Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hester Creek is joining the 90 point circle

An individual at Hester Creek Estate Winery recently posed to me an exasperated question: “Don’t Hester Creek’s wine deserve 90 points yet?”

The question was not directed at my reviews but rather at the general attitude toward Hester Creek in the wine writing community.

Well, after tasting the winery’s current three reserve reds, I agree that it is time we revised our attitude. Hester Creek is finally realizing the potential of its great vineyard site on the Golden Mile south of Oliver. Since being taken over in 2004 by Prince George businessman Curt Garland, the winery has emerged from its turbulent history. It is now poised as a winery to be reckoned with for wines that are top quality but not over-priced, a sometimes elusive combination in the Okanagan.

The potential of the site was first grasped by Joe Busnardo, an Italian immigrant who began growing vinifera grapes here in 1968. Hardly anybody was growing vinifera at the time. The wineries refused to pay Joe a premium for vinifera and then eventually forced him to open Divino Estate Winery in 1983, giving himself a home for his grapes.

He sold the winery in 1996, relocating Divino to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

The new owners, including winemaker Frank Supernak, renamed the winery Hester Creek, after a creek flowing beside the property. The creek, in turn, was named after Hester Haynes, whose father was a pioneer judge and rancher in the south Okanagan. Legend has it that she like to swim in the creek.

Under its current ownership, Hester Creek has celebrated that connection with a pioneer family (Hester White, as she became, lived until 1963.) The new Hester Creek label includes the logo of a female swimmer and some back labels recite this bit of history.

Frank Supernak and his partners did a great deal to wrestle the 75-acre vineyard and the rustic winery into shape over six years. However, they were undercapitalized. Frank finally left in the summer of 2002 because he was unhappy with the way Hester Creek was being run. (He died that November in an accident in another winery.)

He apparently had reason for being unhappy. Hester Creek slide into receivership and Garland acquired the winery for about $5 million in a court auction. The tumult did not do much good for the winery’s reputation.

Garland, who has probably spent another $5 million on Hester Creek since buying it, has made all the right moves to turn around the wines and the reputation. In 2006 he hired a winemaker from Ontario, Robert Summers, whose nearly two decades of experience included several years as national winemaker for Andrew Peller Ltd.

And he has given Summers the tools to make good wine, including a modern 35,000-case winery to replace the original Divino winery. It was a rickety affair, lacking hot water or safe electrical wiring. (One former winemaker complained about getting shocks.) The new winery is full of state of the art equipment – and it has an expansive new tasting room capable of swallowing up the crowds without feeling crowded.

Some of the most important investments have been in the vineyard. Drip irrigation has replaced overhead sprinklers. Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah were planted in 2005, along with a good block of Chardonnay. In 2007 and 2008, a 22,000-vine block of Pinot Gris was added.

These are in addition to the varieties already grown there, including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano planted before 1975. Having such old vines can be a considerable advantage in the production of quality wines.

The current Reserve wines represent, in a sense, transition wines. The 2005 vintage was in the winery’s barrels when Summers arrived in June, 2006 but he finished the vintage brilliantly. The vintages from 2006 through 2008 were made in the old winery, although with the benefit of new fermenters and barrels.

The quality of those reserve wines should create a lot of excitement about future Hester Creek releases, a rising number of which should be in the 90 plus range.

Here are my notes:

Hester Creek 2006 Reserve Cabernet Franc ($26.05). Joe Busnardo planted well when he chose this variety as flagship red for the vineyard. The winery now has almost 14,000 Cabernet Franc vines, half of them planted before 1970. My guess is that those old vines produced the 460 cases of this reserve wine. It begins with an alluring aroma of spices, red berries and vanilla. The brambleberry flavours are nicely integrated with the oak. The long ripe tannins give the wine a satisfying fullness. 88-90.

Hester Creek 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.09). Only 300 cases of this have been released. An elegant red, it has had its tannins polished with good barrel and bottle aging. As a result, the texture is subtle. The wine has flavours of vanilla, plum, chocolate and coffee. 88-89

Hester Creek 2006 Reserve Merlot ($26.05). This delicious wine, of which 850 cases has been released, is definitely made from some of the pre-1975 Merlot in the vineyard. The wine presents itself with alluring berry aromas and a tasty scoop of sweet berry fruit on the palate. It has a rich juicy and yet concentrated texture and a satisfying finish. 90

Monday, February 22, 2010

CedarCreek and Holman Lang both lose winemakers

Photos: Tom DiBello (top) and Bernhard Schirrmeister (bottom)

In a surprising coincidence, two senior Okanagan winemakers have stepped down at the same time.

CedarCreek Estate Winery announced the departure of Tom DiBello, the senior winemaker there for 10 years.

Concurrently, Bernhard Schirrmeister announced that he is no longer associated with the Holman Lang group of wineries.

The tone of both announcements leads one to think that neither departure was exactly friendly.

CedarCreek’s statement said that DiBello was “leaving to pursue other oenological opportunities.”

DiBello, who resigned, is setting up his own consulting company in the Okanagan. He has already been retained by four wineries.

In his announcement, Schirrmeister said only: “Due to changes at Holman Lang Wineries, I’m no longer responsible for their winemaking.” Neither he nor Holman Lang elaborated.

At CedarCreek, president Gordon Fitzpatrick said that the winery has begun the search for a successor to DiBello. In the meantime, assistant winemaker Bill Pierson is running the cellar.

“Tom has been a big part of our success and we would like to thank him for his many contributions to crafting quality wines on behalf of CedarCreek,” Fitzpatrick added.

Tom has one of the more impressive résumés in Okanagan winemaking. In the past decade, CedarCreek has been Canada’s winery of the year twice in a major national wine competition. His peers regard him as a master with both Pinot Noir and with Bordeaux grape varieties. And everybody thinks that, under his hand, CedarCreek’s Ehrenfelser became arguably the world’s best Ehrenfelser.

This is from a man who grew up surfing in Newport Beach and vacillated between medicine and business before enrolling in the wine program at the University of California in Davis.

Most Davis winemaking students get hands-on experience during their studies by working at a producing winery during vintage. DiBello was assigned to one of Napa’s top wineries, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Its owner, Warren Winiarski, has been renowned ever since his wines outscored top Bordeaux wines during at a 1976 Paris tasting.

“Warren Winiarski is a tough taskmaster,” DiBello discovered when he returned there after graduation in 1983. “He’s a demanding perfectionist.” DiBello rose to become director of cellar operations, effectively the assistant winemaker, before going to Australia in 1987 where he had the pick among several choice winemaker jobs. He went to Cape Mentelle, a highly-regarded producer at Margaret River in Western Australia. “It’s right on the beach,” DiBello told me. “Margaret River has one of the best surfing beaches in the world and that’s what I looked on from my house there.”

He came back to California a year later (for economic and romantic reasons) and spent two years as a wine salesman. In 1989 he joined a small new winery at Temecula in southern California, Clos de Muriel, which won medals for its wines but was under-financed and closed after the 1992 vintage.

He went from there to do a vintage in Virginia and then spent four years with a winery in Arizona. In 1996 he joined Claar Cellars, a new Washington State winery. He made two vintages there and another two at a winery called Washington Hills before being recruited by CedarCreek. He came to the Okanagan in the summer of 2000.

Tom's current plan is to remain in the Okanagan which he has come to regard as one of the best places in the world for growing top quality wine. It would not be surprising, however, if he were soon wooed by wineries on the American west coast. If he now returns to the United States, it will be a big loss for Canadian winemaking.

Bernhard Schirrmeister was born in Germany in 1965 and trained at Geisenheim. He gained extensive winery experience there with large and small producers and with sparkling wine, Riesling and Pinot Noir.

He became aware of the Okanagan during a vacation to the valley and was recruited by Günther Lang to take over winemaking at Lang Vineyards when Ross Mirko went to New Zealand in 2005. Shortly after, Keith Holman bought Lang Vineyards (Günther has now retired from the wine business).

The winemaking task at Holman Lang has expanded considerably over the five years. The group’s seven wineries now include Lang, Soaring Eagle, Zero Balance, Spiller, Mistral, Stonegate and K Mountain. Of these, only Stonegate (which is being sold) has its own winemaker.

Both of these men leave big shoes to fill.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nk'Mip Cellars is like a family for Lindsay Anderson

Photos: Lindsay Anderson of Nk'Mip Cellars and totem pole at Four Host Nations Pavilion

Lindsay Anderson suffered heat stroke twice during her first wine industry job when she work in the Vincor vineyards near Osoyoos.

In spite of that initiation, she has become deeply involved. She has taken every wine industry course offered by Okanagan College and she is one of the guest services managers at the Nk’Mip Cellars winery.

During the 2010 Olympics, she has also taken a turn at the Four Host Nations Pavilion which has Nk’Mip Merlot and Chardonnay in its restaurant. Diners there may not fully appreciate how much First Nations history there is in each glass.

Lindsay is member of the Osoyoos Indian Band which operates Nk’Mip Cellars in partnership with Vincor. Nk’Mip was North America’s first aboriginal winery. “Nk’Mip is something that all of our band members are proud of,” Lindsay says.

In my judgment, everyone associated with the British Columbia wine industry takes pride in Nk’Mip’s winemaking accomplishments as well as in the Band’s overall contribution to B.C. wine growing.

The involvement began with the establishment of Inkameep Vineyards at Oliver in 1968. It grew in 1980 when the Band built the building which T.G. Bright & Co. leased for the winery that has become Jackson-Triggs at Oliver. Producing alcoholic beverages on a First Nations reserve was very contentious at first but Sam Baptiste, the band chief at the time, toughed out the criticism. He believed, correctly, that the winery would provide steady and well-paying careers for Band members.

Subsequently, the entrepreneurial Band launched a number of other businesses on the reserve. However, Clarence Louie, the current chief, told me (before Nk’Mip winery opened) that the Jackson-Triggs winery jobs were still among the best career choices.

The Band contributed in a major way to the success of Jackson-Triggs when, in the late 1990s, it leased to the winery the hundreds of acres of sagebrush that now grow the best grapes in the south Okanagan.

The Nk’Mip winery at Osoyoos was developed in 2000 as an anchor for a resort and condominium project after the Band’s original idea, a casino, failed to win government approval. No doubt, the Band would have succeeded with the casino but, unlike the winery, it would hardly have been a brilliant North American first.

Vincor was engaged as a 50% partner because of its technical resources and its marketing ability. Nk’Mip is making about 18,000 cases a year (its maximum capacity) and Vincor is selling it all within Canada.

Vincor also set up a mentoring structure. Winemaker Randy Picton has two winemaking assistants who are First Nations. One is just graduating from Lincoln University in New Zealand and the other is about to enrol there.

Lindsay Anderson, who was born in Vernon, worked in various other Band businesses as a teenager before becoming one of the early employees at Nk’Mip. “It is a place where I can continue to keep learning,” she says.

In addition to working in vineyards, Lindsay also spent six months in the laboratory at the Jackson-Triggs winery, becoming adept enough in the job to pursue that side of wine. “They tried to keep me,” she recalls, “But I wanted to go back to Nk’Mip. It’s a lot like a family. We’ve really gotten close.”

She likes leading winery VIP tours, along with all of the other tasks involved in hospitality at what is one of the Okanagan’s busiest tasting rooms. Her vineyard and her laboratory experience have equipped her to answer most questions that wine tourists are likely to ask.

Even the naïve questions: more than once, she has been asked whether Band members have any ceremonies to “bless” the grapes. No, they don’t. They leave it to Mother Nature.

Does she have a favourite wine? “When I started at Nk’Mip, I didn’t drink wine,” she says. “But I immediately fell in love with Chardonnay.”

Her current favourites are the winery’s Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay and the Qwam Qwmt Syrah. (Qwam Qwmt is the winery’s premium label.)

I’d say she’s developed a pretty good palate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Le Clos Jordanne's wines come to B.C.

Photo: Thomas Bachelder in Vancouver

In British Columbia, Ontario wines don’t get the respect they deserve. Perhaps it is a chicken and egg scenario: the best Ontario wines are seldom available on the west coast.

There are several reasons for that, aside from the usual tit for tat one (the best of British Columbia, until recently, has seldom been offered in Ontario either).

One: the liquor boards get in the way. Even in this age when you can buy almost anything over the Internet, wineries are not permitted to ship directly to customers in other provinces. The liquor boards, who want to collect their mark-ups, might just lift the licenses of any direct-selling wineries.

Two: the top wines are usually in limited supply. If a winery can sell out in its home province, why bother with exports to another? This has begun to change, however, as new vineyards come into production and more wine is available.

And that is why Ontario’s Le Clos Jordanne has recently begun to offer its elegant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays to restaurants and private and government wine stores in British Columbia. These are among the finest wines currently being made in Ontario.

Le Clos Jordanne was launched in 2000 as a joint venture between Vincor and the giant Boisset group of Burgundy in France.

This was about the same time that Vincor and Bordeaux’s Group Taillan established the Osoyoos Larose joint venture winery in the Okanagan. In both instances, Vincor’s former chief executive, Don Triggs, invited two leading French producers to lend their expertise to raising the bar in Canada.

The Burgundy connection began in the early 1990s when Inniskillin (which was about to become part of Vincor) enlisted Jaffelin, one of the Boisset wineries, in a project to make a Pinot Noir in Ontario called Alliance. The wine was impressive enough that Boisset agreed a few years later to provide some advice on Pinot Noir terroir in Ontario and then to partner in Le Clos Jordanne.

The winery is so named because it and its vineyards are near the village of Jordan. The spelling of Jordan had to be tweaked because of trademark issues with wineries in Napa and in South Africa already called Jordan. Ironically, there once was a Jordan winery in Ontario but, no doubt, the trademark had lapsed before Vincor absorbed the remnants.

Jean-Charles Boisset says that his father, Jean-Claude, had briefly considered planting vines in Ontario just after World War II. When Jean-Charles tramped vineyard land near Jordan with Don Triggs, he was struck by how Burgundian the terroir was.

“We had a blank slate,” he recalls. The partners bought about 150 acres in three parcels on the Jordan Bench, imported French vines and planted the land between 2000 and 2002. There are seven clones of Pinot Noir, three clones of Chardonnay and a small block of Pinot Gris. Why Pinot Gris? Apparently, the clever Burgundian monks used to plant that variety centuries ago, blending it small quantities with Chardonnay in cool years and with Pinot Noir in hot years. The vineyard is farmed organically, with a nod to biodynamic principles as well.

To make the wine, Le Clos hired Quebec-born Thomas Bachelder, a former wine writer who decided in the early 1990s to become a winemaker. He worked in both Burgundy and Oregon, got a winemaking diploma in Beaune, and had a decade of experience by the time he joined Le Clos in 2003.

He is one of the most intensely focussed winemakers in Ontario. “Pinot Noir and Chardonnay … are my working lifeblood, my passion, my avocation,” he is quoted in Le Clos’s literature. “I simply don’t want to do anything else.”

The wines have been very well received. At a big Montreal tasting last year that pitted Le Clos wines against international wines, a Le Clos Chardonnay was judged best in the tasting.

Late in January, he presided at the first Vancouver tasting of his wines, primarily to an audience of restaurateurs and wine store buyers. Safe to say, it was an eye-opener on Ontario wines for most people.

Here are my notes.

Talon Ridge Village Reserve Chardonnay 2006 ($35-$40). Elegant and well-balanced, with aromas and flavours of citrus and tropical fruits and with refreshing tang on the finish. 90.

Claystone Terrace Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 ($40-$45). This vineyard delivers a wine with richer aromas and flavours – citrus, apricot, spice, toast. The wine is beautifully focussed and complex, in the style of a finessed white Burgundy. 92-94.

Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard Chardonnay 2006 ($40-$45). Another complex white, with a touch of truffles along with the aromas and flavours of citrus fruits and a backbone of minerals and acidity. 92.

Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2006 ($55-$65). Compared with the previous three, this wine just has a bit more of everything. The aromas and flavours are more concentrated and the structure will support cellaring this wine. 95.

Talon Ridge Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 ($35-$40). A lovely red, with aromas and flavours that reminded me both of cherries and of a very fine marmalade. Those flavours were somewhat unexpected but so very tasty. 90.

La Petite Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 ($40-45). Even the vineyard name suggests it. This is a delicate feminine wine with a floral perfume on the nose, cherry flavours and a sensual texture. 92.

Claystone Terrace Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 ($40-$45). This is a full-bodied, even gamey Pinot with a touch of black cherry and chocolate and a rich palate feel. 92-94.

Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2006 ($60-$70). This is an appealing, cerebral Pinot with spectacular elegance. The aroma is restrained … but this is still a very young Pinot that will be drinking well for many years. At this stage, the fruit flavours are sweet cherries and other red berries. A wonderful wine. 95.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Quails' Gate champions Old Vines Foch

Before the 1988 removal of hybrid grape varieties from the Okanagan, Maréchal Foch grapes comprised about a quarter of the entire grape harvest.

After the pull-out, Foch was only two per cent of the harvest. The variety might have vanished entirely, like Chelois, Rougeon or De Chaunac, but for the work of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery.

It can be argued that Quails’ Gate virtually saved the variety in British Columbia, even starting a modest comeback, when the winery crafted its first Old Vines Foch wine in the 1994 vintage.

Currently, the winery has three different wines on the market from its venerable Foch plantings. The Old Vines Foch Reserve sells for $40, an aggressive price for a wine from a hybrid. The wine is worth every penny.

The hybrid varieties, including Foch, were imported from France after World War II by wineries in Ontario and New York State when producers recognized that the native North American vines were never going to yield appealing table wine.

Some Okanagan growers began importing the hybrids in the 1950s and 1960s from Ontario or New York nurseries. A Quails’ Gate vineyard map shows two blocks of Foch that were planted in 1969 in its West Kelowna vineyard.

When Australian-born winemaker Jeff Martin (now the owner of La Frenz) arrived in the summer of 1994 to make Quails’ Gate wine, he discovered that the only mature red variety in the vineyard was Foch. So he proceeded to make a wine so big that, in subsequent tastings, he sometimes joked that it was a Shiraz. A marvellous full-bodied red, it was an instant a cult wine.

Foch has been unfairly denigrated. “It was not exported from France, it was deported,” is a comment I have heard from at least two senior industry figures. I think that might be a fair comment for one or two other hybrid reds but Foch got a bad rap because everybody over cropped the vines in 1970s and 1980s. Foch likes to grow like a weed but when it does, the wines are thin and acidic. Cropped properly, you get bold, ripe reds. Quails’ Gate’s Old Vines Foch Reserve has 15.5% alcohol but more than enough fruit to carry that ripeness.

The variety was created by a plant breeder in Alsace named Eugene Kuhlmann. He crossed Goldriesling (a vinifera still grown in Austria) with an American vine. It was originally released as Kuhlmann 1882. I am guessing it was named and commercialized not long after World War I because it was named for the French war hero, Marshall Ferdinand Foch.

He and Kuhlmann were contemporaries. The Marshall’s dates are 1851-1929 and Kuhlmann’s are 1855-1932. I do not know whether they were acquainted – perhaps not. Kuhlmann named some of his other grape varieties for leading French individuals as well.

For a native of Alsace, which was liberated from German rule in 1918, there could have been no hero more distinguished than the Marshal. He became the supreme commander of the Allied armies in March, 1918, and accepted the German surrender that November.

Like so many generals of the day, he was extremely gung-ho. Early in the war, he was commanding an army that found itself in a tight spot. “Hard pressed on my right,” he is supposed to have said. “My centre is yielding. Impossible to manoeuvre. Situation excellent. I attack.”

Somehow, the revival of the Maréchal Foch variety in British Columbia (more than 100 acres now) resonates in that defiant attitude.

Excellent wines from the variety are made in British Columbia by such producers as Alderlea Vineyards, Starling Lane, Larch Hills, Skimmerhorn and Sperling Vineyards, among others. One wonders how short the roll call would be if Quails’ Gate had not raised the bar in the first place.

Here are notes on the current Foch releases from that winery.

Old Vines Foch 2007 ($24.99). This robust red is made from 26-year-old vines grown in an Osoyoos vineyard that Quails’ Gate bought a few years ago. With an alcohol content of 14.9%, this is the “lighter” of the two red table wines. Grant Stanley, the current winemaker at Quails’ Gate, speculates that the extreme heat in the south Okanagan slightly retards the variety, which generally gets riper in the cooler West Kelowna site. The soils are different, too, and that may account for the fact that this wine seems a littler more tannic. It has appealing aromas and flavours of plum and spice. Some 2,784 cases have been released. The ideal food match would be venison. 87

Old Vines Foch Reserve 2007 ($39.99). Only 550 cases of this tour-de-force are available. This is a muscular wine of mouth-filling richness, with much finer tannins. The aromas show spice, plum and liquorice. On the palate, there are delicious flavours of spice, berries, chocolate and liquorice. The 15.5% alcohol is entirely appropriate for a fully ripe Foch. “Situation excellent” indeed. 90-92.

Fortified Vintage Foch 2007 ($22.99 for a half bottle). This is a port-style wine, fortified to 19% at some point during fermentation to preserve natural sweetness. Again, the wine has plum and chocolate flavours. Here the alcohol does stick out a bit. My tasting companion enjoyed the wine. My own view is that Foch lacks the structure and the complexity needed for a top Port but I am sure many will differ. The winery has released 400 cases.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Releases from Artisan Wine Co. and friends

The Artisan Wine Company is one of the Okanagan’s major wine producers but, since its wines appear under other labels, chances are that most consumers have never heard of it unless they read the fine print on back labels.

Artisan has the same owner and operates from the same winery in West Kelowna as Mission Hill Family Estate.

The strategy of a plethora of labels spanning the many price points is common among the large producers. It is a way of differentiating the prestige wines from the value wines.

Mission Hill is owner Anthony von Mandl’s prestige label. He bought the winery in 1981 and, during the last three decades, has transformed it profoundly. His announced ambition is that Mission Hill should rise to become one of the top 10 wineries in the world.

In recent years the Mission Hill portfolio has gone somewhat upmarket with its $70 Oculus, the flagship red in its expanding Legacy series; with super-premium wines under the SLC (Select Lots Collection) banner; and premium wines labelled as reserve. The wines are seldom less than $20.

Mission Hill still retains its Five Vineyards labels, mostly under $20 a bottle. These wines compete directly with some of the Artisan labels but they sell in such substantial volume that Mission Hill would be daft to drop them. The fourth and fifth largest selling VQA brands in the Liquor Distribution Branch in the year to March 31, 2009, were the Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio ($1.4 million) and the Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot (also $1.4 million).

The second biggest VQA seller, at $1.5 million, was the Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Pinot Grigio. (The number one remains Sumac Ridge’s Gewürztraminer at $2 million.)

Launched just three years ago, Prospect is the major VQA producer under the Artisan umbrella. The label has become so big (2009 sales topped $9 million) that it has its own winemaker, Wade Stark, and would easily rank among the top 20 B.C. wineries. The wines are all under $20 a bottle (except for icewine) and, generally, the quality over-delivers for the price.

The Artisan family also includes nine other labels: Fork in the Road, Rigamarole, B3, Forty Nine North, Sonoran Ranch, Painted Turtle, Mission Ridge, White Bear and Wild Horse Canyon. There are both VQA wines and non-VQA wines under the Artisan family.

There have been recent releases from Mission Hill and from two of the Artisan VQA labels. Here are my notes.

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($18.99). This white begins with attractive aromas of mango and tangerine, leading to herbal and citrus flavours. The finish has a zesty and refreshing crispness. 88-90.

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2007 ($24.99). This is a superb Merlot, plump and juicy, with spice and cedar aromas and flavours of black currants, mocha and even a hint of pepper. 88-90.

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2007 ($21.99). A dark wine with aromas of plum and spice and flavours of plum and cherry with classic gamy notes of the variety. There is a touch of pepper on the finish. The flavours developed beautifully after the wine was decanted. 88.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($22.95). The wine is a triumph, especially at this price. Dark in colour, it begins with attractive aromas of blueberry and blackberry. There is a multitude of flavours – blackberry, black cherry, plum, tobacco. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a full body. 90-92.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008 ($16.45). One should not ask too much of Pinot Noirs in this price range and nor will they ask much of you. This is a pleasant quaffer, a light wine with notes of cherry and classic silky texture. 85

Prospect Larch Tree Hill Riesling 2008 ($12.99). This is a very fine value dry Riesling, beginning with delicate aromas of citrus and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of lime with a touch of minerality. Even though there is little residual sugar, the concentration of fruit flavours delivers a sweet sensation before the wine finishes cleanly and crisply. One can enjoy this by the glass on its own or with a variety of food. 88

Prospect The Census Count Chardonnay 2008 ($12.99). Winemaker Wade Stark worked hard (with success) to make this a far more complex Chardonnay that one would expect at the price. Twenty per cent of the wine was barrel-fermented and aged six months on the lees. While oak is scarcely perceptible amid the lovely fruit flavours (papaya, tangerine, lemon), it adds a subtle richness to the texture. The wine is charming and easy to drink. 88

Prospect Birch Bark Canoe Pinot Blanc 2008 ($12.99). This wine reflects the appealing house style for Pinot Blanc at Mission Hill and associated wineries. While the variety can be neutral in the hands of other winemakers, here the wines always show a zesty, New Zealand-white styling. The fresh apple flavours in this wine have an appealing tang and the finish is crisp and fresh. 88

Prospect Major Allan Merlot 2007 ($12.99). Consumers usually do not decant wines in this price range. I think it would good to do so: while this red seemed a bit lean on first tasting it, it fleshed out appealingly in the bottle overnight. There are lively raspberry and plum flavours. 85-86

Prospect Haynes Barn Merlot Cabernet 2007 ($14.99). This is a blend of 51% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, aged 14 months in American and French oak barrels. Even so, I found this a fairly linear wine that could have benefit from riper fruit flavours. 85

Fork in the Road Oliver Block 212 White 2008 ($17.99). This white blend is screaming good value. It is a blend of 67% Chardonnay, 17% Sémillon, 7% Muscat, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Pinot Blanc, aged on the lees in French oak for seven months. With that treatment, you would expect the wine to cost a lot more. It has layers of fruit – apples, pears, melons, citrus – with an herbal and citrus aroma. It has good weight and a crisp, dry finish. 88

Fork in the Road Oliver Block 249 Red 2007 ($19.99). Again, great value. It is a blend of 53% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 14% Shiraz, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, aged 16 months in French and American oak. This is a big, satisfying red with aromas and flavours of blackberry, plum, cherry and vanilla. 88-90.