90Alderlea Vineyards 2007 Matrix ($28). This is the new name for Fusion. An Argentinean winery, Zuccardi, has a big volume brand called FuZion but had neglected to trademark it in Canada. So they bought Alderlea’s trademark and Alderlea rebranded its wine as Matrix. This red is made from Cabernet Foch, one of the crosses from Valentin Blattner in Switzerland. The flavour is closer to Cabernet than to Foch, with dramatic aromas of herbs and spices. It tastes of red plum and currants and has piquant acidity. It is a new taste profile among B.C. wines. 88.Alderlea Vineyards 2009 Bacchus ($16). The spicy aromatics of Bacchus can be over the top sometimes – but not here. This is complex wine with tangy orange peel and spice flavours, none of which will overpower food. 89.Alderlea Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve ($32). The wine begins with aromas of plums and black cherries which carry through to the flavours. The texture is classically silky but the wine has the structure to age for another several years. 89.Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars 2008 Pinot Blanc ($18). The wine is crisp and disciplined, with fresh, clean tastes of citrus and green apples. 88.Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars 2008 Pinot Gris ($21). An attractive fresh, crisp white with flavours of pears and citrus and a hint anise on the finish. 89-90.Blue Mountain Vineyards & Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir ($25). Since opening in 1992, this winery has been a leader in Okanagan Pinot Noirs. This is a delicious wine, full of fruit flavours, with a velvet texture and an elegant, finessed finish. 90.Jackson-Triggs 2007 SunRock Shiraz ($34.99). This winery offers three different Shiraz wines and at least one Shiraz-Cabernet blend and all are good. But this single vineyard Shiraz really stands out – a bold, ripe wine with rich spicy fruit flavours recalling a Christmas pudding. 92. Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery 2009 Unwooded Chardonnay ($15). It would be great to have a few bottles of this chilled for whenever the thirst hits. It has fresh, tangy citrus and peach flavours and the vivacity you get from New Zealand whites. 87. Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery 2007 Summit Pinot Noir ($20). This wine, which has a silky texture and aromas and flavours of strawberry, delivers great value in a budget-priced Pinot. 88.Muse Winery 2007 Grande Dame Rouge ($34.90). This blend of five Bordeaux varietals is from a Vancouver Island winery that makes wines both from island grapes and, in the case of its Big Red, from Okanagan grapes. This wine has a deep colour and flavours of spice, plum, currants and chocolate, with long, ripe tannins. 89.Peller Estates 2008 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99). This may be the best budget-priced Cabernet in B.C., with flavours of currants and spice and with long ripe tannins, giving it body and the potential for aging a few years. 88.Peller Estates 2008 Family Series Merlot ($14.49). Here is screaming good value, a generous, soft-textured Merlot with blackberry and blueberry flavours. 88,Rocky Creek Winery 2008 Pinot Noir ($21.90). In a tough vintage, winemaker Mark Holford concentrated the fruit flavours and the colour by bleeding off some juice for rosé. This is a clean, fresh Pinot Noir with hints of raspberry. 87.Salt Spring Vineyards 2009 Blattner White ($N.A.). This wine is so new that the winery has not yet come up with a proprietary name. It is a blend of Petit Milo and Epicure, two white varieties created by Swiss breeder Valentin Blattner. These are early-ripening varieties. In last year’s summer the winery was surprised by how fast the grapes ripened. The outcome is a lovely honeyed wine with enough acidity still to have a tangy finish. A conversation piece and there are only 100 cases. 88.Salt Spring Vineyards Karma 2007 ($34.90). A traditional sparkling wine made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the current release has spent 18 months in bottle. The next release of this same vintage is due in about six months. The strategy is to monitor the impact of aging on the wine’s acidity. This release is dry and steely and crisp. 87.Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse Wild English 2008 ($12 for a half litre). The product gets its name from the fact that juice of English cider apples was fermented with natural yeast. The tangy apple flavours and the spine of light tannins give this dry cider a clean, refreshing finish. 90Seven Stones 2008 Pinot Noir ($28). Another attractive velvet-texture red with notes of strawberry and cherry. The finish of this delicious wine lingers and lingers. 88-90.Seven Stones 2008 Row 128 Merlot ($25). Owner and winemaker George Hanson says this Merlot grows in a part of his vineyard that has an almost spiritual ambiance to it. You can imagine how he treats the grapes. This juicy Merlot has bright fruit flavours of cherry and plum with a hint of spice, likely from 18 months the wine was in barrel. 90.Starling Lane Celebration N.V. ($N.A.) Made in the traditional Champagne style, this is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The latter variety gives the wine a hint of colour and fruity flavours. In a blind tasting you might mistake this for Champagne, with its toasty notes, its fruit, its fine bubbles and its long, long finish. This is sold out at the winery but the next release is due this fall. 90.Therapy Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay ($N.A.). This is a classic barrel-aged Chardonnay, with complex flavours of citrus, butterscotch and cloves. 89-90.Therapy Vineyards 2007 Freud’s Ego ($16). Great value, this delicious wine has gobs of black cherry and currant flavours, with ripe tannins. A terrific Bordeaux blend at this price. 90.Venturi Schulze Vineyards 2009 Millefiori ($23). This pristine and focussed aromatic white, a blend of Ortega and Siegerrebe, has a lovely aroma of tropical flowers and fruits, leading to vivid flavours of tropical fruits. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90. The winery also offers a barrel-aged wine, Terracotta 2009 (also 90), from the same two grapes. Winemaker Giordano Venturi said he wanted to make a wine like an old-fashioned Burgundy. I think he succeeded. Venturi Schulze Vineyards Brut Naturel 2007 ($32). The elegant and dry sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champagne method, spending enough time in the bottle on yeast less to acquire a classic bready aroma. The flavours are delicately fruity. The fine bubbles give the wine a creamy texture, even though the finish is crisp. 88.