Archive for ‘Chardonnay’

December 17, 2020

Naramata Bench Wineries

Last weekend of October we went to the Okanagan for a wine weekend.  It was archetypally fall; cool, crisp, sunny, quiet.  Trees had turned, apples were being harvested in the orchards, and the BC Lieutenant Governor’s wine awards had just been released—the vineyards were well stocked with award winners.  We ate good food, we drank good wine, there should have been a million November wine posts.  There was one, unrelated post.  So, here’s a short, er, wordy summary from October.

Above clockwise: Lunch at Poplar Grove, two views from the Naramata Inn, the view from Poplar Grove, Blue Moon on Halloween, 2020, and dinner at the Naramata Inn.

In this post:

  • Hillside Cabernet Franc, 2017, LG Bronze winner!
  • Van Westen Viscous, 2019, LG Bronze winner!
  • Hillside Syrah, 2017, LG Bronze winner!
  • Therapy Chardonnay, 2018, LG Platinum winner!
  • Ruby Blues Peace Love & Bubbles, not an LG winner!
  • Hillside Estate Old Vines Gamay Noir, 2008 (2008! look at us!)

Where to start?  Something real, like the size of the Okanagan.  It’s a small area (relative to, say, Italy or Spain or the colossus of the US, when it comes to vineyards in production).  That means that there will be less good wine than a bigger region, it’s just math, and that good wine will command a premium, and it does, and that good wine will be in short supply, and it is.

When you hit upon some wine you like, on your tasting tours, you are likely to be reminded that the bottle you’re tasting is a “wine club member” bottling only.  OK, fair enough.  But how many wine clubs can a person join?  BC Okanagan wine clubs demand a kind of brand loyalty.  What happens if you end up with Sunderland or Watford or Ipswich?  I’ll take my chances with Australia and Chile and France.

Let’s go on to something less real, like the BC Lieutenant Governor awards, or LGs.  The judges, heaps and heaps of judges, pile into a hotel, then drink hundred of wines in a sitting.  Sip after sip after sip after sip.  A gazillion Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and maybe some Cabernet Franc and whatnot.  Word was that the hotel staff couldn’t keep up with clean glasses.  And then after all that intensive volume sipping they select winners, but not first, second and third, oh no, there is platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Do four wines win?  Shurely you jest?

Now, wait for it, there are a lot of winners to take home a prize; it could be junior soccer bootcamp the number of winners. 236 bronze winners alone.  Jeepers, what didn’t make the cut? 119 silver.  You get the picture.  The LG wine awards are a way to highlight the industry and get people to buy more wine; they are like when real estate agents host a banquet and realtors get awarded medallions and then advertise as medallion winners.  The intent might be sincere (or in fact pure commerce) but the outcome is somewhere between exaggeration and Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump.

So there we were, able to taste a number of these winners.  But back to back, repeatedly, award winners at a vineyard were not always as good as an alternative, at the same vineyard.  Which is another weird thing about the LG awards, the vineyards don’t list what they submit, what they don’t.

We stayed at arguably the nicest accommodation in in the south Okanagan, the Naramata Inn (pictured above), which is rustic, and a tad simple, and could use a once over in the bathrooms, and doesn’t have any pool or gym or spa, and even a large room doesn’t have a chair, but it’s beautifully situated and has a sensational restaurant.  Just as a comparison, there is nowhere to stay like we stayed in Western Australia or the South African garden route or ate and drank in Burgundy.  There is nowhere comparable to Healdsburg in California or the Loire.  The Okanagan is lovely, Naramata is quaint and sleepily picturesque, but loathe as I am to say it, a touch of gentrification for visitors would go a long, long ways.

Here’s an unexpected surprise: Ruby Blues sparkling.  It’s nowhere near the better bubbles available across the Okanagan, but it’s lively and fun, it’s not too dear.  Plus it comes in brunch-ready half bottles. When we were tasting a woman walked in and bought a case.  I can think of no better way to Zoom socialize Covid-style and share the love around.  It’s Goldie Hawn on Laugh-in, half naked and adorable and with zero pretense.

Start to finish Hillside wowed (which was a little weird given that what’s available “OTC” if you will, in Vancouver, is rarely their best).  First, their restaurant was just plain satisfying, deeply satisfying, from the bread to the olives to the archived treasures you can purchase on the way out (but be cautious: wines you buy after dinner end up on the restaurant tab and will incur your tip).  We drank an absolutely drop dead 12 year old Gamay Noir at dinner and went home with two very appealing, food friendly reds, a Syrah and a Cab Franc, the former spicy with an acidic nip, the latter, with air, a decent mellow barnyard funk.  The tasting room is a tad robotic, but very well set up and decently diverse.

Over at Van Westen, at 11 a.m. in the morning, their tasting room gave us pours of such generous proportion I was an inch away from a siesta.  I liked, but didn’t love their reds, but the whites were lively, nuanced and felt lovingly crafted.  There are silly names (the V for viscous is a Riesling), and the rustic-ness of it all might not be every wino’s cup of tea (witness the moose head above the bar; remember when Moe opened up a family restaurant and Marg walks in and sees a moose head with sunglasses and proclaims “A moose wearing sunglasses.  Now I’ve seen everything.” Well, it’s a bit like that), but there was nothing shabby chic about the wines.

The outrageously spectacular Poplar Grove restaurant, cliffside, it’s like climbing Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest.  Zsa Zsa would have adored the view.  The food was good, the tasting corporate, and the wine a tad ho-hum, comparatively. It was the only vineyard we passed on a take away purchase.

Therapy stunned us with their Chardonnay, but even here I’m not going to say it was an award winner better than so many other wonderful Okanagan Chardonnays.  Even the base model Meyer is good, the Blue Mountain lovely, the Burrowing Owl reliable, and of course Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Chardonnay, now we’re talking platinum.

So there you have it.  A lot of good wine, some very good food, great weather, friendly people. Then we came back to Vancouver and spent less money on older Rioja and more refined whites.

September 24, 2020

Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay, 2013

From the cellar: Stellar.  No other words.

In 2017 we pulled out the last bottle from a half case we’d scored in the US (back in the day when the CDN had some reasonable busying power) and wrote an over the top post.  Link here.  Then, on the weekend, I found another bottle.  A final final bottle.  Lottery win!  It’s just that gushing 2017 review all over again, amped up.  I mean the legs on this stuff, it’s beyond description. 

Price: You can score it in YVR for around $64 which is ludicrous. LUDICROUS. Definitely not on our income. But how I wish.

Market Liquidity: In 2015 we wrote “It puts the lush in lush” and in 2017 “How the other half drink” and to that we’ll add parting with the last bottle is not sweet sorrow, it’s just plain sorrow.

They put their phone number on the label AND the cork, like a Johnson & Johnson product. It’s Hello Kitty adorable…
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August 31, 2020

Bartier Brothers Chardonnay, 2016

Don and Michael Bartier make good wines (word on the street they may help Saturna make good wines!).  In general, bottle after bottle, vintage after vintage, they have a sincerity and forwardness that is usually very likeable and almost always easy on the pocketbook.  Their Semillon is a smash (if you can get your friends to drink Semillon).  True, we’ve been indifferent to some of the reds, but each year we give some a go and each year we usually find a varietal or blend worth blogging about. And all hail the screw tops for a picnic.

The Chardonnay is good.  It’s gentle, lightly fruity, sips well, makes a very nice lunch accompaniment; top heavy in tropical notes with perhaps a little too much guava/pineapple.  No oak.  Product specialists raved.  It’s probably an ideal if not addictive white for many people, at an exceptional price point.  But it drinks sweet.  It drinks a little too syrupy and without the crisp, lean, sharpness you (or many people) want in a Chardonnay.

Price: You can find it in private stores for around $25.

Market Liquidity: It’s a subjective A but an objective B.

June 26, 2020

La Frenz Freedom 75 Chardonnay, 2018

La Frenz Freedom 75 Chardonnay, 2018

It’s smooth, it’s caramel butterscotch-y so that it veers towards Werther’s Original.  Fortunately, the freshness and zestiness of some acid keeps the cloying at bay.  It was decent with light fare, easy sipping, and enjoyable.  But remarkably forgettable and seemingly commonplace on the finish.  If you are averse to oak, this is an ideal local option.

 

Price: $26.50 at Firefly.

 

Market Liquidity: We used to get very excited over La Frenz; like a favorite director releasing a dud.

March 27, 2020

Domaine Henri Darnat “La Jumilie” Chardonnay, 2016

Domaine Henri Darnat “La Jumilie” Chardonnay, 2016

So in BC to score a wine bottled in Meursault (bottled in Meursault, not Meursault!) at around $30 is something of a coup.

 

We loved this bottle with its brazen minerality and stony finish.  Sharp, crisp, elegant.  Stone fruits, dry, not an ounce of residual sugar.  But it wouldn’t impress.  The Burgundy crowd would immediately discern its lesser-ness, the Chardonnay crowd would crow it lacked the oak-y finesse so finessed in California, and the average wine drinker would just not appreciate the subtle-ness.  However, for my $30, it was a score.

 

Price: $28 at BC Liquor, on sale, such as it is.

 

Market Liquidity: Like a light lunch on a patio in Beaune in spring; dry, relaxing, layers of distinction.

May 28, 2019

Ritual Casablanca Chardonnay, 2016

Biodynamic brilliance. What do the French think when they drink a wine this well crafted? Ooh-la-la, how can we compete? This delectable, restrained Chardonnay is fruit forward, imperceptible oak, layered, complex, with a wet linen astringency on the finish. Subtle but profound. Lovely.

Price: We sourced it at Everything Wine but it’s since gone out of stock. $34?

Market Liquidity: Evocative of something much more prestigious.

May 27, 2019

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay, 2016

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay, 2016

BC Liquor had the MS on sale, $5 off.  Strictly speaking, you have to be in the mood for California Chardonnay.  Usually there is that Pythonesque 16 tons on your head to the oak.  But this was, surprisingly, light (as CA Chard goes), not too obtrusive, stellar with seafood, lime and stone and honeydew on the palate, and, as it warmed slightly, some banana and fresh bread.  In terms of our tastes, what we gravitate to, this is a non-starter.  But as the overstocked shelves at BC Liquor attest, taste is not the market. If BCL could bring themselves to actually sell this $5 off, it could be a Tuesday night slam dunk.  As such, no such luck.

 

Price: $35, regular price, before taxes, BC Liquor

 

Market Liquidity: Hey BC Liquor: Rather than “sell” wine how about curating wine?

March 16, 2019

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay, 2014

There was a time when Wolf Blass defined good taste in wine.  And that time was three decades ago.  And, for me, I can even define it further: 1984 in Sydney when WB was both affordable and astonishingly good.  But now?  Talk about retro blast from the past.

 

This is a totally pleasurable Chardonnay, no strikes against it.  For the person who wants a wine, year after year, to taste pretty much the same, within a very, very narrow range of differentiation, Wolf Blass rules the southern hemisphere.  Perhaps only Beringer comes close with this sort of equilibrium.  But isn’t part of the pleasure of drinking wine that difference vintage to vintage, that variability?  If it is, I suggest you move on.

 

Glass half full: Class act.  Glass half empty: Next. Quickly.

 

Price: Regularly $25, on sale for $20, so extremely good value.

 

Market Liquidity: Like an 80s playlist.

February 25, 2019

La Frenz Chardonnay Reserve, 2016

Is the LF reserve markedly better than the non-reserve?  I guess so.  It looks better in the glass with its deep golden hue.  It has more of the assertive oak and piquancy that is the hallmark of the house.  Do we like it?  We love it.  Year after year.  But we’re never sure how much more we love it than their run of the mill Ch.  I mean for $20 La Frenz turns out a palatable and “drinker friendly” Chardonnay that perks up any seafood dinner.

 

Hard to find, worth finding, worth having in multiples. Too bad about the cork, it seems a little pompous, but a perpetual favorite in our cellar.

 

Price: $25 from the vineyard and worth each cent.

 

Market Liquidity: It always seems a little special, even if predictable.

 

January 16, 2019

Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonnay, 2016

What a wonderful, optimistic and uplifting start to 2019.  A beautiful white; crisp, clean, minerally, the proverbial oyster shells, with hints of honeydew melon and a whisper of jasmine.  A long buttery finish.  When Hugh Johnson writes about his love of acidity, I think this wine epitomizes that sentiment, with a tart acidity extremely well balanced on the palate.  Not knock your socks of Burgundy, but restrained and evocative of terroir.  Zero complaints.

 

Price: Gifted but I’ve seen it at the Kitsilano Wine Cellar in the mid 30s.

 

Market Liquidity: The yin and yang of new and old world Chardonnay.

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