Earlier this week we examined the lessons brought home from last weekend’s 2013 International Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Penticton, B.C., Canada.
As with any conference, the talks and networking are of utmost importance. But, nobody leaves Cannes without watching a film or the Superhero Conference without collecting some new comic books.
This is a wine conference as much as it’s a conference for writing about wine. You can’t write about the wine without…sampling the vino of course.
Voilà, from among hundreds of tastes spanning across Canada to Uruguay and Argentina to California and Oregon to the far reaches of Greece, here are the ten winning wines from WBC 13. Some were sampled at formal meals and tastings. Others were brought out by the winemakers themselves at after-parties. Either way, you’ll notice the list has five whites and five reds. That’s not on purpose. It just happened to be a very balanced roster of wines. You’ll also notice no straight-forward chardonnay (I only sampled a few over the weekend and they never moved me) and shockingly, no ice wine (in Canada!).
It’s a great list from a very special wine- filled conference. Cheers!
1. 2012 Bodega Bouza Albariño, Uruguay
Albariño is having its moment and deservedly so. The best known examples of the grape reaching its dry, citrusy potential come from Spain, but now America is in on the charming white too. Make that both North and South America. Uruguay gets attention mainly for its hefty, peppery Tannats (best at the WBC came from Artesana). This Bouza Albariño makes a tremendous case for the country’s white wines. It’s very floral forward with a bracing body of honeydew and hibiscus tea. A three month aging period over lees gives it a welcoming fermentation note that makes the wine delightful both on its own as an apértif or the perfect companion to branzino squeezed with lemon.
2. 2008 Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, British Columbia
B.C. loves its Bordeaux blends. None were as regal as this one from Osoyoos in the south Okanagan. Osoyoos Larose is owned by the mega conglomerate Constellation, but you’d never feel the corporate background with this deep, enchanting red. The winery is the partnership between a Canadian group and Bordeaux group, hence the very similar attributes to the real thing Bordeaux structure and feel. It’s hefty and rugged, yet refined, with very distinct tannins, bright plum, and the unmistakable raspberry jam of Merlot from being 60% of the grape. Bitter cacao and forest berries drive the pleasant finish. I’m shocked it’s just 13.9% ABV. A great example of desert terroir treated with grace.
3. 2012 Santo Santorini Nykteri, Greece
I sampled this is in a conference ballroom, but could’ve been on Santorini enjoying some fresh octopus after the opening sip. The refreshing, but far from purely thirst-quenching Nykteri presents three grapes: Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani. Distinct mineral notes pulsate throughout, with a lovely ripe apple and honey palate to keep matters pure and strong. This is a great introduction to some of the exciting work they’re doing in Greece and a terrific bridge wine for those hesitant to leave the Chardonnay- Sauvignon Blanc comfort sphere.
4. 2009 Van Westen Vineyards V 2009 Bordeaux Blend, British Columbia
O.k., another B.C. Bordeaux blend. Why not? This boutique Naramata winery makes only 301 cases of the V (compared to the 18,000 of the aforementioned Le Grand Vin). There’s also a major switch-up with 25% Cabernet Franc and only 1 % Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of espresso crema, vanilla, and kiawe wood can be found throughout after a delightful blackberry forward nose. The whole time I kept thinking vanilla ice cream with a rhubarb compote. An excellent refined wine that proves that B.C. is no minor leaguer anymore.
Oh we have to have a Riesling on this list, a recurring theme of every B.C. winery. Too many fell in that dichotomy of being sugar explosions or bone dry bordering on Manzanilla Sherry. Red Rooster’s version resides beautifully in the common ground with vibrant acidity, wet slate, lychee, and apricot. It’s a sunshine-filled wine executed with confidence. This is a bright wine without being a light wine. Red Rooster is a bit of a quirky winery (no affiliation to the New York restaurant of the same name) with a statue on the premises known as Frank the Baggage Handler who sort of serves as the mascot. The Riesling, however, is far from off beat.
6. 2009 Mt. Boucherie Zinfandel, British Columbia
Zinfandel from Canada? The terroir doesn’t exactly seem like the dry, oak-filled Paso Robles or Sonoma regions that helps California wineries like Ridge and Tres Sabores craft superlative examples of the grape. The Mt. Boucherie one has just the right amount of tension with lots of mint, cumin, and blackberry. Everything is smooth and put together, shocking at 14.8% ABV. This is B.C.’s largest family owned winery and you’ll find only 249 cases of this in demand Zinfandel. The winery recommends to serve it with lasagna. I couldn’t agree more. Or with the rack of lamb at your next major summer dinner gathering. I can’t give a higher compliment than that this transported me back home to the chaparral groves of California.
7. 2012 Bench 1775 CHILL White Blend, British Columbia
The CHILL sure is a lot cooler than yours truly. Guava, guava, guava is everywhere here, yet you also get some tart ruby red grapefruit, and the right amount of butter that makes for a velvety soft mouth feel. It’s a mind-boggling blend of six white varietals led by 46% Pinot Gris, 25% Chardonnay, and 11% Sauvignon Blanc, and seems to deftly balance the best assets of each one with bravado. It could be a sweet and sour nightmare. Instead it’s an upstart, charming wine that really tastes of New Orleans jazz. Like groovy jazz, not jambalaya thankfully.
This exemplary Pinot Noir (along with the equally excellent Pinot Gris from Averill Creek) proves that not all top tier B.C. wines come from the Okanagan Valley. Conference participant and Averill Creek owner/ winemaker Andy Johnston makes his beautiful wines over on Vancouver Island. It might not seem like an idyllic terroir to we out of towners. I guess it’s perfect for the fickle Pinot Noir grape that demands a certain exposure to fog, precipitation, wind, and a few days of sunshine for good measure. This Reserve Pinot Noir far surpassed the regular version, also from 2009, because of its lush body and gorgeous strawberry preserves, tobacco, morning dew, and prickly pear notes. Everything here is so calm, the hallmark of careful consideration and a tiny product at just 250 cases. 15 months aging in oak barrels gives the wine an elegant finish that you seldom see in Pinot Noir. You can tire of a lot of things in life, but never excellent Pinot Noir. A masterpiece.
Call it Skin- Fermented Chardonnay or Orange Wine, either way this is a very polarizing wine. The names are divisive, but not nearly as controversial as the wine itself. I happen to adore this gorgeous wine from the great state of Oregon. Beautiful cardamom pods and Meyer lemon encircle you before hints of curry, papaya, and wild strawberries follow in the radiant tan body. This might be an experimental wine from an Oregon producer best known (surprise) for Pinot Noir. I’d call this a very successful experiment, proving the virtues of an unfiltered Chardonnay that doesn’t taste at all like cigar buds.
10. 2010 Kacaba Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Franc, Ontario
The only wine that stood out at the opening lunch sponsored by Wine Country Ontario. From the land of Ice Wine, here is a powerhouse Cabernet Franc that doesn’t whatsoever fall into the intense pepper- puckery jam trap that 100% Cabernet Franc wines often do. Tannins are controlled here and everything is wonderfully well-rounded. Some charred stone fruit exchanges moments with sweet honey, thyme sprigs, and Medjool dates. This is both a flexible wine and a hefty wine, walking that fine line between the lighter and heavier sides of the Bordeaux spectrum. Perfect with bbq chicken or grilled porterhouse steak with chimichurri.