The vintages of 2010 and 2011 have been
among the most challenging ever faced by the wineries on Vancouver Island and
the Gulf Islands.
I approached last week’s Victoria tasting (the fourth annual) by the Wine
Islands Vintners Association with considerable curiosity to discover what
quality wines the producers managed to release. For the most part, they did
Let’s begin with two examples. For many
island producers, the signature white grape is Ortega, a cross created years
ago in Germany.
The parents are Müller-Thurgau, which on its own produces generally bland
wines, and Siegerrebe, an early ripening variety producing vividly fruity
whites. Ortega splits the difference – the wines are seldom bland but neither
have they inherited the exhibitionism of Siegerrebe.
There were two especially good 2011 Ortega
wines in the tasting room. Cherry Point
Ortega 2011 ($18.75) begins with powerful aromas of grapefruit and delivers
tangy flavours of lime and grapefruit, with a touch of spice on the crisp
Lane Ortega 2011 ($19) is a little more delicate
and less thespian than Cherry Point’s but is equally tasty, with citrus and
grassy aromas and flavours, and with a clean, crisp finish. 91.
Lane Siegerrebe 2011 ($19) is a new varietal from
this Saanich winery and also impressed me, with its juicy melon, grapefruit and
spice aromas and flavours – and with restraint for a variety that can be over
the top. 90.
Schulze Vineyards Millefiori 2010 ($23) is a blend
of Ortega and Siegerrebe. The wine displays the crisp, dry house style that
makes you reach for good west coast seafood. It begins with citrus and green
apple aromas and delivers fresh, tangy grapefruit flavours. 89.
The other white variety that has proven
itself in many coastal vineyards is Pinot Gris. In the Okanagan, the variety
usually produces ripe and fruity whites. In the cooler coastal terroir, the
variety usually produces lighter whites sometimes sold under the Italian
varietal name, Pinot Grigio, because the style is close to the light, low
alcohol style of the northern Italian examples.
Winery & Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2010 ($17) is
one such wine. The wine is crisp, light and delicate, with citrus and green
apple aromas and flavours. 87.
Similar in style, if not name, is 22 Oaks Pinot Gris 2010 ($18), with
appealing aromas and flavours of grapefruit and with a tangy, refreshing
On the other hand, Hans Kiltz, the owner of
Blue Grouse Estate Winery near Duncan,
likes Alsace Pinot Gris. He uses the French varietal name and makes his Pinot
Gris wines in that style. Blue Grouse
Pinot Gris 2009 ($25) – from the last hot vintage on the island – shows
good weight on the palate; it tastes of pear and apple and has a long,
satisfying finish. 90.
The obvious wine for Island
producers, given the bright acidity in most vintages, is sparkling wine. Venturi Schulze Brut Natural KS Cuvee 2008 ($35)
would be at home in a line-up of Champagnes.
It is made with two red and two white varietals, none of which the winery
discloses. Crisp and dry, it has yeasty aromas and flavours, along with notes
of citrus and pear, and with a big rush of creamy bubbles. 88.
Zanatta Winery & Vineyards, also just
has made sparkling wine a specialty. The flagship here is Zanatta Glenora Fantasia N.V. ($27), a wine made with the Cayuga
grape, a fruity white grown only by this winery. This wine delivers flavours of
apples and green melons along with lively bubbles and a crisply dry finish. 88.
As for red varietals, many coastal
producers are making Pinot Noir, but with mixed results. Some of the wineries,
in an effort to extract colour, are also extracting a little too much tannin. As
a result, youthful Island Pinot Noirs need to be cellared for a few years so
that the tannins soften and the fruit is liberated.
Now, there is much to be said for a mature
Pinot Noir. Hans Kiltz says that his Blue
Grouse Pinot Noir 2006 ($28) spent 18 months in barrel and three years in bottle
before release. This is a wine with good texture, with black cherry flavours
and with a hint of oak. Even at six years, the wine still has fresh fruit and a
lively acidity on the finish. 90.
Averill Creek Vineyard near Duncan prides itself on Pinot Noir (and, in fact, is one
of two British Columbia wineries invited to
the International Pinot Noir Conference in Oregon this year). Averill
Creek Pinot Noir 2009 ($26 for a production of 1,000 cases) is a lovely
fresh Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and strawberry. The
silky tannins that make a Pinot Noir so appealing have begun to develop. 89-90.
Creek Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($60) is probably the
wine that got the winery invited to the Oregon
conference. Not only does winery owner Andy Johnston tent his Pinot Noir to
kick start its growth; he benefited from a great vintage in 2009. This wine
announces itself with dramatic aromas of raspberry, strawberry mingled with
oak. On the palate, it is rich and full-bodied, with toasty strawberry flavours
and with silky tannins. 92.
A few other interesting reds flourish on
the coast. Garry Oaks Winery on Salt
has succeeded with Zweigelt, an Austrian red. Garry Oaks Zeta 2009 ($23) is a full-bodied red, with notes of
black cherry and blackberry and with a touch of spice on the finish. 90.
Grouse Black Muscat 2009 ($26) is an unusual red – a
dry red with a great deal of personality. It begins with an exotic note of
spice on the aroma and delivers bright brambly berry flavours, again with a
note of spice. This would be an excellent wine with venison. 91.
Several of the wineries have begun to
release reds made with Blattner hybrids which may or may not be the future of
Bordeaux-style reds on the Island. One of
these hybrids, called Cabernet Libre, strikes me as too untamed, with its smoky
nose and gamey flavours, although it is okay for blends. Cabernet Foch, on the
other hand, makes a fuller, smoother red. Enrico
Cabernet Foch 2010 ($17) is dark in colour, with aromas of plum and
chocolate and with flavours of plum and vanilla. 88.
The workhorse red hybrid still is Maréchal
Foch, a grape which ripens early, has a dark colour, good fruit and soft
tannins. Averill Creek released its Foch under a proprietary name, Prevost, in
the vintages 2007 through 2009.
Andy Johnston has concluded that the name
is not grabbing the consumer, even though the wines are good enough, so he is
changing the name to “Foch Cab”. The wine now is mostly Maréchal Foch with a
Blattner red in the blend. I was impressed by the yet to be released Foch Cab 2010 Reserve ($N.A.). This is
a bold, ripe red with juicy textures and spicy flavours of plum and black
The tasting in Victoria also include ciders (I missed both
producers), mead and fruit wines. Tugwell
Creek Honey Farm & Meadery Solstice 2010 ($19) is a lovely metheglin
(spice-flavoured) mead from B.C.’s first meadery. Just off-dry, this mead has a
long, long finish of honey and cloves. 88.
Short of time, I could get to only one of the
four fruit wineries – Blue Moon Estate Winery of the Comox Valley.
Nearly all of its fruit wines are dry and made in styles that pair easily with
fruit. I especially like Blue Moon
Sirius 2011 ($16.90), a dry and full-bodied wine made with seven different
apple varieties. It has the character and finish of good English cider. 89-90.
When it comes to dessert wines, Vancouver Island uses blackberries. Cherry Point Solera Blackberry ($26 for a half bottle) is so
port-like in its rich, barrel-aged flavours that the wine has a following among
the Navy officers at Esquimalt. 90.
Not to be missed is Venturi Schulze Brandenburg
No. 3 2008 ($35.60 for a half bottle), an amber-hued wine that tastes like
black currant jam but is balanced to finish off-dry. This wine would be
especially delicious with some creamy blue cheese. 90.