Archive for ‘Shiraz’

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.

August 13, 2020

Rufus Stone Heathcote Shiraz, 2016

Gosh, for a blog that brags about being anti-pointster, we sure do seem on a point-driven jag.  92 it is.

Is it good wine?  Yes.  Is it good Shiraz? Yes; fruity, licorice, earthy, “all the usuals” if you will.  Truly, a typical and satisfying Oz Shiraz.  But: Is it ludicrously over the top alcoholic?  Yes, oh god yes.  14.9% but with the wine version of a humidex it could be Port.  There is something Hummer-ish about it’s headstrong attack and something equally leaden about the finish.  Demonstrative and then some.  Delicious, just a little weighted down.  It’s a one off for us.

Price: An extremely reasonably $27 at BC Liquor.

Market Liquidity: Think Great Expectations (as opposed to A Christmas Carol; both “92-point stories,” one just able to be bright and light and satisfying without the slog).

May 2, 2020

Cote du Rhone Halos de Jupiter, Vacqueyras

Cote du Rhone Halos de Jupiter, Vacqueyras

This is a Grenache Syrah blend that is a slam dunk.  Just wow and wow and wonderful.

 

BC Liquor sells the entry level Cotes du Rhone; it’s fine in its own way, I recommend it on a wine list because for $40 something you can have a decent bottle of red with dinner out (if we’re ever allowed to eat out again).  BC Liquor also sells an over $70 Chateauneuf du Pape.  In Ontario you can score a most wonderful Gigondas for $40.  All hail Jupiter.  But some of the private wine stores in YVR have the just right porridge, an exquisite red that boasts plums, and jammy dark fruits, light tannins and gobs of deliciousness.  Ludicrously drinkable.

 

Price: Around $35 at Kitsilano Wine, but if you but a mixed case of six and you take the 10% discount, we’re talking better than any BC red in that price zone, period.

 

Market Liquidity:  I could self isolate on a case of this.

April 28, 2020

Cape Mentelle Shiraz Cabernet, 2017

Cape Mentelle Shiraz Cabernet, 2017

Well here’s a blast from the past.  Remember when BC Liquor carried Cape Mentelle?  No, I bet you don’t, because it’s been about a decade.  Their workhorse Sem Sauv Bl blend was one of those relatively inexpensive everyday whites of much utility.  We miss it.

 

This is not their finest moment.  And they do have some fine moments (which of course will cost you).  But it’s a lovely change this perky red from Western Australia, perhaps a little surprising how much sweet and how little mouth feel it has, tending to veer away from the typical leathery Oz Shiraz, despite 60% Shiraz to 40% Cab Sauv.

 

Quite decent, all things considered, screw top, not over the top pricey, pleasantly light even at 14.5% alcohol.

 

Price: $30 at BC Liquor.

 

Market Liquidity: Like a nice find at a garage sale.

February 21, 2020

Tightrope Shiraz, 2016

Tightrope Shiraz 2016

Gismondi liked it.  I think a lot, so we got a bottle. And it was beyond a pass.  Just totally forgettable.  But we bought another bottle a few weeks later.  Props to our local producers, right?  And the second time round it was fine.  You know, a half decent red.  It was easy to drink but unremarkable, flavorful but not pronounced, a tad too flowery for us, for Shiraz/Syrah, without some redeeming finish, by which I don’t mean half baked but I do mean comme ci comme ca.

 

Price: Well if you score it at Save-On, and buy enough for the discount, you can come out around $30 before taxes.

 

Market Liquidity: You know that Oscar Wilde line, If I put on music no one will hear it, if I don’t everyone will?  Sort of like that.

February 21, 2020

Errazuriz Aconagua Costa Syrah, 2016

Errazuriz Aconagua Costa Syrah, 2016

Oh James Suckling.  How mediocre does a wine have to be to score less than 93 points?  Crikey.

 

This perfectly palatable and in many ways lovely red is on the simple side; an authentic 93 point Shiraz is the Torbreck, reviewed here.  This subtle contender is just that, a contender. And not even a Brando On the Waterfront wannabe.

 

Yeast, light maraschino and tart berry, a crisp and inelegant finish, not long on the palate.  It’s certainly no dud but it’s bantam weight at best.  But, hey, like Lizzo says, let’s be body positive.

 

Price: All in at Firefly $35.

 

Market Liquidity: You will drink it, you will probably like it, and you will forget it.  Pffft.

January 4, 2020

Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz, 2017

Torbreck Woodcutter's Shiraz, 2017

Another gift from Santa.  I must have been a very good boy in 2019.

 

We are doubly familiar with the less expensive Grenache-Shiraz, easy to source, easy to drink, although have never bothered to post a review.  The Woodcutter’s Shiraz, a top 100 2019 wine over at the Wine Spectator (with the 93 point bottle neck seal to prove it…) is harder to find, more expensive, and like our recent post on vintage Rioja, worth every last penny vis-a-vis the prohibitive cost of BC “flagship” reds.

 

The colour is charcoal, the flavour notes teeter on a broad spectrum, between tar (meaning dark and mysterious, woodsy) and cherry jubilee (meaning fruity and rich, creamy, velvet).  The 15% alcohol is I suppose par for the course, certainly over at the Spectator, but this lovely sipper is not top heavy.  There is a faint whisker of syrup in the richness, however the layered flavour notes never cease to surprise.  Halfway though you may come across a palate tangent of cedar frond.  A most impressive gift wine.

 

Price: Gifted, but around $38 at BC Liquor, here and there.

 

Market Liquidity: Delectable, if a tad decadent for us.

August 7, 2019

Nichol Syrah, 2016

Nichol Syrah 2016

It’s been seven years since we’ve posted on the Nichol Syrah (!) which, seven years ago (2009 vintage), was something of a lovely treat.  The Nichol old vines are now, I guess, really old.  We were anticipating the current offering to have some wow, some heavy authenticity, but were quickly disabused of that notion.  In 2012 we wrote “a most fine red” but for the current vintage on the shelves it’s an OK Syrah, a “most usual red” if you will, spicy, fruity, a tad too light without being lively, heavy on the cherry juice, and not overtly food friendly.  The acid tends toward aggressive and not in a pleasant fashion, not even for those who gravitate (as is the trend) toward top heavy acidity.  Still, not much more on the pocketbook than so many years back, so that’s a plus.

 

Price: $33 at private wine stores.

 

Market Liquidity: Hope springs eternal. Just not always in the Okanagan.

September 20, 2018

La Frenz Syrah, Rockyfeller Vineyard, 2016

We found the same pronounced acid as the Cl 21B Riesling, but palatable and welcome.

 

First sip is grape Kool Aid drink crystals.  It really is that strong.  Then a not too wholesome hit of uber alcoholic cherry and plum with the requisite oak.  Despite the 14.9% we loved the jammy fullness and mouth feel.  Up the nose like Vapo-rub.

 

Young. Young, young.  Cellar indefinitely, although La F recommends five to seven, it seems to have potential for 10.

 

Price: An extremely reasonable $26 at the vineyard given the cellaring potential.

 

Market Liquidity: In your face.  But give it time.

September 14, 2018

Leeuwin Estate Siblings Shiraz, 2012

Entry level LE is expensive.  Even in Western Australia.  Even at the vineyard in Margaret River.  It’s just how it goes.  And it’s not always brilliant (witness our rather uninspired taste of the Art Series Riesling).  But most of the time it is brilliant.  It has a modesty and restraint, across most varietals, something you don’t normally get in Oz (home of Punch in the Face Shiraz); this isn’t punching bag red.

 

The entry level Siblings Shiraz has (we think) everything going for it.  Smooth and sweet(ish) like melba sauce, meaning berry forward, palate delightful and deeply nuanced but without the flair of a truly magnificent red.  You can just imagine staff tasting from the barrel and knowing it wouldn’t cut the mustard for an Art Series label but how eloquent and measured nonetheless.  We drank it against an Ottolenghi recipe of braised leeks (with edamame, buffalo mozzarella, lemon zest and a sprinkling of Gran Padano) and it shone.  As a sipper it became instantly addictive.

 

There is something missing, something you find in those towering Penfolds that cost a fortune but you are, of course, at entry level.  $40 entry level.  But still.  A good fit, off the rack.  Thank you Leeuwin.

 

Warm, pleasant, pleasing and delectable.

 

Price: $40 at Kits Wine Cellar (but with a half case take 10% off).

 

Market Liquidity: Like an earworm there’s a repetitive riff and you’re hooked.