Can wines from BC age?

Recently we got into a smattering of older BC wines thanks to David Lancelot at Marquis Wine Cellars.  He dug into his cellar and brought out a collection of wines that shared some interesting tales.  Anyone that reads my blog knows I appreciate aged characteristics in wine more than most people.  I believe wines have a story to tell and aging a wine helps lend to its credibility. After all the polish wears off, your left with core fruit, and a great wine can only come from great fruit.

Dusty old bottles

Collecting BC wine has not become mainstream yet, but with time I foresee wines from BC being known for their age-ability. Our natural acidity is essential to the foundation a wine needs for longevity.  Combine that with a quality sense of place and some masterful wine making and we have the beginnings of a world class wine region.

Tasting Notes:

Red Rooster – 1999 Riesling –  Classic Riesling nose with notes of big citrus, mineral, and diesel.  The nose had a good intensity and didn’t give the impression that it had lost any strength in its aromatics.  The palate was focused and detailed with layers of slate, preserved lemon, apple skin and soft long diesel finish.  Still showed crisp acidity in the core of your palate and obvious softening at the edges. Absolutely impressive and would have aged a few more years easily before taking on negative notes.  I had not had the 1999 before and if anyone still has any tucked in their cellar, you are in a for a real treat.

Black Hills – 2004 Alibi – If you have not had the Alibi, a Sauvignon Blanc\Semillion blend, it has always been in the shadow behind Note Bene.  Senka Tennant, the original winemaker, who now has Terravista Vineyards in Naramata, likes her acidity.  She made this Bordeaux white style with a real emphasize on its natural acidity, which has paid off in spades.  The acidity has now softened but attributes to its age ability.  I have had this wine before and its nice to see the bright lemon, grapefruit, and grassy notes evolve into preserved lemon, hazelnut, flint, and straw.  I noticed a few consumers not like the diminished vibrancy and fruit from this wine, but I think it has aged brilliantly and I would be happy to have a few bottles to drink up over the next year.  I don’t think it has much life left as most of the acidity is gone and the secondary flavours are definitely dominant, but impressive none the less.

Dirty Laundry – 2004 Gewürztraminer “Threadbare” – A shy nose that has lost most of its aromatics.  It has taken on very few tertiary flavours and stayed softly focused on its original lychee, chai spice, and apple tones.  I did expect the palate to be softer if not flabby and was pleasantly surprised to see it had softened a bit but not in a negative way yet.  Overall I found the wine struggling to hold on and therefore coming across rather boring.  I do respect where its at, but I would definitely drink this wine if i had any left.  Keep in mind that Threadbare was the driest of the three labels of Gewurztraminer they do.  They also have “Woo Woo” and “Madam” that tend to hold more sugar and I think having more residual sugar would help with the mouth feel and longevity.

Nichol Vineyards – 2005 Syrah Reserve – Big earthy, gamey funk with dark red and blue fruits.  This wine had matured into beautiful complexity backed by layers of smoke and leather.  The tannins had become silky and the acidity has softened, almost too much.  This is a drink now, maybe with a slight chill on it to help it tighten up.  Overall, drinking wonderfully right now.  Question is, how long should this wine have aged for and how does it compare to other regions from around the world producing this grape?  All of this comes back to, what was the wine built for?  Very few winemakers have stood up to say their wine should not be consumed until ____?  Bill Eggert of Fariview Cellars was the first to put a best after date on some of his wine, great idea.  We are still seeing too many of the “one wine fits all” consumer marketing campaign, “Enjoy now and over the next 15 years while enjoying every food item I can legally fit on to this back label.”  The reason for this tangent is I wanted this wine to have a longer life, I wanted to see a wine coming from the oldest Syrah vines in BC to have a longer lineage.  Maybe the heat from 2005 softened too much of the acidity during its growing season and its future was determined before it went into the bottle?  Or maybe the bottle was stored to warm for too long and it prematurely aged over the last seven years.  Regardless, I savored every drop I had as this is its moment.  If you have any at home, its worth trying and if your notes present the wine as younger, then it was just this bottle.  The last time I had this wine it held much more tannic structure against the fruit and bottle age.

Burrowing Owl – 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon – The nose started with some medicinal notes and distinctive bell pepper flavour.  It was backed by jammy plum and chocolate notes and touch of VA (volatile acidity).  The palate was quite thin and a disappointing finish.  There were glimpses of complexity but they always quickly vanished.  I have had this wine several times over the past five years and don’t remember that much greenness in the form of medicinal or bell pepper.  By medicinal I mean a synthetic eucalyptus flavour and a sense of cleaner, almost like an antiseptic.  I know how romantic this sounds, but in very small doses combined with other dominant flavours, it can take a average wine and make it very complex.  In this case the green flavours felt disjunct and wrong, like they shouldn’t be there.  This bottle is obviously a little past its prime, but like I have said, I have had other bottles that show nothing but youthful vigor and amazing ripeness.  I chalk this one up to being an anomaly.

Burrowing Owl – 2002 Merlot – Now this is what I remember.  Powerful, aggressive, dark fruits, leather, and amazing bottle complexity.  This is a great wine with still years left in the bottle.  The presence on the mid palate is still forceful and young with more unraveling to go.  The finish is reminiscent of a good right bank Bordeaux, all that fleshy fruit has transformed into something more because of the oak.  You don’t taste the oak in this wine, you taste the result of the oak and juice working together to be a flavour unique to its own,  true tertiary flavours.  I’m not calling this a Bordeaux style, there is still identifiable new world fruit flavours and beautiful acidity acting as that beacon of light keeping the fruit alive.  A wonderful wine with a wonderful long finish.  If you have any of this at home, you have three or four more years before the lights go out.

Lake Breeze – 2004 Merlot “Seven Poplars” – Of all the red wines in the line up, this Merlot has been taking its vitamins, showing the least amount of age.  Eight years young and barely started to unwind and show off its complexity.  This isn’t the first time I have had an older Lake Breeze red that absolutely impressed me.  A couple years back I cracked a 2002 Cab\Merlot I paid $14 for and it was stunning how complex and youthful it was.  This wine was no exception.  Tightly packed with dark fruits and hints of cocoa powder it still threw a little heat on the finish telling you “I’m not ready yet”.  The finish had a nice jam and almost cooked berry length to it, but overall needed to be decanted for an hour or so to loosen it up.  Very impressive.

Hester Creek – 2002 Merlot Reserve – Nice complexity out of the gate, bottle aged flavours of leather, coffee grinds, earth, tobacco, and dark fruits were all framed in some noticeable oak flavours.  Like an old Toyota, this wine just keeps trucking.  You can feel the transmission is starting to go, but chances are you’re going to get another 100,000km out of it before it dies.  Still showed a bit of tannin on the palate and a decent finish.  I like the way this wine is holding up  and were it is going.  I wish for a bit more polish to the palate, but knowing where this wine came from and how aggressive and tannic it once was, you will see this one on the road for a while yet.

Inniskillin – 2004 Zinfandel “Discovery Series” – The first winery in BC to play with this grape and 2004 would have been the third vintage.  2002 and 2003 were simply labeled as “Bear Cub Vineyard”, and 2004 was the first year they started the “Discovery Series”.  Same wine, just different marketing plan.  I remember doing a vertical with the winemaker (Sandor Mayer) and we looked at 2002 thru to 2007, very educational as you could really taste the weather.  Sandor had kept the wine making relatively similar and you could taste the range of fruit expressions based on the seasons.  More interesting (to me at least) was the way the different years held the oak.  Some vintages integrated the wood with ease while others kept it at bay and separate.  2004 was one of those years that kept the oak at a distance from the fruit.  The nose had an almost plywood tone to it, I was not looking forward to the taste.  My surprise to find this super juicy palate just bursting with bright red berry flavours.  The tannins were not consistent, but rather spotty on your palate and the finish showed the oak flavours I found on the nose but overall, I was impressed with the fruit.  The wine still comes across disjointed as if all the pieces do not want to play together, but impressive with its youthful fruit none the less.

Osoyoos Larose – 2001 “Grand Vin” – The inaugural release of this Merlot dominant blend.  Started with an oak presence again but this time it was more reminiscent of wet wood rather than dry plywood.  You were getting some tertiary flavours like leather, tobacco, and jam and the fruit had an interesting hard candy influence on the wine.  The palate was balanced but I found myself writing down descriptions like boring.  All the pieces were there and nothing was technically wrong or faulted with the wine, it was just getting tired.  I liked the wine, and really enjoyed the finish, just wanted more from it and the oak to be more integrated. My fear is that the frame of oak is going to out last the fruit and acidity.

Hillside Estate– 2004 Muscat Reserve “Late Harvest” – Very muted on the nose, not just for a muscat but for any late harvest wine.  You could pick up a faint honey note and a touch of cooked apple but that was stretching it.   The palate didn’t deliver much more as it had thinned out and become quite nondescript and watery as well.  Overall, past its prime and disappointing.

Stomping Ground – 2005 Riesling Icewine – This wine is from a development project that never really got off the ground as it was stalled by a faltering economy.  They released a few wines like Merlot, Pinot Noir, and a blended white.  The wines were made by consulting winemakers and this Riesling icewine hits you with gobs of sugar on the nose, it almost scares you into thinking the palate is going to be pure syrup, but its not.  Still vibrant with some cooked apple and a touch of lemon on the mid palate, its the burnt sugar finish that impresses me the most.  I believe you can still find this wine on shelves at a few retailers and for the $20 range for a 200 ml ice wine, its pretty good value.

Lang Vineyards– 2003 Riesling “Late Harvest” –  Some nice cooked apple and Christmas spice on the nose but the palate was all over the place.  Thin, tart and sweet at the same time, and a watery finish.  This wine was trying to slide into home base yet all the players have left the field.  Past its prime and not doing well.

See Ya Later Ranch – 2006 Ehrenfelser Icewine – Huge floral, orange, and fruit salad with just a touch of VA.  The palate burst with flavour and brightness and was very balanced and a complete pleasure to taste.  The long finish kept going for minutes and was completely beautiful.  Of all the desert wines tasted this day, this was best of the line up.  Still vibrant and youthful and able to age for another five years quite easily. Wow.

Willow Hill – 2004 Merlot Icewine “Oaked” – Interesting in a good way.  Big strawberry plum jam with nuances of pie crust.  Very expressive and a nose you can keep coming back to.  The palate lacked a bit of acidity but was balanced with a very long finish.  There was an almost port like character to this ice wine and I would say it’s peaking now.  Overall I enjoyed this ice wine and have one left in my cellar.  I will be digging this one out and enjoying with a good cigar.

Lake Breeze – 2003 Pinot Noir “Late Harvest” – Mute nose, not showing much more than some oak and hard candy notes.  On the palate the late harvest took on a liquorish Christmas candy flavour my parents used to set out for the season. The palate was balanced but tired as much of the acidity had dropped.  This wine is unique, odd, and past its prime.

There are so many factors that influence that exact window you experience a wine, that there’s a chance the bottle went through a rough journey and showed different than other bottles stored differently. If you have any of the bottles listed above and they taste the same as my negative notes, then you can be confident the wine is past its prime.  If it tastes different, especially better, then you can be sure it was a bottle issue and not the wine.

What does this all mean?

Basically – Don’t be in such a hurry to consume those BC wines.  Yes, some of them haven’t held up well, but those experiences educate us.  They educate us and teach us to appreciate the good and most importantly the great wines.

Wines from BC can age, we just need to be patient.

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Top Wines from the Naramata Bench Tasting

The Naramata Bench Wineries Association organized a spring release tasting today at the New Westminster Public Market.  The afternoon tasting was for the trade and the evening portion is for the public.  With 21 wineries present, it was not hard to find some great new releases as we come into spring.  The  following wines stood out to me and ones to consider while hunting down some spring releases.

Red Rooster 2011 Riesling – Great nose full of citrus and floral notes with a touch of petrol.  The palate bursts with great acidity and intensity while an oiliness starts to show on the finish.  A great value at $16.99 for a Riesling that will be a perfect summer sipper and one to lay down for the three to five years and let the acidity calm down and the oily texture to come out more.

Lake Breeze Pinot Blanc 2011 -Great intensity, structure, balance, expression, and style for this grape.  Lake Breeze has been garnering accolades for their Pinot Blanc for many years now and the 2011 vintage is no exception.  This is a brilliant summer wine and the price is right.

La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – was absolutely stunning this year.  Incredible intensity to its aromatics, a spectrum of flavors all clearly pronounced.  Incredible acidity, balanced weight to help with its food friendliness.  I would take this Sauvignon Blanc anywhere with me as an example of what BC can do with this grape.  I wish we saw more examples of this style from BC wineries.

Van Westen Vivacious 2010 – Year in and year out, the wines form Van Westen are consistently clean, pure, and structured.  The 2010 Vivacious is another example of their consistency and another great example of Pinot Blanc.  The best part about this wine is its drinkability now and its ability to age for over 5 years. I will start looking at it again in 2-3 years but think this has the bones to age for awhile. I have really enjoyed this wine in previous vintages with a few years of age on it.  The concentration of fruit is balanced nicely with enough acidity that as it softens over time this wine takes on a great elegance and allows the minerality to shine through.

Upper Bench Winery Pinot Blanc 2011 – Upper Bench Winery is one of the new names in the hood this year, but no stranger to the wines of BC.  Gavin MIller the winemaker has shown his talent at both Poplar Grove Winery and Painted Rock before standing behind his own label of Upper Bench.  All the wines out of the gate show great clarity of flavors and nice structure.  In particular the 2011 Pinot Blanc showed great intensity as the fruit ranged from citrus and apple to pungent stone fruits and tropical notes.  The palate carried the same intensity with the ripe flavors which is impressive for such a cooler year.  I look forward for more to come from this label.

Overall it was a great showing and I will be posting more reviews shortly.  It is great to see an Okanagan region still hitting the road and bringing their wines to Vancouver and Victoria. Kudo’s to the wineries who area already on top of their web presence and have updated the new vintages on their sites, makes writing reviews that much easier.