Archive for ‘Riesling’

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 3, 2020

Tantalus Old Vines Riesling, 2017 & Tantalus Riesling, 2019

Gismondi gave an over the top review for the 2019 Tantalus Riesling, suggesting we horde; it is after all the current trent. He said “back up the truck” so we took him at his word and got a case of the 2019 and then at private stores sourced some old vines. And I gotta say, it’s good, it’s worth it, but it just didn’t knock our socks off the way his review did.

The OV is sharp and acidic and striking. If there’s a barbed wire Riesling, this is it. The 2019 is more overtly approachable and, on the palate, has plenty of depth and is determined to proclaim itself RIESLING. Both are decently low alcohol and superbly food friendly. But, overall, we reserve judgement. The 2019, after a sample, went “into the cellar” to revisit post-Covid, sometime down the road in the new normal. I’m calling it something to look forward to.

Price: An extremely reasonable $21.75 at the vineyard for the 2019; nearly double for the OV at private stores.

Market Liquidity: At less than $22 a bottle it’s a science experiment; only time will tell.

September 20, 2018

La Frenz Naramata Bench Riesling Clone 21B, 2017

We tried.  Nope.

 

Acid.  Just too much acid.  At least there’s therapeutic benefit to apple cider vinegar.  This wasn’t food friendly with hard cheese, braised pork or just as a late summer sipper.

 

The vineyard blurb boasts lavender, thyme, peach.  We got nothing.  Citrus and minerality. And enough acid to burn a hole on your palate.

 

I’m certain that in August, under a grape vine draped gazebo overlooking one of the many Okanagan lakes, this crisp (and forgettable) white would please.  But I don’t think it has much utility outside of context and was a bitter disappointment.

 

Price: An extremely reasonable $19 at the vineyard.

 

Market Liquidity: Riesling rises to higher heights all down the valley…

July 20, 2018

Fort Berens Dry Riesling, 2016

Wine from Lillooet?  What’s next: Wine from Graaff-Reinet?  I suppose.  If one of the myriad Lillooet forest fires common to the region, regularly, consistently, doesn’t wipe out the vineyard.  And lord knows there’s heat up there.

 

Tangy, tart, zesty and refreshing.  Decent with frittata.  But it’s no stellar Riesling and most will, at best, find it inoffensive, in the middle nonplussed, but us we could leave it be.  Quite forgettable.  (92 points over at John Schreiner.  Wow.  God bless him.  But that is just way, way beyond the quality and texture and depth of this very simple table white.)

 

Price: Less than $20.  So four stars on that.

 

Market Liquidity: Turns out only some of the grapes were from Lillooet.  Just one more let down on the last glass.

February 6, 2018

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Margaret River Riesling, 2016

Drinking wine in Australia 2: Generally, LE churns out a huge swath of drinkable and sometimes especially eloquent wines.  The Art Series is their upper echelon and, if you can find it in Canada, will set you back significantly.  In Australia you can source the various bottles and a dry WA Riesling spoke to us.  But unfortunately only on the shelf at he bottle shop.  As a sipper or with food this just didn’t work for us.  It was highly acidic, and not in a “succulent” way as the label promised; very lime forward, deeply mineral, and only a nuance of floral notes.  To compare it apples to apples, new world to new world, I was thinking of how spectacular the “simple” Riesling from Sea Star on Pender Island was/is, and thinking about the heft and cache of Leeuwin, and that just made us more discouraged.

 

Price: $30 Australian in Australia.

 

Market Liquidity: Sometimes big stars walk through a matinee performance.

March 2, 2017

Selbach Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich, Riesling Kabinett, 2015

selbach-oster-zeltinger-himmelreich-riesling-kabinett-2015

A dry, juicy, spare but luxurious Riesling with a touch of Metallica but a lot of Cream, Peaches & Herb and Tangerine Dream.  Another stunning gentle white from Mosel (11.5%) that went with chicken braised in, yes, Riesling, and broiled root vegetables, like waves on the ocean.  We really could not find a food friendly fault.

 

Price: $29.99 at BC Liquor before taxes (but I should point out you can score this in WA at almost half the price if you scout around).

 

Market Liquidity: When serendipity meets kismet.

November 8, 2016

Culmina Decora, 2015

martha-stewart-baked-squash-carrots-kale-eggs

Wow.  I think you could line this up blind with any of the Alsace Rieslings available in BC and it would trump most.  Well, maybe not the Pierre Sparr, but still…

 

This sips cool, cold, crisp, with intense acidity but enticing layers of hearty orchard fruit along with the lightness of a butterfly garden, whiffs of blossoms across the tongue.  By which I mean both meaty and delicate.  It’s like spring in a bottle.

 

Most shocking of all is that we paired it (on a whim) with eggs (Martha Stewart’s baked squash, carrots, kale, with eggs and a cilantro dressing): eggs are notoriously wine un-friendly, and cilantro is no Alsatian amie, but by gosh it held up like the Cubs in the tenth.

 

Price: $21 from the winery. A steal by any measure (except, it seems, the hordes who pass on Riesling).

 

Market Liquidity: A taste of the good life.

culmina-decora-riesling

September 7, 2016

Sea Star Prose, 2014

labour-day-wines

There was a lot of wine on offer during the last “official” week of summer.  Most of it neither here nor there.  A 2009 Priorat that Robert Parker claimed could be drunk over the next 15-20 years was corked.  A CdR Sablet that Gismondi had recommended for the cellar through 2020 was mediocre.  A cheap red from the OK crush pad was character-free but enormously quaffable.  The star of the lot for me was a dessert beverage from Pender Island.

sea-star-prose-2014

Sea Star turns out some exceptional, light, aromatic whites.  We’ll review a couple next week.  Hard to find, but inexpensive and easy to drink, they show what can be done in earnest, as opposed to ego.  They sell two dessert wines, one a Riesling paired with apple, the Prose, and another which is Foch, Pinot Noir and berries, which they call Poetry.

 

I’ll be blunt: The Poetry is a disaster like, I hasten to add, so much modern poetry.  There’s an American “conceptual” poet called Kenneth Goldsmith who originated “uncreative” writing including an art installation of every word he said for a week, and who has stated he never suffers from writer’s block because there’s always something to copy.  In other words, insufferable.  Sea Star Poetry drinks like your neighbour’s kit wine club plonk which they bottle at $4 per plus supplies.  Alcoholic, forward, blatantly berry, and not unlike any number of bottled fruit beverages they serve on ice with a cherry instead of ale.

 

Which is to say, that’s too bad, because the Prose is something to be savored.  It sails in the direction of Sauternes, shy of course, but still with that full fruit of apple, stone, kiwi, lingers on the tongue (but not long enough), and is will suited to not just cheese (thank God) but actual honest to god desserts.  Expensive ($21 for the half) but a wonderful BC antidote to the Port wannabes, such as Black Sage’s Pipe, et. al.

 

Price: $21 at the Saturna General Store (!).

 

Market Liquidity: Sometimes good things come in small packages.

August 25, 2016

Peter Jakob Kühn Riesling Trocken, 2013

Peter Jakob Kühn Riesling Trocken, 2013

We liked this much more than the online pointsters who seem, by and large, non-plussed.  In fact, after nodding off through three or four BC Liquor “trocken” wines this summer, none interesting enough for a review, this sort of knocked my socks off.

 

It pours out a golden nectar, honeyed nearly Sauternes gold.  It is light on the nose but hits the palate searingly dry.  There is a little filbert, pronounced mandarin and pear, a sweet blossom perfume, and a crisp nearly startling acidity that is enormously appealing, dare I say addictive (heck, it’s only 12%, why not?).

 

It tops out with an extraordinarily long finish that transitions to sweet nectarine and peach.  Then, it just sits on your tongue, like an angelic gift, tart and delectable.

 

This was a “blind” buy, spur of the moment, but once we opened the bottle I had to Google the vintner who is, no surprise, passionate, biodynamic focussed, and embraces 200 years of wine making history.  The whole shebang is easy enough to source.

 

Price: $13 USD in Seattle.  Not a typo.  $13.

 

Market Liquidity: Simple brilliance.

July 23, 2016

La Frenz Riesling, 2014

La Frenz Riesling

A mere 11 per cent alcohol.  Fruity, a smidgen sweet, an addictive acidity, and light as a feather.  Crisp and not cloying.  Forget rosé; this is a lunch wine par excellence.  We ate it with Jacques Pepin’s fresh corn souffles, but in fact it would pair with any civilized summer lunch that doesn’t require pomp or proclamation.  Not, technically, the drier, heartier Rieslings we gravitate to, but at the price point a most accomplished accomplishment.

 

Price: $20 at the vineyard.

 

Market Liquidity: A proverbial delicate flower.