The Best of BC: Summer 2012 in the Okanagan
A weekend trip to the Okanagan inevitably led to some wine tasting. There’s no denying the Okanagan’s extreme beauty. However, B.C. wine is difficult territory for me. Compared to the more historic wine regions of the world, B.C. has a lot to learn and has difficulty taking its wines to the next level. I admittedly drink mostly old world wines, and so the new world please everyone approach that most B.C. wineries are taking does not appeal to me at all. Not enough are focusing on a limited number of wines backed by a well thought out philosophy and a passion to achieve the best possible. It’s hard to imagine a winemaker becoming passionate with truckloads of 14 different varieties and a mandate to make wine to please every random person who walks into the wine shop: the curse of a focus on wine tourism.
However, there are a few wineries that push against the tide of mediocrity. The question is whether these outliers will remain as outliers or whether at some point there will be a greater trend not only towards quality but, even more importantly, towards distinction. A common thread with each of the wineries I list below is focus on a limited number of wines and varieties, extreme attention to detail, a passion for experimentation, and a love of the great wines of the world (most of the significant people involved in each operation drink broadly, deeply and extensively of the world’s best wines).
Unfortunately, the best wineries are also expensive (with wines in the general range of $30-$60). These prices are fair when you consider the no-expense-spared approach these guys take, and the challenges of working in a region with very little precedent and accumulated knowledge. The highlights of my trip were as follows:
Foxtrot: I ignore all hype in the world of B.C. wine (a realm populated with far too many sycophants), which is perhaps why, despite the hype, this winery has gone unnoticed and unappreciated by me for so long. That was a loss for me. These guys are making wines at a totally different level from everyone else in the Okanagan. Foxtrot’s Chardonnay and two Pinot Noirs would perform extremely well in a blind tasting with very good wines from Burgundy and Oregon. These wines have a balance, structure and flavour complexity that I have never encountered before in B.C. wine. In fact, these are the only wines in that I would join a mailing list for in the Province and drink on a regular basis. Highly impressive and highly recommended.
Wines tried (I’ve starred my favourites): Wapiti Cellars 2010 Viognier (full range of varietal characteristics, but well structured – a unique but authentic take on the grape); *2010 Foxtrot Chardonnay Coolshanagh Vineyards (with fruit from Naramata, this tastes like a fine white Burgundy, complete with white flowers and proper acid-balance); 2008 Erickson Pinot Noir (very similar to a good Oregon Pinot); *2009 Foxtrot Pinot Noir (Estate grown in Naramata. Richer and bolder than the Erickson, but also more complex and balanced. Not over ripe or over extracted).
Le Vieux Pin: This year’s lineup is quite impressive and the switch to focusing mostly on Rhone varieties makes sense here. The 2010 ‘Ava’ Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne blend is an easy to appreciate, softly textured rendition of the orchard fruit laden Viognier coupled with honeyed and waxy R&M. The 2009 Syrah was also an impressive wine this year, though still a bit bold and a little awkward at this stage. The wine is moving in the right direction, though, and I think Le Vieux Pin will start nailing this variety soon. I hope that a cool vintage can bring out some more classic character. The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc was my favourite wine of the lineup. It is an exceptional, Loire-like, Sauv Blanc with minerality but powerful fruit and a long finish. The 2011 Vaila Rose also hit the spot as a clean, dry and well made summer quaffer with far more character than most of the ‘summer quaffing’ wines in the Okanagan.
Painted Rock: The Bordeaux varieties do very well at Painted Rock’s estate, situated between the Naramata Bench and OK Falls. The 2010 Cab Sauv I tasted from tank was impressive, as was the barrel sample of Petit Verdot that figures heavily in the Red Icon blend in most (but not all) years. While most of the wines are made in a Napa Valley style, they do also offer some restraint and a good understanding of structure and balance. I hope over time they tend more toward the much more restrained 2010 Cab Sauv, which was quite Bordelais in style. I think Painted Rock can nail that approach, which would be highly impressive in a region filled with pretender Bordeaux-blends that are either overly rich and aggressive or overly texturally manipulated (tasting more like creatures of a laboratory than real wine).
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