Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Cabernet Franc

Many of you know the immense respect I have for organic farmers (of all varieties). Organic farming is a real and genuine commitment to the land (and the consumers) to treat it with respect and approach it with some level of understanding.

   How much more then, can I say for bio-dynamic viticulture? Or wineries who adopt zero-carbon emission standards, or make efforts to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint? The obvious answer is that I have the utmost respect for any business person who makes the effort, who takes the time to address our immediate and growing concern of limited resources on this planet and too few people grabbing at what there is.

   I had thought that our government in British Columbia was forward thinking enough to share these sentiments.

   Perhaps I was wrong.

Ezra Cipes, general manager
   Summerhill Pyramid winery ( is a true destination-location in the south Okanagan Valley DVA. Stephen Cipes first came to this region in 1986 and felt that he had found the place to call home for himself and his family. 35 years later, the family has bound itself to the land and says categorically that they are lucky to be able to do so. Ezra Cipes, Stephen's son says:

   "At Summerhill we have so much to celebrate. The quality of wine, food, and service that we are known for, and the good conscience we share knowing the care that goes into our products, truly brings us together as a family. I spend a lot of my life at work, and the love and friendship I share with the team at Summerhill helps me feel whole and like my life is well lived."

   So knowing these sentiments from the Cipes family, knowing that they have worked diligently on their organic certification for all of the farms who provide the winery with it's grapes and also work towards bio-dynamic certification... knowing all of this and knowing the vast array of awards that have been earned by these craftsmen I was well and truly stunned to learn this month (August 2011) that the winery will be losing it's VQA status on one of their wines.

   Why? What terrible thing could Summerhill have done?

   They created a 3-Litre box for their wine.

   Oh the (mock) horror of it all~! It's clearly stated in the province's Agricultural Food Choice and Quality Act, only bottled wine can be VQA. Never mind that Summerhill is using the exact same wine that goes into their bottles, or that there is a 76% reduction in the carbon footprinting vs bottles and corks for that same volume.

Stephen Cipes, owner
   Just never mind.


   Well actually I do mind. And so should you.

   When business-people make the time and take the effort to be environmentally responsible, without encouragement from the government, we the people should be cheering them on~! The government should make a point of recognizing forward-thinking rather then castigating it.

   But I imagine that Stephen Cipes and his family will continue to do what they do, and do it in their responsible and conscientious manner. They will continue to be the most-visited winery in Canada, and will continue to take their wines around the world garnering recognition from winemakers and sommeliers where-ever they go. They will continue to do business as they see fit, though without the support of the body that has the most reason to be supportive: when a single BC winery is this pro-active and produces this level of quality, it is the entire BC wine industry that gains standing in the global arena.

2007 Summerhill Pyramid winery small lot Cabernet Franc
Okanagan Valley DVA, British Columbia
$28.95 @ the winery

92+ points

93 points - Best of Class, Gold Medal - Los Angeles International Wine and Spirit Awards 2011
450 cases produced
  • visual:   clear with trace sediment; medium+ to fully intense bruised plum core with slight cherry and slightly brick rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense developing bouquet of red and black raspberries, red and black currants, old worn leather, slight savory herbs such as thyme, traces of drying summer flowers and pink peppercorn
  • palate:   clean; medium+ (lively red currant) acids, medium+ (slightly chalky and well integrated) tannin, medium body, medium ABV, medium+ to fully intense and developing flavors mimicking the nose with emphasis on the red berry flavors opening the palate; dark berries are still developing; excellent balance and structure with long length
  • conclusion: an excellent display of Okanagan terroir and the Cabernet-Franc varietal; drinking well now this wine will cellar for years and develop slightly in bottle over the next 24 months. Enjoy 2011-2016+
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   the acids on this are very, very well balanced and as such have no need of excess fats. Consider a butter glazed beef tenderloin with grilled leeks and sweet-pea risotto

   The plantings of Cabernet Franc come from Knollvine farms in the Okanagan Falls region. Summerhill was instrumental in many vineyards achieving their organic certification and after this beautiful showing, I look forward to sampling more of the honest work behind Canada's most-visited winery.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moon Curser, Border Vines "Bordeaux Blend", BC

Bordeaux blends; a wine by any other name would smell as sweet? Well call the wine a Bordeaux blend, a "Meritage", "Mirage", "Occulus" or "Border Vines"... we're all talking about the same thing (more or less).

   Bordeaux (France) is a winemaking region with a long history of craftsmanship going back to the 2nd century and the Romans. Today the region is perhaps best known for it's blended wines (which comprise more then 80% of all it's production). The red wines, which I'm focusing on today, are divided into two broad categories (which sommeliers will divide further): Right Bank and Left Bank.
   Right Bank blends are generally more supple, drink younger, and can be enjoyed on their own or with food. These blends are always driven by a large portion of Merlot which will be 70% of the blend or more, with a smattering of Cabernet Franc and perhaps a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon.
   Left Bank blends are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon driven blends, also with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but also Petit Verdot and Malbec. These are the "Bordeaux Blends" that are most common in British Columbia, especially the Okanagan Valley DVA. An almost obscure varietal;  Carménère has been virtually fazed out of the vineyards of Bordeaux and has taken root (forgive the pun) in the Central Valley of Chile to great success.

   And then along comes a Moon Curser. A what? A winery from the Okanagan Valley ( ) which started as Twisted Tree in 2005 and went through a true  renaissance in 2010; it was reborn. The winery's parents Beata and Chris Tolley, who emigrated to our fair valley from the other side of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, hired Vancouver designer and brand-specialist extraordinaire Bernie Hadley-Beauregard who's pedigree is as impressive as his multi-syllable name (just joking - some of the finest BC wineries to open or re-open in recent years including Blasted Church Vineyards, Dirty Laundry Winery, 8th Generation Winery and more have hired his expertise).

   And what does Moon Curser have that warrants all this conversation?
the view from Moon Curser

   A true Bordeaux blend, the Border Vines:  Cabernet Sauvignon (29%), Carmenere (23%), Malbec (23%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Franc (4%) and Petit Verdot (1%). The wine is grown in five Osoyoos East Bench vineyards, all within tractor-driving distance from one another.

   We here in BC have many wineries producing Bordeaux blends, yet this is the only one including the rare Carménère . And why would this be? Carménère simply requires a longer summer season for ripening then most wineries have, with the exception of those at the southern end of the province at the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert: Moon Curser (with a few other notable exceptions).

2009 Border Vines bordeaux blend
$25 at the winery
$27   **** EXCELLENT VALUE ****
  • visual:   clear; fully intense royal purple or slightly inky core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developing aromas of red raspberry and currant, light cranberry notes, pink peppercorn spice, light star anise and black currants
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (well integrated red currant) acids, moderate+ (soft and supple) tannins, moderate body, moderate ABV, moderate+ intense and developing flavors that mimick the nose with emphasis on the berry flavors throughout, soft finish of savory herbs with a slightly spicy finish. Excellent balance and structure, medium+ to long length on the palate
  • conclusion:   this wine drinks very well now, and very well for the price~! Enjoy 2011-2014/15 but will not develop appreciably in bottle
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:  great Bordeaux style wine calls for great beef (in my opinion). Serve this with a great grilled ribeye steak with kosher seasalt and extra-virgin olive oil, steamed swiss chard and new potatoes... not the most original food pairing ever, but sometimes we just need to get back to the classics
Moon Curser workers at night

   If you haven't tried these wines before (in either incarnation) you will quickly be listing this as one of your classics... a "go-to" wine that easily expresses BC quality and BC terroir. Well done Moon Curser, and my thanks to John Schreiner ( for his inspired and ever-diligent research.

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rosemount Estate Balmoral Syrah

In the 1860's a young man from Germany came to the unknown; he came to Australia. Landing in the new seaport of Sydney (which had functioned as a port for the Aboriginal people for 30,000 years) Carl Brecht was determined to set his own future, and followed a little known road to the outer edges of the Hunter Valley. There, at the junction of the Wybong Creek and the Goulburn River he planted his vineyard and settled the savage land.

    Fast-forward 100 years and another entrepreneur comes along in the Australian world of wine. In 1968, a visionary by the name of Bob Oatley purchased the long-standing vineyard of Rosemount Estate ( Rosemount had enjoyed a lengthy position as one of the fine wine producers of Australia, but Bob wanted to take it further: he wanted to be the best. A worthy dream, but necessitating a rather huge amount of work, n'est-pas? Bob was up to the task of fulfilling his vision.

   In 1975 Rosemount released their first wines; a 1974 Hunter Valley Semillion and Hermitage. They garnered a total 69 awards throughout Australia. Enough to qualify as being the best? In 1982 they took their 1980 Chardonnay and became the first Australians to ever with double-gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. Enough yet to feel like the best? In 1999, Rosemount became the first non-American winery to ever win winery of the year at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition.

   One would think that perhaps Bob would rest on his laurels.

   One would be wrong.

   In 2004 the 2002 Diamond Merlot wins the Merlot Trophy at the International Wine and Spirit Competition; one of the most highly recognized trophies for a varietal.

   Bob Oatley has taken one property in 1966 and turned it into several properties ranging the width and breadth of the winemaking spectrum in both South Australia and New South Wales. One of the jewels in this crown would be the Balmoral Syrah produced in the McLaren Vale. Anyone who wants information on the discovery and formation of this part of South Australia, approximately 45 minutes drive north of Adelaide should read some of my earlier articles ( ).

   The winery in the McLaren in situated on three distinct areas that yield fruit of sufficient quality - the sandy loam soils near Blewitt Springs; the darker soils in McLaren Flat itself; and the red soils with underlying limestone found in the Seaview area (my thanks to ). The vines are generally between 50 and 100 years old, although sources say that there are still some patches over 100. By comparison, most vines in British Columbia are between 10 and 20 years old... the older the vines - the less they produce, but, the more concentrated the flavors. Most wineries will tear out vines before they reach 100 years old as they simply don't produce enough juice to be fiscal responsible. Bravo to the Bob Oatleys and (chief winemaker) Matt Kochs of the world~!

2002 Rosemount Estate "Balmoral" Syrah
$75 CAD  ***** BUY THIS IF YOU CAN *****
14.5% ABV

vineyard:    50 to 100 year old vines (small percentage over 100 years)
maturation:   24 months, American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense violet-crimson core with slightest brick rim
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ to fully intense and developed bouquet of drying red berries (red and black cherries, red and black raspberries, blackberries), rich white and slightly floral pink peppercorn, soft background of drying summer flowers, light savory herbaceousness, finish reminiscent of decadently rich dark cocoa
  • palate:   clean; dry, moderate+ (lively and brilliantly integrated red raspberry) acids, moderate (velvet soft and slightly chalky) tannins, moderate body, moderate alcohol, moderate+ intense and developed flavors that mimick the nose perfectly; the red berries burst on the palate with dark cocoa and peppercorn dominating the mid-palate and a ridiculously long finish of the American oak light vanilla notes and soft florals. EXCELLENT balance, structure and long long long length
  • conclusion:   if you have cellared this properly, it is still drinking stupendously and will continue to do so for several years; enjoy this special wine present to 2015/17
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   I may be a heathen for this, but the depth of this wine's expression of terroir and varietal made me think to South Australian cuisine and culture, and I came up with braised lamb shank on caramelized shallot yam pave with olive oil fried arugula... the reasons for this are long and varied, but based upon drawing similarities from the food to the wine and vice-versa

   As this was my first foray into Rosemount wines, I was duly impressed. I have nothing else to say other then that I can't wait  to try more from the whole winemaking team.

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley DVA, BC

So before I start to talk about Tinorn Creek winery again (, I think it's important to talk about Cabernet Franc; the much planted varietal that plays such a pivotal role in so many great red wine blends.
Cabernet Franc (courtesy Wikipedia)

   Cabernet Franc is very closely related to Cabernet Sauvignon: in fact, Cab Franc is one of the parents. So what does this mean for flavor, color, aromas? Well of course there are going to be similarities; both are red wine varietals, both are deep in color though Cab Franc will be lighter in pigment (a trick to use in a blind tasting), both have the obvious red berry flavors though Cab Sauv will tend towards blackberry and plum and Cab Franc will tend towards (depending on where it's grown) raspberry and red currant and then for the aromas there are distinctive differences. Cab Franc has a unique vegetal quality which is accentuated by over-cropping and/or underexposure and will be perceived quite often as bell peppers and/or a "stemminess".

   Now overcropping is something that any viticulturist can avoid if s/he wants to and is motivated towards. That being said, sometimes there are fiscal reasons for over-cropping and sometimes even viticulturists just don't care about quality - they care for quantity. Underexposure is a different matter altogether.

   A winemaker can be motivated to the creation of quality wine, and yet the weather can choose not to co-operate (much like this Summer of 2011 in British Columbia).... by mid-August many winemakers and their vineyard managers are talking about being weeks behind schedule due to excessive cloud cover and mild temperatures. What to do? Well unfortunately, all the skill in the world can't fix something that goes awry in the vineyard.

   Which brings us to one of the primary reasons why Cab Franc was planted and continues to be planted in the first place: it buds and ripens an easy week earlier then it's child Cab Sauv. One week may not seem like much difference, but in regions where late rains or hail are a reality, that week may make the difference between a successful harvest and a failure.

   And where do we find great plantings of Cab Franc? Almost anywhere winemakers plant Cab Sauv and worry about not reaching phenolic ripeness; the Libournais region of Bordeaux (my much loved AOCs of St Emilion and Pomerol) and the Loire Valley of France, the north-east corner of Italy, parts of California and along the northern border of the United States, British Columbia, the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County regions of Canada and throughout the New World.

   So here in beautiful BC we are blessed with almost everything a winemaker could want, with the exception of a lengthy enough summer (in most places) for a winemaker to be able to "properly" cultivate Cab Sauv. What's a winemaker to do? Plant Cab Franc. This is done as insurance for the "Bordeaux-style" blendings for which we have garnered some recognition and, now, as a stand-alone single varietal- sometimes as a late-harvest wine and even as a rosé.

   Tinhorn Creek is rather renown in British Columbia (and in Canada) for the quality of it's Cab Franc. To be completely honest though, the acknowledgements come not only for the quality - but for the absolutely reasonable price that they sell it for. Almost anyone these days can make a decent wine, given the right growing conditions... but it is a dying breed the winemaker who consistently sells a good product for a reasonable price.

2009 Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc
$19.99 at the winery   *** Very Good Value ***
~~ For The Cellar ~~
14.8% ABV

viticulture:   100% from their Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench
maturation:   12 months in American oak barrels

2007 Cabernet Franc

SILVER Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, 2010
SILVER Taster’s Guild International Wine Judging, 2010
BRONZE Intervin International Wine Competition, 2009
BRONZE World Value Wine Competition, BTI, 2009
  • visual:   clear; moderate bruised plum core with substantial cherry rim (slight amount of brick)
  • nose:   clean; moderate+ intense youthful aromas of red currants, early raspberries, savory herbs, green bell pepper, sweet wood notes
  •  palate:   clean; dry, moderate (well-integrated red currant) acids, moderate+ (slightly green and grippy) tannins, moderate- body, moderate+ intense youthful flavors mimicking the nose with pronounced savory vegetal notes, a long dry finish of red berries, dried mushrooms and sweet wood. Very good balance and structure, long length
  • conclusion:   whilst this is already a good wine, it still needs some time to develop in bottle and become a great wine. Best (Fall) 2012-2016
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   I would work off the lighter body and almost delicate structure and use it much like a Burgundian Pinot Noir, pairing it with a traditional Bourguignon with wild BC mushrooms and local vension... I think the slightly vegetal quality will play well off of venison's gamey-ness, the wild mushrooms pull fungal qualities from the wine and the hint of cream and demi-glace balance the wine's moderate acids
Tinhorn's Diamondback vineyard

As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!