Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009

There are some topics that I find interesting which are made more so because I know there will be people who want to read about them.  Posts about Wine & Spirits Education Trust exams are popular because there’s a small group of people who care a great deal, and even if I’m not a huge authority on the subject, they’re often happy for whatever information or analysis I can provide.  Today’s topic, on the other hand, will be of interest to very few, if any, other people in the world.  Nevertheless, if obscure grapes are your thing, I hope you enjoy this post concerning the Larch Hill Winery Mad Angie Madeline Angevine 2009.

When I was studying with the WSET, I often found it unusual that they devoted any time at all to wine production in the UK.  While there are some interesting wines being produced there, particularly sparkling wine from the south of England, the quantities and their impact on the global wine trade are so insignificant that it hardly seems worthwhile devoting pages to them in the syllabus.

That said, were it not for having to study wine production in England and Wales, I never would have heard of Madeleine Angevine.  Course materials from 2000 in the Advanced class describe it as “A variety that supports the British climate and gives a good yield.  It is perhaps best used for blending as it is low in acidity.”  At the Diploma level in a more recent study guide, the variety is relegated to the “Less Important” topic list.

The grape variety is of relatively modern origin, having first been cultivated in 1857 and released in 1863.  It ripens early, often ready for harvest by Sainte-Madeleine’s Day (22 July) from which it takes part of its name, while the city of Angers in the Loire Valley contributes the rest.  It is the offspring of two grapes not currently used in commercial wine production, Circé and Madeleine Royal, and has been used as a parent for other varieties, notably Siegerrebe and Madeleine X Angevine 7672.  It only has female flowers, which means it cannot self-pollinate, requiring other vines to be planted nearby.  It does well in cool climates, and while it has all but vanished in the Loire, it seems to be embarking on something of a second life in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada.  It is also used as a table grape within Krygyzstan.

You may have noticed that I didn’t list the UK among places it is planted, and there is a good reason for that.  Despite what I quoted from the out of date course materials, Madeleine Angevine as described above is not what was planted in the UK.  In fact, their vines are the Madeleine X Angevine 7672, cultivated originally in Germany as a self-pollinating offspring of Madeleine Angevine and an unknown father.  There are other plantings of one or the other (possibly both) in Sweden and Denmark, but I can’t determine which.

Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of the grape until I moved to Australia, some thousands of kilometres from the nearest planting, cursed to forever remember its name but with little prospect of ever tasting it.  That is, until a trip to Vancouver allowed me to stock up on obscure varieties bred for cold climates.

This one is from Larch Hill Winery, in the now familiar Okanagan Valley of British Columbia – read my post on the JoieFarm Chardonnay for more information if the Okanagan Valley is unfamiliar.  Owned and run by Jack and Hazel Manser, the vineyard and winery were conceived in 1987 and planted commercially after five years of experimental plantings.  The list of their vines reads like a Who’s Who list of cold climate crosses – Ortega, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, and Agria, as well as this Madeleine Angevine.  In addition to their own plantings, they source Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch and Merlot from neighbouring growers, and their site also lists Semillon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Lemberger (Blaufränkisch).  Their wines are largely varietal bottlings of the above, with a few blends, and a trio of dessert wines.

A quick note on the spelling of the grape variety in this wine – the bottle says “Madeline” but their website has the extra “e” in “Madeleine” that is the more typical spelling.  I don’t understand why they’re using two spellings.  As with most things, I consider Wine Grapes to be the final word.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a few quick legs when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium minus intensity and notes of pear, custard, lychee, and red apple.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium plus length.  The palate matches the nose in terms of pear, red apple, and lychee, but also brings with it rosewater and a honeyed character.  It makes the wine taste slightly sweet, but not in a residual sugar sort of way.

This is a very good wine.  It has a rich flavour, with balanced intensity and length.  While it is fruit dominated, it’s a fairly complex collection of fruit, and the rosewater almost gives it an aromatic quality.  While I get very excited at the prospect of trying new varieties, I set my expectations low in terms of how they will taste when it comes to obscure crosses.  Generally speaking, if they produced exceptional wines, they would be more widely planted, right?  While that sounds pessimistic, it means the surprise is all the more pleasant when I come across something I thoroughly enjoy, like this wine or the Niche Wine Company Foch from back in December.

Sandhill Estate Vineyard Gamay Noir 2010

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Sandhill Estate Vineyard Gamay Noir 2010

Sandhill Estate Vineyard Gamay Noir 2010

While I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays in terms of wine writing, I can’t let the end of the year slip by without writing up this wine.  Gamay is one of my favourite varieties, I’ve been on a bit of a Canadian kick of late, and it makes sense to end the year with something I  like.  But it’s more than just that.  This wine is in fact the wine I enjoyed drinking more than any other in 2012 and so my wine of the year is the Sandhill Estate Vineyard Gamay Noir 2010.

I’ve been a fan of Gamay from before I knew anything about wine, and I can trace it back to a Beaujolais Nouveau dinner in Seattle where the proprietor had a small barrel of the stuff he poured for diners that third Thursday of November many years ago.  I didn’t know what grape or grapes went into the wine, and really wasn’t at all interested at the time, but I enjoyed the sense of occasion.  When I started learning about wine a decade later, though my tasted shifted from Nouveau to the more savoury village wines, Gamay remained a favourite of mine, irrespective of what the rest of the wine world thinks of it.

I wrote a fair bit about Gamay when I covered the Sorrenberg offering back in February, but since I now have at my disposal the wonderful Wine Grapes tome, I can’t help but throw in a few additional details.  The book officially calls the grape Gamay Noir, as does this producer, which differentiates it from its sibling Gamay Blanc Gloriod (no longer cultivated) and the red-juice producing Gamay Teinturier de Bouze which is thought to be a mutation of Gamay Noir.  The parentage of Gamay Noir is believed to be Gouais Blanc and Pinot, making it a sibling of Aligoté, Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Melon, Romorantin and at least a dozen other slightly less widely known varieties.  In addition to the countries I originally mentioned, it’s apparently also cultivated in South Africa, so another wine has been added to my shopping list for the next visit.

This is yet another wine of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.  The region should by now be very familiar to return readers, but if you need a refresher on the basics, please have a look at my posts on the JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay and the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois.

That brings us to Sandhill, which should not be confused with Sandhill Winery in Columbia Valley, Washington State, Sandhills Winery in North Carolina, or Sandhill Crane Vineyards in Michigan.  There was even a Sandhill Vineyard in Australia, but it changed its name.  I can’t imagine why.

This Sandhill was founded in 1997 and is one of a dozen wine labels owned by Andrew Peller Limited.  The wine is made by Howard Soon, a Vancouver native with over 30 years of winemaking experience.  His approach gives Sandhill the relatively unique selling point of only producing single vineyard wines.  Grapes are sourced from five different vineyards, in addition to the estate vineyard, and the origin features prominently in their branding.  Winemaking is non-interventionist so as to allow appreciation of the particular vineyard terroir.  Production is very limited, and wines in the “Small Lots” line are often only made in quantities of a dozen or two barrels – sometimes less.  White wines produced include Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.  Red wines include Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Syrah, and a few blends of the above.  They also produce a rosé based on Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Barbera.

This wine was produced using fruit from the Sandhill Estate Vineyard, in the South Okanagan.  The site has a unique microclimate, enjoying both an abundance of direct sunshine and temperatures which can climb to nearly 40C/104F.  In addition, it’s located at the base of a rocky hill which reflects sunshine back at the vineyard.  This wine was fermented with commercial yeast and aged for just over a year in third use French oak barrels.

In the glass it is clear and bright, with a medium plus ruby colour and quick thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of dark chocolate, liquorice, bacon, black cherries, and black pepper.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus intensity. medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, and medium plus length.  The palate delivers what was promised on the nose with notes of dark chocolate, black cherries, liquorice, bacon, and black pepper.  There’s also some brambles and earthiness, which gives the wine texture.

I rate this wine as exceptional – it’s really fantastic.  There is a complex array of flavours which makes for a very rich drinking experience.  There’s certainly varietal typicity, in that it’s absolutely Gamay, but produced by someone looking to make a fine wine (as opposed to how a great deal of Gamay is made).  I knew nothing about the producer when I bought it and the same was true when I drank it.  Now though, I am in love with this wine and I would feel guilty if my wife didn’t feel the same.  More’s the pity that I’m not likely to run into another bottle without a trip back to Canada, and I don’t think a replacement from Washington, North Carolina or Michigan will quite do the trick.

Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

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Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009

While I’m pleased that people occasionally read my posts, it’s probably obvious I write for my own sake.  I initially started writing to aid my studies as my WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam approached, and then continued to document what I was drinking just to keep track and to keep up with my studies after I had passed the exam.  Writing here has the additional benefit of giving me an outlet when it comes to expounding on things that I find interesting.  Very few people with whom I spend time in person want to hear me go on about how much I’ve enjoyed tasting rare French hybrids and German crossing that I picked up in Canada.  And while I do have some more obscure varieties in the queue, today I’ll have a look at something a bit more conventional, the Lake Breeze Zephyr Brut 2009.

Since I live in Australia, I must first make clear that this is the Lake Breeze of British Columbia, Canada and the lake in question is the Okanagan Lake.  This should not be confused with another fine winery, Lake Breeze of Langhorne Creek, South Australia where the lake in question is Lake Alexandrina.  I doubt the two are related, and I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers if they were unaware of each other up until this point.  Tabuaeran is an island in the Pacific about equidistant from both wineries and might make a nice halfway point to meet up and discuss the situation.

I try to structure my posts with information about the grape, region and producer, and to wrap it up with a tasting note.  This week all the wines are from the Okanagan Valley, which by now is already quite familiar territory so instead the focus has been on the new (to me) grape varieties.  However, today’s wine is a Pinot Noir, and not only have we seen many such wines, we’ve even seen two varietal sparkling Pinot Noirs, one of which was from Ross Gower in Elgin, South Africa.  As it turns out, sparkling Pinot Noir is not the only connection between Lake Breeze and South Africa.

Lake Breeze was founded in the mid-1990s with its first vintage in 1995.  Their vineyards date to 1985, which makes them quite old by local standards.  The original owners termed it a “wine farm”, harkening back to the 25 years they spent in South Africa.  The winemaker, Garron Elmes, is originally from Cape Town and studied oneology and viticulture at Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch.  To top off the link to South Africa, Lake Breeze was the first vineyard in Canada to cultivate Pinotage, using clippings they imported from U.C. Davis.  It’s possible I’m the only person on the planet who thinks that’s incredibly cool, but as I said earlier, if I write it here instead of blathering about it to people in person, I can still have friends.

In addition to this sparkling Pinot Noir and a Pinotage, Lake Breeze produces a fairly broad range of wines.  Their whites include varietal Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, in addition to a white blend, and they produce a rosé from co-fermented Pinot Noir and Viognier.  Their range of reds includes two Pinot Noirs, two Bordeaux style blends, and a Merlot.  They only produce this single sparkling wine, using the tradition method of second fermentation in the bottle.

Since the two sparkling Pinot Noirs we’ve seen previously were both rosé, a quick word on winemaking might not go amiss.  Most grapes, regardless of their skin colour, contain pale flesh and relatively clear juice.  There is a class of grapes known as teinturiers, which have red flesh and therefore red (or at least pink) juice, and we’ve covered one in the form of the Georgian grape Saperavi.  However, Pinot Noir is not a teinturier and it produces clear juice, as evidenced by not only this wine but also by the many white sparkling wines of Champagne that contain Pinot Noir, and even the still Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend from Haute Cabrière we saw back in April.  If you want Pinot Noir, or any other non-teinturier red grape to contribute colour to a wine, the juice must have contact with the coloured grape skins after they’ve been crushed.  That typically happens during fermentation, through in some cases before and/or after, prior to pressing, as well.  For rosé wines there are a number of methods, from very brief skin contact before pressing, extraction of some of the juice from after it’s been in skin contact (leaving the rest of the juice to make red wine), and even in some cases blending red and white grapes or wine.

But as to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour.  It has fine beading with long lasting lace around the rim.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of biscuit, blossom, and strawberries.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium minus alcohol, medium body, medium plus flavour intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of sour cherry, strawberry, and grapefruit – all fruit without the developing characters of the nose.

I rate this wine as a solid good.  It’s certainly fresh, with some vibrancy.  It came across as a bit fruity on the palate, certainly more so than I expected from the nose, but the tart acidity keeps it lively.  It didn’t have the complexity or development that would have pushed it into the very good category, but it doesn’t disappoint.

Gray Monk Estate Winery Rotberger 2010

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Gray Monk Estate Winery Rotberger 2010

Gray Monk Estate Winery Rotberger 2010

I’ve made it no secret that I value rarity when it comes to grape varieties.  When people speak of rare wines, they most typically mean wines that are very exclusive because they are incredibly expensive.  While that may mean it’s rare that you get to drink any, if you have the budget it’s not actually difficult to get your hands on such wines, and there’s no shortage of people happy to sell them to you.  When it comes to grapes however, the type of rarity I value is more a factor of availability, which is at times disconnected from price.  Sometimes grapes are rare because they are unfashionable, while others lack demand because they are simply unfamiliar.  Today’s wine is firmly in the second camp, the Gray Monk Estate Winery Rotberger 2010.

I had never encountered Rotberger, not even as the name of a grape variety, prior to seeing this bottle on a shelf near Vancouver in September, and with good reason.  It is quite possibly the rarest grape I’ve covered, with roughly 16HA of vines planted in Germany, another 3HA in Canada and a few in Italy but not enough to show up on the most recent vine census.  For scale, there’s over 10 times as much of yesterday’s obscure grape, Maréchal Foch, planted worldwide.  Or put another way, the rarefied vineyards of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are just over 25HA and therefore larger than the total global plantings of Rotberger.

Rotberger, as you may have guessed from the name, is a German crossing.  Developed in Geisenheim in 1928 by Heinrich Birk, it is the product of Schiava Grossa (also known as Trollinger) and Riesling, making it a sibling of Kerner.  Some more information about German crossings can be found in the write up of the Kabminye Kerner.  In the vineyard, it is vigorous and provides high yields of red grapes, which in turn produce light, fruity wine, frequently rosé or sparkling.  Its name is easily confused with Rotburger, another name for Zweigelt, an Austrian cross of different parents.

As with yesterday, we’re in the now familiar territory of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, so for more information about the region please have a look at the posts for the neighbouring JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay and the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois.

The roots of Gray Monk Estate Winery go back to the earliest days of viticulture in the Okanagan Valley.  Hugo Peter first moved to the area in search of an agricultural retirement and was followed by his daughter Trudy and her husband George Heiss.  George and Trudy established the vineyard in 1972 and a winery a decade later.  With three sons, George, Steven and Robert, they’ve expanded production and the winery such that until just recently they were the largest VQA winery in British Columbia, and they have a fourth generation starting to pitch in.

Their wines are spread across three lines.  There are three Latitude 50 wines, entry level red and white blends based on colour and a Gamay rosé.  The Odyssey wines are classic varieties and blends at a higher price point, including sparklers and a Merlot-based fortified wine.  In the middle though is where it gets interesting for fans of alternative varietals with the Estate wines.  In addition to the conventional Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling in white and Gamay Noir, Merlot and Pinot Noir in red, they offer Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Pinot Auxerrous, and Siegerrebe in white and this rosé Rotberger.  They also produce a white fortified wine made from Orange Muscat and Muscat Canelli .

In the glass this wine is clear and bright with a medium minus ruby colour and a slow film when swirled that breaks into thick tears eventually.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful with notes of peach, strawberries, and sweet spice.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium minus body, medium plus intensity, hint of tannins but very filmy, medium alcohol, and a medium length.  There are notes of strawberry, some mild black pepper, watered down cranberries, vanilla, some stem green notes.

I’ll rate this wine as a solid good.  I want it to be a bit more interesting but the flavours are somewhat indistinct, so after I’ve taken a sip it’s challenging to pick out what I just tasted.  However, it’s well balanced and has some mild complexity so it’s certainly more than just acceptable.  I have no idea as to varietal typicity, but it’s pleasant and refreshing which is most of what I want out of a rosé, and therefore I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to somewhat who wants to try something rare.  And if you can’t get a hold of any, there’s always the more widely planted DRC.

Niche Wine Company +124 Reserve Foch 2010

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Niche Wine Company +124 Reserve Foch 2010

Niche Wine Company +124 Reserve Foch 2010

It’s been a long two weeks, between an office move and a five day course in project management, but I’m back and looking forward to covering some new grapes.  It’s been a bit difficult to get myself back in gear, but I’m going to make it easier with a string of varietal wines from grapes that are new to me.  Today is something of a rarity, the Niche Wine Company +124 Reserve Foch 2010.

I picked up some interesting wines while I was in Canada, in particular some varieties I’d not encountered before.  Auxerrois was a familiar name but hadn’t tried one, and Ehrenfelser was completely new to me.  The grape in this wine is one that I had come across in my studies but never expected to try because it’s so uncommon, and also because it’s a hybrid.

I believe this is our first hybrid, and as such it deserves a note.  Most grapes used to make wine are from the Eurasian species Vitis vinifera which translates to wine bearing grapes.  However, it’s possible to produce vines which have Vitis vinifera and another Vitis parent, and such vines are known as hybrids.  It’s typically done in an effort to supplement vinifera with resistance to various pests, diseases, or difficult climatic conditions.  After phylloxera hit Europe in the 19th century, there was a great deal of interest in such hybrids, typically bred with phylloxera-resistant North American species.  Many were produced through viticultural research in France and are collectively known as French hybrids, something of an analogue to the German crossings discussed in the context of the CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser.

However, development of hybrid vines is somewhat controversial, in that non-vinifera vines can have undesirable properties in wine, such as a scent evocative of animal fur which is termed foxy.  Of the many hybrids to emerge at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, most were subsequently banned in France for grape production, and others relegated for use only as root stock onto which Vitis vinifera vines were grafted.  Some, however, such as Vidal and Seyval Blanc, have proven popular in areas with marginal climate because of their ability to survive winter freezes.

This grape, Maréchal Foch or sometimes just Foch, is a hybrid developed in France in 1911 by Eugène Kuhlmann, and commercially released in 1921.  It takes its name from Ferdinand Foch, a French general who became Maréchal de France in 1918.  I know of him because I’m keen on military history and hardware, and while it’s quite common for the names of war heroes to grace things like ships and tanks, I can’t think of another general to have a grape named in his or her honour.  This hybrid is recorded as bring the result of breeding Goldriesling (Vitis vinifera) with Millardet et Grasset 101-14 OP (which is itself a hybrid parented by Vitis riparia and Vitis rupestris), though it has not as yet been confirmed or disproved through DNA profiling.  A red grape able to withstand the cold, very little of it remains in Europe, with plantings being limited to tiny amounts in the Loire and eastern Switzerland.  However, it has found favour in some cold states in the northern USA as well as both eastern and western Canada.

Speaking of Canada, this wine is from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.  I’ve written about the region a few times since my trip to Vancouver in September, so I won’t repeat myself, but details can be found in my posts on the JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay and the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois.

The Niche Wine Company is a very small producer based in West Kelowna.  Joanna and James Schlosser run the winemaking and business side of the operation, which operates on vineyards James’ parents, Jerry and Kathleen, own and work.  They released their first vintage in 2011, with varietal wines based on their plantings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and this Foch.  They also produce a rosé, which at least for their first vintage was a blend of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay.  The company had two releases of their Maréchal Foch 2010.  The first was released after just under a year in a mix of French and American oak barrels, whereas this second release is from a portion held in reserve and put into first use American oak barrels for an additional 124 days.

In the glass this wine is clear, and bright, with a deep brick red colour that is nearly black and quick, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and intense with notes of dried red fruit, raisins (more Pedro Ximénez than Port), a little nail varnish and dark chocolate.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium minus body, medium plus intensity, medium fine tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length.  There are notes of raisins, dark chocolate, prunes, cherries, and a hint of coffee.

I rate this wine as very good.  It has a great intensity and complexity of flavours, particularly for a wine that’s so young.  It was very fresh right out of the bottle, though 30 minutes after decanting the raisin notes started to appear which rounded out the flavour profile nicely.  I wasn’t expecting this wine to be anything other than a curiosity – a hybrid that’s still listed in textbooks but with decreasing plantings.  However, it absolutely delivered.  While I’m unlikely to encounter another bottle any time soon, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a dozen for the cellar to see how it looks a few years down the road.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007

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Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007

While I did bring home a set of interesting new (to me) varietals from my trip to Vancouver, I don’t want to leave people with the impression they only grow cold climate German grapes in British Columbia.  There are certainly plantings of Ehrenfelser and Kerner, but not at the expense of better known international varieties, including some that are often associated with much warmer climates.  Today we have one such example, the Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007.

This is another wine I enjoyed back in September, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about cool climate Syrah / Shiraz, which is fairly trendy at the moment.  I generally think of Syrah as a warm climate grape, though part of that is a South Australian bias.  Within France, it typically doesn’t ripen reliably further north than the Northern Rhône, where slopes with ideal aspects and natural sun traps are where the variety does best.  Here in Australia, the best known Shiraz is from the Barossa Valley, where the warmth and sunshine can provide an abundance of fruit and alcohol.

However, Syrah is a versatile and climate sensitive grape.  It’s not always easy (for me at least) to point out the climatic difference in the grape between Northern and Southern Rhône Syrahs because in the south they’re often part of the blend.  However, in Australia there is Shiraz grown in the relatively cool Adelaide Hills, such as from Hahndorf Hill Winery, which can be markedly different from a warmer Barossa example, such as Charles Melton.  Cool climate Shiraz tends to be less fruit driven, with more peppery notes instead of sweet spice, blue fruit instead of red, and often some violet or floral notes.

Before I get into this Syrah, first a few words about the producer, Tinhorn Creek.  Established in 1993, the company is a collaboration of friends who went into business together.  Sandra Oldfield, originally from the USA and a graduate of the UC Davis Enology Department, is at the helm as winemaker and president/CEO.   Based in the Golden Mile in South Okanagan, but with an additional vineyard on the eastern side of the valley on Black Sage Bench, they’re probably best known for the flagship Merlot.  However, they have a wine range of plantings, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and this Syrah in red, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Semillon and Kerner in white.  They produce varietals and blends in red and white, a Cabernet Franc rosé, and ice wine or late harvest Kerner depending on the vintage conditions.

Even though the southern Okanagan Valley is certainly warmer than the northern end, and there’s no shortage of lakes and rivers to help mitigate the weather, it’s still considered a fairly cool climate.  I couldn’t find a fact sheet for this vintage, but if it is similar to the 2009 vintage then grapes for this wine were taken from both the Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench sides of the valley from fairly young vines and saw just over a year and a half in French oak.  2007 in Okanagan had a cold start and with light rain in the spring but heavy rain over June.  July was hot but also wet.  August and early September were drier if cooler, though rain returned at harvest.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a medium plus ruby colour and  lots of quick thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of raspberries, sweet spice, pomegranate,and a fair whack of oak.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus fine tannins, medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium intensity, medium body, and medium length. There are notes of green stalks, black pepper, raspberries, and pencil shavings.

I rate this wine as good but there was something about the green notes on the palate that I didn’t find overly attractive (but which I don’t mind in Cabernet Franc).  I don’t know if I’m getting that due to the vines being young, fruit that wasn’t fully ripe (unlikely at 14.6% ABV), or if it’s just down to my personal palate.  It’s certainly from a cool climate but without the blueberries that usually tip me off.  However, there was no shortage of peppery character and there was a good diversity of fruit and savoury notes.  The wine as a whole had a nice balance and I hope to try another vintage to compare and contrast.

CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser 2011

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CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser 2011

CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser 2011

As I edge toward a century of varietal wines from different varieties, I have a list that should get me from where I stand today at 68 to roughly 80, though sourcing them may be a challenge.  Since that leaves me with 20 grapes unaccounted, it’s a pleasure to come across a new variety unexpectedly.  That’s just what happened in Canada, with some cold climate varieties familiar from studying for my theory exam, while others were grapes completely out of the blue.  Such was the case with this wine, the CedarCreek Estate Winery Ehrenfelser 2011.

Ehrenfelser is one of the grapes known collectively as German crossings.  The origins of many of the best loved grapes in the world are only now being uncovered through DNA sampling and the work of ampelographers, as they pre-date effective records.  However, new varieties are being produced even still, and much of the early work in the field of vine breeding was done in the first few decades of the 20th century in German viticultural research centres.

There were a number of goals of the breeding programs – higher must weights for compliance with strict German wine laws, higher yields, and the ability to withstand cold climates.  Of the many varieties to emerge from the programs, not many have gone on to produce wines of great distinction, though some have been put to work in more utilitarian roles and the names Bacchus, Rieslaner, Kerner, Dornfelder and Rondo are still taught to WSET students in the Advanced and Diploma courses even if they aren’t so commonly found on shelves in bottle shops.

Ehrenfelser is another such grape, developed in 1929 at Geisenheim in the Rheingau region, one of the most famous of such research centres.  A white grape, it takes its name from Burg Ehrenfels, a ruined castle in the area.  As a cross of Riesling and Silvaner, it was hoped to be an improvement on Riesling, with the ability to ripen in even more marginal environments and to deliver higher yields.  It largely does so, but at the cost of somewhat lower acidity which reduces its ageing capacity.  While there are still some plantings in the Pfalz and Rheinhessen regions (as well as Canada), it has largely been supplanted in Germany by Kerner.

Part of the problem may be with the Silvaner part of the cross, or rather the lack thereof.  DNA profiling has indicated that Silvaner is not actually a parent of Ehrenfelser, which goes to show that even modern records are not always enough to understand the origins of grape varieties.

I don’t have much more to say about the Okanagan Valley that I didn’t already cover with the wines of Road 13 and Gehringer Brothers, expect that the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference will be held there in Penticton next June.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to justify making the trip back to Canada, but I would certainly like to go if I’m able.

CederCreek is one of the oldest wineries in British Columbia, though given the first modern, commercial plantings in Okanagan were in 1975, they only have to trace their origins back to 1980 when what was then known as Uniacke opened.  The present proprietor of that winery, Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, is an Okanagan native, having grown up in and around the fruit growing and packing businesses.  He purchased the winery in 1986 and released the first vintage under the CederCreek brand the following year.  In the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement when many feared Canada would be flooded with cheap wine from the USA,  he proceeded to plant vines while others in the area were doing the opposite.  Having grown substantially, the business is now run by his son, Gordon.

CederCreek sources grapes across four vineyards, including their original location which was first planted with vines in the 1930s.  Their range of wines include varietal Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Ehrenfelser, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier in white, and Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah in red.  Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are grown for use in some blends, of which they produce a handful, red and white, as well as a Pinot Noir rosé.  In addition, they made a Madeira-style fortified wine from Pinot Blanc, complete with five years of warmth from the sun.  My mind boggles somewhat at the notion of making a Madeira-style wine in a country better known for icewine, but sadly I didn’t get a chance to try any when I was there.

As to this wine, in the glass it’s clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and slow sheeting inside the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium plus intensity and notes of melon, honeycomb, grapefruit, citrus oil and orange blossom – very fragrant.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and a medium length.  There are notes of grapefruit, mandarins, melons, lime, and more floral characters.

I’ll rate this wine as good, but it’s quite possibly the most acidic wine I’ve ever tasted.  Young and most likely meant to be drunk as such, it’s fresh and crisp, with some lovely tropical fruit notes.  It is certainly intense, though more in acidity than in flavour, which comes across as somewhat out of balance, particularly as the total acid in only at 9.71 g/l – not the most extreme I’ve encountered.  Perhaps I was just suckered by descriptions of  Ehrenfelser as lacking acidity – CederCreek seems to have solved that problem.  The notes on the back label describe it as “fruit salad in a glass” to which I would append “of grapefruit juice.”  I happen to like grapefruit juice (and fruit salad), so I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way, and if you’re eating something that will benefit from an aggressively tart, but still fruity and enjoyable wine, this might be a good option.

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011

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Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011

Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011

While I’m officially on vacation, it wouldn’t be much of a holiday without wine, and having wine without writing it up feels a bit like cheating.  Since I hate cheating, here is some more light writing in the form of the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois Classic 2011.

This was actually the first Canadian wine of this trip, but since it was both a new variety and a new region, I’m writing about this second, because with the JoieFarm Chardonnay I was able to focus a little more on the region as Chardonnay is a familiar (and beloved) grape.  The corollary is that I have more time here to talk about this grape than I would otherwise.

And what a grape it is.  Auxerrois means different things to different people, literally.  In Cahors it refers to their main red grape, which is better known in the rest of the world as Malbec.  In the French Moeslle it is the name for Chardonnay.  Less commonly there are also Auxerrois Gris (Pinot Gris) and Gros Auxerrois (Valdiguié).  In Alsace, and most of the rest of the world, including Canada is seems, Auxerrois (blanc) refers to a grape that is descended from Pinot and Gouais Blanc (much like Aligoté, Chardonnay and a dozen other grapes).

A white grape, there are plantings of Auxerrois in French Moselle (where it is known as Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy to differentiate it from Chardonnay), Luxembourg, and Germany, though it is best known as an important grape of Alsace.  When I say “best known” it must be taken with a grain of salt, for although it is widely planted in Alsace and often found in bottles labelled Pinot Blanc, its name is rarely found on labels.  In fact, it is possible to bottle a 100% Auxerrois and label it as Pinot Blanc, so it’s no wonder the grape remains unfamiliar to even fans of Alsace.  Adding to the identity crisis, some of the earliest plantings of what were thought to be Chardonnay in South Africa turned out to be Auxerrois.  In the rest of the New World, there are obviously plantings in Canada, and a few in the USA though none that I could find in Australia.

The grape itself is prized in cool to cold climates for its ability to maintain low levels of acidity.  (I did have something of a laugh when I first read that, coming at things from an Australian perspective where low acidity is more often a problem than a feature.)  As such, it is used to add texture and body to Alsatian blends, and when yields are kept under control can produce wines that can age gracefully.

Gehringer Brothers dates back to the 1980s (which is not so long after modern viticulture started in the Okanagan Valley) though the story begins roughly a decade before that with the two brothers in question both spending time in (West) Germany studying winemaking, while their father and his brother conducted an extensive microterroir survey of the valley.  A site was purchased in 1981 and the first vintage was produced in 1985.   The business has grown over the subsequent decades and 22 wines are produced across seven different ranges, which include entry level varietals and blends, wines of a desert terroir, reserves, late harvest and ice wines.  In addition to Alsatian varieties, the company produces wines of Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and an Ehrenfelser – a white German grape which is completely new to me.

Another quick note on the Okanagan Valley, because even though I’m not going to be able to visit it, I’m learning a bit more about it each day.  As I mentioned previously, it’s a young region, and it’s interesting to see how it’s being approached in terms of varieties planted.  While I won’t get to try them all, I’ve seen examples of cold climate grapes that I’ve only previously encountered in theory – Baco Noir, Vidal, and Maréchal Foch.  Then there have been the Alsatian and German grapes mentioned, as well as Burgundians.  Beyond that though, there are people working with Bordeaux varieties, and even Rhône grapes such as Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  (I should be able to write up an example of a Syrah and a V/R/M blend if my notes can be deciphered).  In total there are at least 75 different varieties being cultivated, split roughly between red and white.

If I compare that to New World regions closer to home, that’s not so strange.  I expect I could find that many in the Barossa Valley or in McLaren Vale.  I think what I find most interesting though is the range of grapes in terms of their ideal climates.  Vidal, often associated with Canadian ice wine, being grown in the same region as Syrah, which I associate with the warmth of the Rhône or Barossa, is very exciting (at least to me).  I put it down to three main factors.  First, it’s Canada and varieties that thrive in the cold were an obvious first choice (and probably the most readily available).  Second, the region is young, so there’s a great deal of experimentation as people figure out what works and what doesn’t.  And finally, it’s a large region with a fair amount of geographic and climactic variation, so it’s to be expected that different subregions would works better with some varieties than others.

As to this particular wine, in the glass it is clear and bright with a pale, lemon green colour and slow, thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and youthful, with medium intensity and notes of apple – both green and red – a little grapefruit, and some minerality.  On the palate it’s off-dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium flavour intensity, and medium plus length.  The palate matches the nose with apples and grapefruit, but doesn’t bring much else to the experience other than a somewhat sour grapefruit finish.

This is a good wine – it has a certain heft, in that it could stand up to significantly spicy or weighty foods.  It has a somewhat rare combination in a white of medium plus acidity and medium plus body, and given that the residual sugar wasn’t obvious, is generally well balanced.  What it lacks though is complexity – it has fruit but not much more and it’s young enough that there aren’t any developed characters.  So as an introduction to a new grape, it ticks a box, but I look forward to trying another for more perspective.

Pin in the map is approximate as I’m getting similar to identical addresses for Gehringer Brothers Winery and what I’m assuming is the neighbouring or co-located Hester Creek Estate Winery.

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

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JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009

Apologies for the long delay in posting since I arrived in Canada. I have such a wealth of topics before me that I hardly know where to begin. That’s actually been a bit of a problem, in that the first few wines I tried here would have required discussion of not just new regions, but also new grapes and possibly even winemaking styles. So while I’ll certainly get to those wines, I’m making things a bit easier on myself and sticking with an old favourite as far as grapes go with this JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009.

Having spent so much of my time learning about wines in Australia, it’s liberating to walk into a Canadian wine shop. There’s certainly no shortage of Australian wine on the shelves here, but they’re joined by a huge collection of wines from both the Old World and the New, and in particular many wines from Canada and California. And while I look forward to writing about some interesting wines that are not so widely available in Australia, it would be poor manners to begin with anything other than a Canadian wine.

Yes, wine is produced within Canada. The most famous is certainly Inniskillin Ice Wine from Niagra-on-the-Lake in Ontario, but wine is made across Canada including several parts of British Columbia. The most prominent wine region in the vicinity of Vancouver is the Okanagan Valley, accounting for 90% of BC production, and which is sometimes known as just the Okanagan outside the context of wine.

Roughly 400km to the east of Vancouver as the crow flies, the Okanagan Valley is the area surrounding the lake and river of the same name. While the first vines were planted by missionaries in the 19th century, it’s best described as an up and coming wine region, with commercial plantings of Vitis vinifera having been established only as recently as 1975. As with many cool to cold areas outside of mainland Europe, early efforts at viticulture started with hybrids of European and North American grapes, such as Vidal Blanc, but through the 1980s the focus shifted to Alsatian and German varieties such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürtztraiminer that were then bred specifically to cope with the cold conditions. Since then, as specific terroirs have become better understood, a much wider range of varieties have been planted, and the area is also now known for Bordeaux blends and Syrah.  Merlot is the most widely planted variety, followed by Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinots Gris, Blanc and Noir rounding out the top six.

The climate is continental, though mitigated by the lake and river. It is also in the rain shadow of the Cascade and Coast Mountains, making much of the area, particularly in the south, inhospitable to vines without irrigation. Parts of the region are frequently described as a desert.  While cold winters make frost a danger, the distance from the Equator means summer days of the ripening season are particularly long.  The soils are varied, with gravel, sand and silt making up much of the topsoil over different types of bedrock.

I don’t have anything to say about Chardonnay that I haven’t already said, so let’s look at JoieFarm.  It’s a small producer founded by two sommeliers who got married and ran off to make wine.  While I love sommeliers, and they have a great story, I’m glad they made a wise call and hired in an actual winemaker to round out the team.  It looks as though 2009 was in fact their first vintage and they are dedicated to white and rosé wines of Burgundian and Alsatian varieties (though they produce some red as well).  They grow a small amount of Gewürtztraiminer and Muscat and buy in grapes from a dozen producers.  In addition to this wine and an un-oaked Chardonnay, they produce varietal Riesling and Pinot Blanc, an Alsatian inspired white blend, a blend of two types of Muscat, a rosé of Gamay and Pinots Gris, Noir and Meunier, and a Pinot Noir / Gamay Passetoutgrain blend.

As to this wine in the glass, it’s clear and bright with a pale lemon colour and thick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with notes of green apple, oak, smoke and some nuttiness.  On the palate it’s dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium plus finish.  There are notes of smoke, sawdust, tart green apple but also some sweet apple skin, and some minerality.

This is a good wine.  I want to like it more than my notes will allow in that it’s from an area that’s new to me, it has a fun story behind it, and I can’t help but like anyone who makes a Passetoutgrain outside of Burgundy.  The wine itself has good concentration and length, but I can’t go any higher than good because it lacks complexity.  It tastes as though the vast majority of the wine was made from apples and oak, and as someone who enjoys cider I don’t mean that in a bad way.  If it were from Chablis I would want more steel, from Macon I would want more richness, and if it were from the Adelaide Hills I would want a range of citrus.  That said, good is certainly a step up from acceptable and a worthy score for what I think is a fine first effort.