Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vancouver Cigar Company *Grand Opening*

Last month I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to the Grand (re)Opening of the Vancouver Cigar Company ( ) right here in the Lower Mainland of BC.

I can remember the old days of "The Company" when they were lodged in the hip-district of Yaletown and walking into that shop was like walking onto a film-set. Not only for the leather couches, rows upon rows of ultra-premium Cuban tobacco, but also for the regular clientele of visiting stars. I brushed past Stallone one day, just missed "The Governor" another time and made a point of missing Charlie Sheen on several occasions (only joking Charlie).

Smiling Staff (right) and client at Van Cigar Co.
Yes, it was a bit like being invited to an Old-World gentleman's club, New-World style. Courteous staff - that was before I knew the difference between Robusto and Maduro (I thought they were both cigar sizes)... these guys (and gals) took me by the hand and led me through their maze of riches. They showed me how to season my humidor properly, gave advice on purchases, and picked my brains more then once on wine pairings with what I was smoking currently. Nice folks, and a great place to have a chat.

Well then the laws changed in BC, and cigar-smoking was put on the same executioners block as cigarette-smoking. I could digress and begin a rant on the differences between the two, but I must assume that my readers, since obviously literate, are also more intelligent then the law-makers who put such drivel into practice.


But rising  like a phoenix from the ashes (almost literally) came the resurrection of the company back into public-life and a great big smoke-off to start things with a bang! I called Trevor; fellow raconteur and General Manager, and asked him a few questions about this exciting and by-law defying event!

Trevor cigar-sales have taken quite a beating over the past 5 years; what separates you from your local competition?

Well first off, I have to give credit back to the company for being one of the first to deal only in premium and ultra-premium Cuban tobacco, starting in 1996... to us old guys sometimes that doesn't feel like that long ago, but in reality that's almost 20 years of business and that means we're doing the right kind of things.

Secondly I would have to give kudos to the staff here; I'm surrounded by people who are not only passionate about cigars, but passionate about learning and sharing their acquired knowledge. The staff are selfless when it comes to this and I'm quite proud of them.

Lastly I'ld have to say that our merchandise speaks for itself. Cuban cigars are widely regarded as the best in the world, and we only deal with the best from Cuba.

An interesting line of thought as I, personally, enjoy many Dominican cigars as well... what makes Cubans "The Best" in your opinion?

Well obviously it's only my opinion, but the richness of Cuban-soil, the high iron content, the perfect mix of moisture, sun and wind... not to overlook the obviously vast cultural heritage that goes along with the cigar industry there... this is a place and a people uniquely qualified to produce constantly top-scoring cigars.

A beautiful Bolivar I smoked to the last inch
An interesting point-of-view, and valid points... going back to business for a minute - if the average person learns from repeated mistakes, the wise person from one mistake and the genius learns from watching someone else make a mistake - what has the Vancouver Cigar Company learnt from its competitors over the past few years?

You know, above and beyond all other things, we're really embracing that to be successful in this economic climate we need to A) never quit and B) always be willing to try new things. It's the companies who are too old, too big, too slow or too comfortable to try new concepts who are, inevitably, failing.

And what would you consider to be the greatest challenge to your business here in BC/Canada?

Obviously the new anti-smoking laws have had the most devastating effect on cigar sales across the country. When we combine that with some of the highest tobacco taxes in the world - cigars have become something that most people are associating with wealth. Which is silly when you think of the simple pleasure a cigar can bring, and the absolute accessibility of the average person to cigars in most parts of the world.

Most parts of the world... are you thinking of anywhere in particular?

Me, with two beauties at Van Cigar Co.
Well like many people, I have very romantic memories of my time in Havana. I've been lucky enough to spend some time there and know this little restaurant... there's a wrought-iron staircase that takes you up to the second floor with these tiny balconies that overlook the city - they're almost like mini gallerias - I sat there with a beautiful girl, had a great meal - then enjoyed a fantastically fresh hand-rolled cigar with some truly world-class beer and spirits.

Of course, walking the seawall around English Bay with a friend is a great way to spend an hour or so, and I still have good memories of our old store in Yaletown and long talks over cigars in the over-stuffed leather chairs!

I actually share similar memories of Cuba - different place, but the same vibe... but smoking here in Canada is now illegal virtually everywhere; I'm sure it seems like an obvious answer, but what changes would you like to see in the cigar industry here?

You know the biggest issue I have with the current laws isn't that we have new laws protecting non-smokers, it's that they put cigars and cigarettes on exactly the same level.... it's blatantly false and I just wish the government would recognize that. I wish more cigar-lovers would speak up! Send an email to your MP or MLA, start a petition, contact a senator -

- yes, I think I know of one senator who's for sale these days...

Well Trevor thanks for your time and thanks for inviting me to the grand (re)opening - it's been great having this chance to pick-your-brain.

A pleasure Kristof - thanks for making the time to come out!


I would like to say that I was diligent in my work after that. I would like to say that I took copious notes on the cigar(s) I smoked, and remembered to ask people about their experience, etc etc...

The truth is that the Cuban music was pumping, the cigars were beautiful (as was much of the company), there was a complimentary scotch tasting with a master of the industry; all situated in the middle of one of the most eclectic car collections I've seen in years. A particular Bentley caught my eye... I have to drive that one day! My wife says it's a bargain at $85,000 used.

I wish.

At at the end of the night, as my energy was waning and I was faced with an hour long drive home, they even made me a genuine Cuban espresso... a little cup of paradise with my end-of-night Fonseca *(mild start but rich finish and scoring a solid 89 points).

Yes, 'tis true that the climate in Canada these days might not favor cigar-smokers as in days of yore... ah those heady hay-days of the 90's. Would that I could have enjoyed that time with the appreciation that it wasn't going to last. But now - a glimmer of hope.

A new beginning... an "underground" cigar-smokers club? Pop-up cigar lounges? Will there be a cigar-police car trailing after me? If so - I'll seek sanctuary in my new oasis;

Vancouver Cigar Company

I look forward to your thoughts. 
Write to me on Twitter @AStudentOfWine

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Signorello portfolio tasting, 2013

I was at this year's Vancouver International Wine Festival, perusing the many lanes of wine from California, and one particular set of wines kept drawing me back time and time-again:

It was the wines of Ray Signorello and Signorello Estates.

Ray Signorello
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ray just a few weeks ago, after I had sat with his local importer *(Evolution Fine Wines) for a portfolio tasting. Ray not only keeps a home in Vancouver as well as Napa, but also travels extensively to promote his business. I appreciated, then, Ray making the time to discuss his passion.

I had been under the mis-perception that Ray was a native Vancouverite and so wondered quite innocently whether Ray had felt accepted by the Napa Valley community when his father purchased land for a vineyard in the mid 70's. Ray explained that though his family moved to Vancouver in the 60's, they're actually old-school California; emigrating there in 1904 from Italy, with serious roots in the areas surrounding San Francisco.

And then Ray clarified my notions of a wine-community in Napa Valley...  when his family purchased their current vineyard in '77, there were only about 100 or so odd winemakers in all of California. A far cry from the over 450 wineries in Napa Valley alone today! The community was small, and yes - tight-knit as one would imagine. But these were a people, this was a time, when sharing was part of common manners. The Signorellos were welcomed into the fold, and the Signorellos became active in the community.

If watching hockey and fighting archaic liquor laws is an unwritten aspect to being a winemaker in BC, then re-investing in the Napa Valley Vintner's Association and supporting a globally recognized American AVA is part-and-parcel of being one in this region. But there's a way to supporting that brand that Ray Signorello feels is appropriate;

Some newer wineries have adopted an almost "Disney-land like" atmosphere. Far be it for anyone to tell another business-person what is wrong (or right), Ray simply states how he wants to run his business. Signorello Estates is a winery that produces world-class products; enjoy the pairings with food in their restaurant... one of the first in a winery in the region. Ray explains how this is something the winery did not to increase profits, but to increase the customers enjoyment and understanding of the wines.

A sensible way to showcase their efforts, I still wish I could drink the wine while riding a Ferriswheel... :)

The first wine I tried was a Chardonnay that I've come back to time-and-time-again over the years. This wine sings with precision and is eloquent in its expression of region; it was a genuine privilege to taste it again and make notes. Made in honor of Ray's mother (Hope Signorello), I must believe that she was an extraordinary woman to inspire such persistence from her son (the accountants have asked Ray to rip out the vines as they are no longer fiscally viable... Ray has refused and I for one hope he continues making this wine for decades).

2010 Signorello Hope's Cuvee Chardonnay
$89.99 BC
$59.99 Alberta
92+ points
93 points The Wine Advocate
first vintage affected by Luc Morlet, consulting winemaker
no cold stabilization
wild yeast ferment
100 % malolactic fermentation in French oak (40% new)
10 months on the lees
16 months in barrel (twice the local average)
30 year old vines, harvested at night
530 cases produced
  • visual:   clear; medium straw core with silver highlights
  • nose:    clean; fully intense and youthful aromas of spice and apples, stonefruit ripening and warm straw
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ green/yellow apple acids, medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (14.6% ABV), fully intense and youthful flavors which mimick the nose; a brilliantly precise minerality is immediately apparent with young honey tones singing on the tastebuds and lemon balm/citrus to follow, light toffee, seasalt and oak tones. Excellent structure, balance and length
  • conclusion:   a brilliant example of varietal, this is a truly world-class wine meriting time and attention. A joy to drink now, and a pleasure to cellar... Enjoy 2013-2018
  • FOOD PAIRING:   though an obvious choice for rich seafood dishes (Newburg, coquilles St Jacques) or veal, this makes me want my favorite butter poached rabbit! Need a recipe, just ask.
We followed the world-class Chardonnay with a lengthy foray into the great grape of Napa Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly many varietals grow well here including Syrah, Merlot, Petit Syrah, Petit Verdot and others, but in this AVA Cab-Sauv must be the undisputed king!
As Ray's family had now been on this land for over 35 years, I was curious to discover what had evolved in their understanding of the terroir. Much like the monks had learned in the valleys of Tuscany, centuries ago, the Signorellos are learning which clones do best on which slopes. They are learning how to decrease yields to increase results and create a more interesting wine. Indeed, Ray stipulated that one of the keys to learning the land was "Keeping an open mind... because this (winemaking) is a never ending cycle of learning".
2010 "Trim" Cabernet Sauvignon
89-90 points
$19.99 (SPEC) BC
$11.99 Alberta

83% Cab-Sauv, 9% Merlot, 8% Syrah
  • visual:   clear; fully intense bruised garnet core, bright cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and youthful aromas of bright fresh cherry blossoms, winter spices (allspice, nutmeg), plums and raspberries with worn leather and light caramel tones in the background
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense raspberry/red currant acid, medium silky tannin, medium+ body, medium alcohol (13.8% ABV), medium+ intense and youthful flavors much in-line with the nose; the bright berries flavors dominate the front palate with a solid yet graceful oak-driven finish. Very good balance and structure, medium+ length
  • conclusion:   truly competitive in it's price-point and meant to be enjoyed now. Enjoy 2013-2017
  • FOOD PAIRING: a young wine like this has enough muscle to handle some truly big flavors in food, consider carne asada with roasted corn salsa, pickled okra and watermelon salad

2010 "Edge" Cabernet Sauvignon
91 Points
$29.99 BC
$21 @Costco Alberta
*2012 Decanter Wine Awards commended medal recipient

86% Cab-Sauv, 9% Syrah, 5% Merlot
aged minimum 15 months in French and American oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense garnet core with bruised cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful aromas developing with dark floral notes, plums, red and black raspberries, spicy mineral undertones
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense red and black raspberry acid, fully intense green and grippy tannin, medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (13.8%), medium+ to fully intense youthful flavors much like the nose with bright/fresh floral tones balanced by warm earth and wood-notes (sandalwood). Excellent balance, very good structure and long- length
  • conclusion:   basic rule-of-thumb for me is "However long it spends in barrel, give it twice as long in bottle before consumption". This can be drunk now, but will evolve for several years... best 2015-2020+
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   This wine is starting to display a variety of flavor profiles and as such, I want to give some focus back to the wine. Consider a lamb bolognese with crispy prosciutto chips, steamed baby vegetables and roasted garlic-black olive ficelle (bread). The wine has the fullness of acid to enjoy a pairing with fatty lamb, the stewed flavors in the sauce will contrast the freshness of the wine, salty prosciutto plays off berry tones as does briney olive whilst roasted garlic marries with the earthy wood notes
By the time I got to this part of the tasting, I was starting to get a bit of a sense of region from the red wines. Not just technically proficient, here was wine that was starting to tell a story of it's land and to me, that was exciting. I asked Ray what it was that made his land, his terroir, unique.

One of Ray's favorite parcels of the vineyard is the south-east corner, on a rocky hillside that has 2 different exposures; south and east... here it's a little cooler then in other parts because of the way the wind caresses the slope. Here the grapes are allowed (by Mother Nature) a little more hang-time, lowering the base alcohol and creating more balance in the finished product. This is the slope that speaks to Ray, and Ray is listening carefully, to make the wine that wants to be made.

2010 "Fuse" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
93 Points
$39.99 BC
$24.99 Alberta

82% Cab-Sauv, 15% Syrah, 3% Merlot
4th vintage for this wine
all varietals aged separately in French and American barrel for 15 months
barrels are racked every 6 months
4,539 cases produced
  • visual:   clear; fully intense garnet core with plum/cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing bouquet; a thinking man's wine - green pepper bursts on ripe, red fruit with a tenacious streak of exotic leather, tobacco and graphite filling the backdrop. Stunning.
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ currant acid, medium+ soft/chewy tannin, medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (13.8% ABV), medium+ to fully intense youthful yet developing flavors much like the nose; for all that this wine carries Syrah, in taste it approaches Right Bank Bordeaux in it's delivery - rich, complex, red and blue fruit driving earth tones with precise minerality guiding the way. Excellent balance, structure and length... just give it time!
  • conclusion:   a wine just barely coming into it's own... almost a shame to drink it now. Almost! Will develop in bottle for years and most likely decades. Enjoy 2015-2025+
  • FOOD PAIRING:   forgive me - no food pairing. This is a wine I want to savour with good friends, a fireplace and a quiet evening. If I must pair it with food, then let me think of this like a Frenchman; cotes du beouf with foie-gras stuffed morel mushrooms, parsnip pave, and a salad of endive-raddichio-Asiago to start...
Undeniably one of the highlights of the tasting for me! The wines that follow are truly world-class but, for me, to get this quality and at this price is rare. This is an incredibly articulate wine, capable of being poured beside many many bottles far more expensive... have a rich uncle and want to WOW him? Pour him a glass of this. He'll thank you for it, and so will your wallet!
But tasting this wine made me think of the many legends in California that Ray and his father must have known and gotten to know in those early days - those cowboy days when Montelena was kicking ass and taking names in France. I asked Ray who his inspirations were and Ray responded with a litany almost too fast and furious to keep up with:
  • the great Robert Mondavi; his passion for the industry and especially for Napa
  • Harlan estates; for their unyielding pursuit of quality and dedication to excellence in single vision estates
  • Guigal; for making truly momentous wines
  • Romanee Conti; for making Romanee Conti a noun/verb/adverb/adjective in winemaking greatness
  • Giacomo Conterno; for bringing global recognition and respect to the Piedmonte wine and it's aging potential
2009 Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
95+ points
95 points Wine Enthusiast
$97.99 BC
$63.99 Alberta

88% Cab-Sauv, 12% Cabernet Franc
100% Estate fruit
vines planted 1990
production 381 cases
  • visual:   clear; deep garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully+ intense youthful bouquet of spicy plum compote, wood tones, aged leather, savory underbrush (sous-bois to the French)
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ black raspberry acid, fully intense grippy/chewy tannin, medium+ body, medium alcohol (14.7% ABV), fully intense and youthful favors mimicking the nose starting with dark red berries and leather notes, to ultra dark cocoa (think 87%) and an ultra-precise graphite backbone. And it keeps evolving evolving evolving on the palate! Excellent balance, World-class structure, World-class length
  • conclusion:   This stunning wine is already accessible, but in a "young-Barolo" manner; my friends in Piedmont don't drink Barolo (in general) before they are 10-15 years old... Drink 2013-2030+, in my humble opinion will start to peak around 2018-2020
  • FOOD PAIRING:   consider: coffee crusted beef carpaccio on toasted rye, boursin creme fraiche, fresh thyme infused poached apricot... for me, with the manner in which this wine is displaying it's strengths, I would want to play off of the cocoa notes and the savoury tones. Coffee loves cocoa and the beef is a given, the toasted rye gives nutty quality not unlike some of the woodsy tones in the wine, the boursin is a bit bitter and creamy - playing well with the tighter berry flavors and finally the herb infused stonefruit will draw out the herb/sous-bois from the wine, making it feel a bit more Old World
By this time, I knew that I was in the presence of remarkable winemaking. And I knew that there would be young winemakers out there wondering "How do I ever get to this level?" Well... never one to mince words, I asked Ray what his advice would be to someone just starting out.

"It's important to know other wines - tasting other people's work and drawing from that experience." Ray answered, "then carve out your own style and stick to it! Be impassioned by it! Great wine is as much about the story behind the wine as it is about what's in the glass (or bottle)."

I'm pretty sure I know what Ray means by that - it's much the same advice my grandfather gave me when I said I wanted to be a writer... but Ray wasn't done yet! "Having your own vines - " he continued, "- that's the ultimate goal! That's what's going to give your wine - you new winemakers out there - that's what gives your wines true longevity."

2008 "Padrone" Napa Valley Estate Blend
96 points
93+ points Robert Parker

89% Cab-Sauv, 11% Merlot
100% Estate
yield a meagre 1.3 tons/acre
production 430 *6 bottle cases
native yeast fermentation
extended maceration (25 days)
maturation 20 months in 70% new Troncais, Nevers and Alliers oak
  • visual:   clear; fully intense garnet core with slightly brickish cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense developing bouquet of warm Winter spices, dark floral tones, eucalyptus, orange peel, ultra premium cigar tobacco (Romeo and Julietta anyone?), nuanced sous-bois abounds with a finish of ripening dark berries
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ to fully intense black raspberry and black currant acid, fully intense chewy/silty tannin (a dichotomy I know - but it's what I got), medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (14.7% ABV), fully intense youthful flavoring perfectly aligned with the aromas; driven by crisp red and black berry tones and followed-through by an ultra-precise graphite minerality and generous oaky shoulders/savory herbs. World-class balance, structure and length!
  • conclusion:   after tasting thousands of wines, and well over 100 California Cabs, I believe this is the highest score I have ever given a Californian wine; structure/balance/concentration, this wine has it all. Just an infant at present, this will evolve gracefully for decades. Enjoy 2018-2040 and possibly beyond
  • FOOD PAIRING:   simple. Keep your food with this wine simple - to allow the wine to be the star. Consider sous-vide beef tenderloin forestierre (wild mushroom ragout), Swiss-styled potato rosti seared in duck fat, steamed garden carrots, roast celery and braised Belgian endive. Now I know I said keep it simple, but that doesn't have to mean a grilled cheese sandwich! All of the flavors on this plate are singular and intended to articulate that one flavor to the fullest potential. They also emphasize each other and the wine through contrast; contrasting texture, contrasting flavors  contrasting aromas... to sip the wine then taste a fresh carrot, another sip and some mushroom ragout, yet another sip and then the braised endive; each component bringing out different notes from the wine. The sous-vide beef is critical to the dish's success! A gentle cut like tenderloin, with very low fat, needs gentle cooking to preserve moisture - the sous-vide will give a texture like butter and enhance the beef flavors, not masking behind grilled flavors.
And then it was over. Like one of those dreams when you wake up and still see it playing in your mind... I could still taste the wine hours/days after the tasting. And here I was talking with a world-class winemaker who, I don't think, envisions himself as such. In fact, Ray even made a joke about the 100-point system and the bias that goes along with it:

"A man walks into a wineshop and the owner is there pouring samples. The man tastes the sample : bitter, sharp, aggressive, unbalanced...."
"The owner smiles, but Robert Parker gave it 95 points!"
"yeah - I'll take a case of it."

And that's the world of wine (or so it seems some days). Ray followed up on the joke by saying that people "need to trust their own palates more, and wine-writers less". Well, I've been saying much the same for years now and agree whole-heartedly.

I tried one last time to explain to Ray what his wines meant to me, now that I'ld had the opportunity to taste them in such a fantastic manner. Ray was quick to deflect the praise back to his entire team (the mark of a great leader) and I was reminded of a quote on the Signorello website:

"Winemaking isn't just what we do, it's who we are."

the patio at Signorello Estates
I look forward to your thoughts as you taste these wines for yourself...
let me know on Twitter @AStudentofWine

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

Friday, May 17, 2013

Moon Curser vineyards, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

A few weeks ago I had the sincere pleasure of being invited to the first annual Renaissance Wine Merchants portfolio tasting in Gastown; a neighborhood of distinction and heritage in Vancouver, BC. (

Now I've always been a fan of the Renaissance line-up; cutting edge Cab-Sauv blends from California, clean Pinot Noir from New Zealand and excellent expressions from the BC wines they carry... but my friend and colleague who invited me asked me to try something "A little different"

Oh! I'm intrigued... what would be different at one of these affairs?

He pours me an ounce or two of a deep, dark, seductive wine and waits for me to wander off in my own thoughts (which invariably happens when I judge wines). "Holy Shit!" says I - "that's f***in amazing."

"What is that?" I stammer.

"A Tannat-Syrah blend" says he.

Ok - I have to admit. That is different!

"From BC" he continues.


My friend helps me lift my jaw off the floor.

"You're shitting me." I demand.

He pours me another ounce of the Ambrosia and I lean in to listen to the story; the story of a guy in the I.T. field and his wife from accounting who decide to make wine.... sorry? Where's the punchline?

Oh no - this is the honest story says he! They loved wine, were looking at what to do with the rest of their lives, and decided to make wine. But! But they didn't want to make wine like everyone else. 

Well... if this is any example then they are most certainly not like everyone else. Actually, come to think of it - I did try one of their other wines a year or two ago and was so impressed that I simply had to write about it. ( Riiight@! I remember now. But this wine is really something else! So I, as any self-respecting wine journalist, Twitter the winery that night and told them that I would love to write an article on their current work.

They sent me the following wines and I was, truly, impressed. Not everything in the line-up was to my particular taste and it may not be to yours, but these wines are crafted with precision and speak articulately of their terroir.

2012 Afraid of the Dark
91+ points
Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne
  • visual:    clear; pale straw core with watery rim
  • nose:    clean; medium+ to fully intense and youthful aromas; fresh papaya, Mandarin orange and ripe melon, small white and yellow meadow flowers
  • palate:    clean; dry, medium+ crisp Meyer lemon acid, medium body, medium+ alcohol (14.1% ABV), fully intense and youthful flavors in-line with the nose; bright citrus tones are quickly washed away by ripe exotic fruit layers, nuances of soft flowers abound but all is held together by a brilliantly precise minerality. Excellent balance and structure, medium+ length
  • conclusion:   a stunning example of Okanagan Crozes-Hermitage, for lack of a better explanation. This blend was made famous by the French, but now a BC winery is re-defining it for a fraction of the price. Imminently approachable, enjoy 2013-2017++
  • FOOD PAIRING:   though seafood is a natural pairing, Hermitage is far from the ocean, much like Osoyoos. Think regional! Clay oven baked chicken, mustard and savory herb rub, ratatouille, fried olives and fresh crusty peasant-loaf

BC is the home of Riesling and Gewurztraminer... sure we craft a few world-class Chardonnay, but they're few and far between. But Roussanne? Marsanne? We are one of the most extreme wine-growing regions in the world - a far cry from the chiseled valleys of the Northern Rhone where wine-making has a heritage measured in millennia (yes - thousands of years) and these varietals are best known. I later called Chris Tolley, winemaker and half of the equation that is Moon Curser vineyards

I asked Chris "Man - what made you think of this blend for BC?"

Chris told me that , truthfully, when they first started they didn't really know what they were doing. Oh sure - Chris and his wife Beata had gone to school in New Zealand, earned their stripes in vineyards in Australia and here in North America... but they didn't really know. Chris figures that if he had known beforehand how much work this white blend was going to be - perhaps he would have tried something else. After only speaking to him for an hour, I realized that he probably still would have done it. Just to prove that it could be done - and done well.

2010 Petit Verdot
90+ points
  • visual:   clear; deep plum core with bright violet rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ intense youthful aromas of spicy stewed blackberries and blueberries, bright violets/dark floral tones, mineral undertones
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+to full red currant acids, full tight/grippy tannin, medium body, medium+ alcohol (14.4% ABV), medium+ intense youthful flavors much in-line with the aromas; the berry tones really sing with the precision of the minerality, good focus with an ultra-fresh finish. Good balance and structure with medium length
  • conclusion:   a unique expression of the Okanagan Valley, this wine expresses varietal with great clarity if not depth or layering. The vines are still young though, and each subsequent vintage should bring more and more to the wine. Too young to enjoy now without double-decanting, drink 2015-2020
  • FOOD PAIRING:   these ultra-bright acids want fat and the huge tannin crave beef. Consider beef Stroganoff with caramelized pearl onions and fresh farfalle pasta... 

Chris explained to me that 2010 wasn't a particularly great year for the vines of BC; this made the winemakers' work a little harder (and he wasn't the first to tell me this nor, I imagine, the last). Because of the lack of sunshine, and thus ripening of the grapes, there was less intense fruit notes in the wines. For me, personally, I prefer a wine like this; it allows minerality to strut it's stuff a bit more. I like tasting the earth as much as the fruit and love it when a wine can find that sense of harmony. 

Truth be told though, many consumers enjoy overactive fruitbombs. There's nothing wrong with that - indeed, what a sad place the world would be if we all had the same palate (or sense of fashion!)

2010 Syrah
92+ points
$25++ (only available at the cellar door)
  • visual:   clear; deep plum core with cherry/violet rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing bouquet of spicy dark fruit; layer upon layer of peppercorns (red, black, white, green), a hint of Thai chili, warm oak, light caramel, cherries and cherry blossoms
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium (well integrated) black currant acid, medium+ chewy/fleshy tannin, medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (14.4% ABV), fully intense and developing flavors in true unison with the nose; bright berry notes hit the palate full force, moderately by cohesive oak, earth tones, and that south Okanagan pure minerality. Very good to excellent balance, great structure and full length on the palate
  • conclusion: a world-class wine! Easily the equal of any Syrah/Shiraz of this price-point from anywhere in the world... better value then most regions can provide. Enjoy this now, but will reward slight cellaring... drink 2013-2020 and possibly beyond
  • FOOD PAIRING:   classy wine deserves classy food, and what could be classier then pizza! But not the $5.99 pizza of our teenage years, consider grass-fed grilled steak pizza with fresh local arugula, shaved Asiago and caperberries... the grass-fed beef has a bit of "funk" to it that will be muscle to this wines finesse, the arugula has a bit of sharpness that is in-line with the Syrah pepper, the Asiago provides the saltiness and the caperberries are your new olives for grown-up evenings!

This was one of the absolute stars of the show for me! I am not the biggest Syrah fan (Bordeaux is my big passion) - but I've been fortunate enough to taste some true gems from around the world. This could become one of them one day, and is already competitive, dollar-for-dollar, with just about any other Syrah/Shiraz. Anywhere.

2011 Contraband Syrah
89+ points
  • visual:    clear; deep plum core with slight cherry/violet rim
  • nose:    clean; light+ to medium youthful aromas of bright red cherries and raspberries with a strong red and black peppercorn undercurrent/mingled with dark floral tones
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium red raspberry acid, medium grippy tannin, medium- body, medium- alcohol (13.9% ABV), medium- intense and youthful flavors starting with bright red berries and moving quickly to dark tea/wood tones then back to a tart cranberry/red raspberry finish. Good balance and good structure with medium+ length
  • FOOD PAIRING:   never underestimate the lowly pot-roast my friends!!! In France, where Syrah originates, they might call it pot-au-feu but no matter what you call it, it's packed with meaty flavors and tons of richness that will foil this wines active acid with ease and grace. Consider slow-cooked Hopcott Farms** pot-roast with garlic fried parsnips  creamed leeks and mashed turnips (tatties to my Scottish friends)
(I specifically mention Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows, BC as they are one of the bastions of great, locally raised and butchered beef in Western Canada.   )

So you may be raising an eyebrow at why I scored the more expensive wine less? Truth be told - I don't like jumped-up fruitiness. Others may love it - and will - and will score higher. The construction of the wine is completely professional, but I missed the great expression of earth and minerality that I got in the 2010. I imagine that a year or two in bottle will tame the fruit enough to allow these secondary notes to emerge more fully.

Chris explained to me that with the "Contraband" the winery really kicks the drive for quality into high gear: more pruning in the vineyard, more careful sorting at the trays, more French oak (as opposed to mild Hungarian/Eastern European), lees stirring, longer aging potential... it's a world of difference in wine-making for an extra $4/bottle. Try getting that kind of value from Old World producers!

2011 Cab-Sauv
89-90 points
  • visual:   clear; medium+ garnet core with ultra bright cherry-plum rim
  • nose:   clean; medium intense youthful aromas of bright red berries (raspberries, currants, strawberries), savory underbrush (aka sous-bois in France), some warm leather and oak tones with a eucalyptus finish
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense red raspberry acid, medium+ to full chalky tannin, fully intense and youthful flavors much in line with the nose; bright red berries burst on the palate with freshness and immediate appeal, the savory tones follow lead by a south Okanagan herbaceousness and a textbook CabSauv menthol/eucalyptus finish. Good balance and very good structure with medium length
  • conclusion: full of life, this is a rare example of Cabernet Sauvignon that I would not cellar. I would enjoy this as it is now - bursting with life. Best (in my opinion) 2013-2015, drink 2013-2018
  • FOOD PAIRING:   A classic pairing with your Tuesday night bbq slow-braised and thickly glazed molasses bbq ribs, roasted corn-melon and cilantro salad, hot buttered cornbread and steamed green beans/okra
2007 Twisted Tree Tannat
89+ points
(Twisted Tree is the former label for Moon Curser vineyards)
$ ? *(not for sale - from the Moon Curser wine library)
  • visual:   clear; medium+ ruby core with light cherry rim/slight bricking
  • nose:   clean; medium+ intense and maturing notes of warm caramel mocha, old leather, ripe plum compote, dark rose hips
  • palate:    clean; dry, full+ red currant acid, medium- silty tannin, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (14.9% ABV), medium intense and developed flavors much like the nose; the palate opens with a bang! pow - layers of ripe red and black berries; Saskatoons, cherries in every shade... did you know the vineyard used to be home to 5 acres of cherry trees?... followed by that warm Osoyoos earth, leathery cigar tones and finishing with slightly bitter espresso.
  • conclusion:   I would drink this now if I had a few bottles in the cellar; the acid is still quite high but I don't envision the concentration lasting much longer. It most certainly will not develop further. Enjoy 2013-2014/5
  • FOOD PAIRING:   with the bracing acidity, I would pair this first course with pate and let the two become the best of friends! Jacques Peppin's country-styled pate with spicy sauteed grapes, toasted currant and millet loaf

Chris and Beata certainly sent me a full selection of wines to develop my knowledge of both their portfolio and their terroir. The first people in BC, and probably the only people in Canada, to grow Tannat - this couple knows the meaning of "adventure". It has most certainly been an adventure for them as they developed their lives from desk-job to wine-guru; from air-conditioned cubicle to the roaring furnace of the Sonoran desert...

 A business coach of mine says "It is the job of the entrepreneur to be scared everyday. A day without fear is a day without chasing after the big clients, the big break-through, the big-value for our clients."

 I respect this winery, and it's owners. Not just for bucking tradition and being willing to try something new, but also for making it work. I can't imagine the ridicule that must have taken place when they planted a varietal known best for it's offerings from Uruguay! But - they made it work. Young vines still, I must admit to being intrigued by what will be coming in the near future. As I started this article, I spoke of tasting  the 2011 Cab-Sauv - Tannat blend which is, in a word, world-class.

Much like the winery itself.
my thanks to for the photo!

I'm looking forward to your thoughts as you taste these wines for yourself...
 let me know @AStudentofWine (Twitter).

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