Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

Last month the WineAlign judges spent an evening under the Similkameen Valley stars against a rugged mountain backdrop of glacial rock formation, the vineyards quiet, their fall foliage bright at dusk above stony, gravelly, and silty loam soil. The pizza oven was firing and the Similkameen growers hosted our motley crew with wines pouring all night long.

Similkameen Valley

Related – WineAlign Nationals meet the Iconic Wineries of B.C.

These are the facts. The Similkameen Valley lies west of Osoyoos with the majority of vineyards located around Cawston and Keremeos. Significant winds help naturally keep vineyards in this arid valley free of pests and disease, making this region well-suited for organic farming. Due to the steep surrounding mountains, and the reflectivity of the rock, heat remains in the valley long after the sun sets. Did I mention how beautiful a place this is?

WineAlign judges Janet Dorozynski, Michaela Morris and Michelle Bouffard

Our hosts were the owners of Crowsnest Vineyards, a Cawston property purchased by the Heinecke family in 1985 and named after the Crowsnest Highway #3. The family was an early contributor to the development of the Similkameen wine region, led by  second generation family siblings Sascha and Anna Heinecke. Here are 12 wines tasted that evening.

Clos Du Soleil Winemaker’s Series Pinot Blanc Middle Bench Vineyard 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Pointed and punchy pinot blanc, stone fruit with a verdant piquancy. Not exactly edgy but crisp, quite precise and yes, surely punchy. Early picked acids maintain freshness and this is nothing but bloody delicious. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Wines in the Similkameen they are, sometimes they blow my mind

Clos Du Soleil Capella 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

From the Upper Bench of the South Similkameen Valley and winemaker Michael Clarke’s signature Bordeaux-inspired white blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon. Knowing the maker’s education and professional past one might look at this Capella as a branch of blancs that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. In other words Capella a.k.a. the brightest star in the constellation of Auriga, presents a case of two complimentary grape varieties made profound by the abstractions of soil, gently inclined land and the reflectivity of mountain rock. These building blocks of terroir and warmth may be real but it is the philosophies and methodologies of growing and winemaking that allows us to vindicate the greatness in this 2020. A virtuoso deportment of fine salinity and truffled perfume speaks in subtle Similkameen tones and a light touch is noted by both délestage and elévage restraint. This pure citrus distillate is sharp and pointed but then come the poignant flavours. Like the assyrtiko of the Similkameen with Bordeaux structure. Theoretical and physical, void of experimental tools and yes, c’est bon. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Vines in the Similkameen

Corcelettes Micro Lot Series Chardonnay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Fulsome, not bullish, cream centred and with exteriors all bite and wood spice. Almost too youthful still, previously misunderstood, not yet in full perfume bloom. Hinting at what’s coming, tree fruit part orchard and part tropical but no bloody pineapple. Chard of interest.  Last tasted October 2021

Part of the Micro Lot Series and a cool to gelid chardonnay well into the yogurt and lemon curd with finishing almond flavours. Texturally speaking there is flesh and fluidity in a Similkameen chardonnay that receives much barrel addendum. Silky and creamy, all about mouthfeel and development. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted September 2021

Brad Royale and Crowsnest Gourd

Crowsnest Family Reserve Chardonnay Stahltank 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Stahltank as in stainless steel fermentation for full retention of freshness, which this energetic 2020 shows, but also big and substantial fruit. Crowsnest Vineyards is located near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley and chardonnay is clearly a specialty. Soft, creamy and devoted, available and amenable. Subtle spice, crafty and just crisp enough to remind of the fresh intendment and lively persistence. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Hugging Tree Moonchild Merlot 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Solid merlot in many respects, rich and caky, thick and chock full of ripe fruit. Edgy as needed, split by a streak of right proper greenness and out of a quality vintage. Steeping in acids and tannins running down grain for a result that has and will continue to please for a few years yet to come.  Drink 2021-2023. Tasted October 2021

Orofino Riesling Hendsbee Vineyard 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Made from the other Alsatian Clone (as opposed to the oft employed 49) from the 2006 planted vineyard by Cheryl and Lee Hendsbee adjacent to and with great soil similarities to Orofino’s home block on the Cawston Bench. A place of rich caky soil atop gravel and river rock for 100 feet. Prudent to experience this with some but not too much age and the hope is to have an experiential moment, say one or two years forward to do so again. Just now moving into some development, a secondary dance step, trip of the tongue, coupling fruit and mineral salts. Quite dry with elevated but knowing and promising acidity. At present a true matter of delight mixed with complex notions in this time of emerging secondary emotions. The appendages work together, in rhythm and forward motion. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Gamay 2020, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

So bloody primary, a fresh smack of Similkameen juice, a touch turbid and seemingly not quite at the curtain call of its final act towards being a finished wine. Still swimming in carbonic waters, openly fragrant and inviting. A squeeze of blood orange and tart edging while in full control to effect positively on the palate. You think it might turn botanical or volatile but it never does, instead staying a fruit persistent course. Can see this being underestimated when in fact it is simply a joy to drink. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Orofino Wild Ferment Syrah 2014, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A well developed smoulder, purely be variety and place, not by wood. Still persistently and openly fragrant, earth, brush, flora and fruit intertwined as one in a syrah of end game integration. What was once folds, waves and shadows is now seamlessness, inertia and assimilation. Orofino’s WFS resides in a place of great comfort and equally important regard. Drink 2021-2023.  Tasted October 2021

Robin Ridge Winery Gamay 2016, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Has advanced well into the denouement of its life with fruit persistently black of cherry and what tannins there ever were have melted into a glass darkly. Even the acids wane, effecting little to no meaning at this stage. Drinks quite well actually if showing signs of imminence. Nothing wrong about a glass with a good slice of pizza on a cool Similkameen night. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Seven Stones Speaking Rock Estate Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Reductive even after all this time, spicy chardonnay chai and wasabi spiced though still some juicy fruit. Showing well for its age, far from oxidative, of clotted cream and some drying to desiccating flavours. Lemon namely and a dollop of that cream. Fully developed and soon to finish all the softening. A lovely drop at this moment. Drink 2021-2022.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

Quite a big syrah expression while balanced and showing an ease with which it carries itself this way. Maintains composure and control in the face of a deep and hematic meatiness, high-toned culture, level, pulse and pace of play. Clearly a wine of site, revealing in a meaningful style because it just seems to be the kind of weighty wine it needs to be. No two ways around it. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted October 2021

Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, BC VQA Similkameen Valley

A whopping 16 per cent alcohol but truth is you’d not really fully feel or know it. The level of fruit and the flesh it expounds hangs snugly, fitted and tied to the bone. The chalky and peppery liquidity want to be about juiciness and freshness, some way, somehow. The cigarillo smoulders still and the wine finds those realistic and honest moments. Suffers and survives, delivers the varietal goods. Well perhaps there is a moment of shock and awe but ultimately the wine is the wine, for its time and place. Drink 2021-2024.  Tasted October 2021

Good to go!

godello

Ben in back, Goode standing tall

vvv

Riding red blends from Canadian frontiers

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

Ancient PEC red care of Geoff Heinricks

as seen on WineAlignRed Blends, White Blends and Sauvignon Blanc – Medal Winners from NWAC 2019

Some producers may be riding red blends all the way to the bank while others, including many winemakers simply love making them. Hearing about or looking at the broad term “red blends” causes many of us to think about wines that are big in every respect. Broad shouldered, big-bodied, long-legged, tannic and age-worthy.  As for how these wines are made we imagine a barrel room of oak casks filled with deep, rich and dark liquids made by winemakers and their science flasks layered by endless combinations of samples in varying percentages. This is in fact how most red blends are made. Barrel and tank samples of different grape varieties are pulled and with a conditional maximum amount of each kept in mind, the constituent samples are mixed and matched until the blend just feels to come out right. Add in a bit of chemistry for scientific balance and Red’s your uncle.

Red blends is employed as that highly scientific wine-speak term used to define one of the largest, broadest and most undefined categories in wine. There are blends established in the Old World emulated and mimicked from Argentina to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and everywhere vinifera is grown. Bordeaux’s Left and Right Bank are most commonly copied but so too is the Southern Rhône. The triumvirate of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot lead the way while grenache, syrah and mourvèdre are the source of much imitation. Blending does not stop at such multi-varietal exactitude because the Australians (namely) decided that syrah/shiraz goes with everything and why not. The concept of admixture or fusion is becoming increasingly relevant and the norm for red blends made in Canada, especially in British Columbia and to a lesser extent in Ontario too.

Chef Albert Ponzo’s Gnocchi with Morels

Basically anything made with two or more grape varieties qualifies and in some cases a kitchen sink is amalgamated from literally dozens of locally planted options. To be honest the methodology categorically removes said wines from every other varietal class or division, in competition or otherwise. So the question begs. How do judges at the National Wine Awards of Canada assess, rate and ultimately dole out medals when the comparisons are all apples to oranges? How do we as a team decide which blends are most deserving in a sea of peers comprised of wholly different, antithetical and multifarious combinations?

The answer is complex but in the end not exactly rocket science. Truth be told the necessity of knowing the percentages in the blend is the mother of invention. This is because each wine is a sum of its combinative parts while success is predicated on the communal effort and seamlessness of the gathering. But more than anything and it’s certainly cliché to say, wines as blends must achieve balance and those that do will reap the most reward. News flash to corroborate that theory. Most varietal wines are blends too, made up of vineyard slash vessel percentages picked, mixed and matched by the winemaker. What really is the great difference?

Is there any wonder why Canadian winemakers love the category of Red Blends? At this year’s Nationals there are 105 medals awarded to a group of wines that in their collective make-up include just about every red (plus a white or two) grape varieties grown in Canada. Read that number again: 105! Three out of four Platinum winners are from British Columbia and 12 of 14 Silvers as well. As for Bronze, 60 are from B.C., 24 from Ontario and three are from Nova Scotia.

While it would be a joyous exercise to break down all the medal winning wines it would also be one that just might put you to sleep. So for the purposes of analytical brevity and for the fact that we have an unprecedented four Platinum winners in 2019, let’s stick to these exceptional wines. The Hatch Dynasty Red 2016 is syrah and malbec from the Hans Estate Vineyard in Osoyoos raised in all new French oak for 18 months. Yes, ALL new French oak. Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 from Okanagan Falls is essentially classic Left Bank Bordeaux led by merlot with cabernet sauvignon with minor amounts of cabernet franc plus malbec. Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2017 from the Okanagan Valley is a stunner and steal for the price though truth be told could have very easily been awarded a similar accolade in the straight varietal category. Niagara’s Tawse Meritage 2015 is a three-pronged Bordeaux varietal mix of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc “with so much going on you might not understand what it’s trying to say.” It’s like Glossolalia but will surely live on through epochs of Canadian Meritage notability and infamy.

OK I lied. Some mentions and some love for the Golds as well. Out of Niagara the judges jumped for the merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in Marynissen Heritage Collection Red 2015 and the kitchen sink blend only Stratus Red 2016 can gift; cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec, tannat and petit verdot. The hits keep on coming from B.C., especially strong in this category demarcated by grip, grit and strength. The following 12 began their journeys with a plethora of varietal combinations, spoke with great ability to reach the judges palates and all ended up Gold.

Note the seemingly infinite combinations is this diverse group. Maverick 2016 Rubeus, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Bench 1775 2016 Cabernet Franc MalbecCorcelettes 2016 Meritage Estate Vineyard, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot; Corcelettes 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Menhir Estate Vineyard; Black Hills 2017 Addendum, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; TIME Winery 2016 Meritage, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; Mission Hill 2016 Quatrain, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon; Sandhill 2016 Single Vineyard One Small Lots Program Vanessa Vineyard, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon merlot and syrah; Moon Curser 2017 Dead of Night, syrah and tannat; Sun Rock Vineyards 2016 Red Meritage, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; Red Rooster 2016 Golden Egg, mourvèdre, syrah and grenache; Nk’Mip Cellars 2016 Winemakers Talon, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir.

If you don’t see a clear and obvious pattern in these Red Blends be neither confused nor discouraged because this is how things function and in turn offer up so much possibility in fresher frontiers. In today’s garden of climate change affected vineyards it is Canadian winemakers who are the beneficiaries of a wild west, anything goes environment where mates can be made across varietal lines both renewed and re-invented. Embrace the diversity and let it ride.

We finish we a special red blend tasted with Maggie Granger in Prince Edward County.

Grange Of Prince Edward Bunny Wine 2016, VQA Prince Edward County ($65.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

Bunny Wine is nothing if not playful, a field blend that tugs on conceptual heartstrings and has been doing so for 18 months. It has come into kairos, whether unexpectedly, by chance or by the intuition of the moment, it matters little. Bunny is an extension of three plus years of furry flirtations, in cuvées that have come before, of gamay and pinot noir, of passe-tout-grains. I’ve tasted barrel samples and now here we are at the real thing, “the milk of the gamay bunny, drinkers of spillage by tipsy monks. Even if you know little or care less about bunnies and monks it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, based on memories and perception, just as a look back at that taste and this note will be. Seamless weaving here, between Bourgogne cousins, north and south, grippy and supple. Hard to tell one from the other and isn’t that the point? From the Victoria Block, four rows of pinot next to four of gamay, picked, fermented and crushed together. All thanks to fruit of exemplary patience. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted June 2019

Good to go!

godello

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