Canada

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View from Mission Hill

This summer Jamie Goode and I converged on the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in British Columbia and spent a week there touring wine country together. The trip then culminated in a few additional days serving as International Judges for the annual National Wine Awards of Canada.

Combining the two events – touring some of British Columbia wine and the National Wine Awards judging – gave a great opportunity to both dig deep into the local region’s wines and then get an overview on the state of Canadian wine as well. There were so many great people along the way I even felt home sick after leaving. It’s a special and strange thing to feel right at home with people so easily.

Okanagan and Similkameen really impressed me. Parts of both valleys are so beautiful it is almost shocking. About half way through the trip, for example, I woke up in the middle of the night of a full moon. I was turned towards the open windows and awoke to a full panorama of the moon lighting up Okanagan Falls – an incredible valley largely undisturbed by industry, carved on each of four sides by young mountain peaks. It was overwhelming to go from full sleep to that scene at first view. What a treat.

Though far smaller than the Okanagan, Similkameen too hosts a range of beauties. It’s one of those regions that feels like suddenly falling back in time to something closer to frontier explorations just by driving around one last corner and popping into the valley. It also hosts the highest concentration of organic farming in the entire country of Canada. A couple hours into our day there we even got interrupted by cowboys driving their cattle up the highway. It’s one of those things that in a movie or television show would look far too staged to believe but in real life reminds you of the incredible diversity of this planet.

One of the other special moments came in meeting Justin Hall, assistant winemaker at Nk’Mp also in charge of the white wine program, the first aboriginally owned winery in North America. Justin is also the first indigenous winemaker in North America, and I’m the first Alaska Native/Native American wine writer. Justin and I had so much fun chatting and laughed a lot about contemporary realities of Native life. Later when I tried to recount parts of the conversation to some non-Natives they had no sense of what I was talking about whereas when I called my mom a couple days later and recounted the conversation to her she couldn’t stop laughing. Indian humor. Whatya gonna do?

The wines from the region cover a real range. It’s a relatively young region with vitis vinifera really only taking hold in the late 1980s, though modern planting started in the 1960s and 1970s. (First vineyards arrived in the Okanagan as early as the 1850s, earmarked for sacramental wine but the region went through a massive replant to European varieties towards the end of the 1900s.) With a relatively young modern wine industry the quality and stylistic interests of the region are profoundly diverse – younger regions tend to show a wider expanse of style as people experiment with what grows best and makes the best wines. Those wines that rise to the top from the area are special. There are some distinct and beautiful wines coming from the region with a few people really devoting themselves to understanding the unique conditions of their home and what it means to make wine of that place. I’ll get into some of those projects more in a future post but in the meantime here’s a look back at my Instagram collection from the trip that will give you a taste for how very much is happening in the Okanagan and Similkameen for wine.

 

Wine writers at the lake. @drjamiegoode + @hawk_wakawaka + the Okanagan. #bcwine

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The man goes out for his run. @drjamiegoode + the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Leaning in at Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna overlooking Lake Okanagan. #bcwine

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Entering the Pyramid…

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Based on principles of sacred geometry Summerhill ages their biodynamically farmed wines inside a four-sided pyramid (shown here looking to the top of the pyramid) w angles matching the Great Pyramids of Giza + the north wall facing true north w no metal forming the structure of the building. Tonight for the Summer Solstice the pyramid will host a meditation circle. Asked what they believe the pyramid does, the Summerhill team explained they believe the pyramid accentuates + clarifies whatever is there. For aging wines, then, they are careful to make sure the wines that go into the pyramid are essentially free of flaws. In their view, in the pyramid flawed wines become more flawed. Good wines get better. In the Mission of east Kelowna overlooking the shores of Lake Okanagan. #bcwine

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@drjamiegoode + @hawk_wakawaka in pursuit of balance. cc: @rajatparr @jasminehirsch #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Stunning in Okanagan Falls. View from @liquiditywines #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Regional Chardonnay tasting looking at 5 subzones of Okanagan Valley. #bcwine

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Wine writers practicing their healthy skepticism for the sake of objectivity… #bcwine

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Proper desert cactus beneath Orofino Mountain along the Upper Bench of Similkameen Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

And then there were Cowboys… #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… real ones. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Walking the Little Farm @littlefarmwine near Cawston in Similkameen Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Delicious, refreshing, fresh. Awesome wine. #bcwine

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This is fricking good. #bcwine

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We call this a good time. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Dear Canada, this whole duck confit for dinner, duck confit for breakfast thing? I’m a big fan. Love, Elaine #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Fresh + sophisticated whites at Le Vieux Pin. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Really fun group for an interesting + delicious Syrah tasting. #bcwine

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… and two hours later the sky has cleared again. June in the Okanagan. #bcwine

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It is honestly shocking how good cherries from the Lake Okanagan area are. These darker ones are juicy fantastic. #bcwine

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Jamie @drjamiegoode + Bill @billzacharkiw playing while we all sing… #nwac16

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… with some of the best wine folks on the planet. #nwac16

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Cheers!

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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What Makes a Cool Climate? Keynote from Ian D’Agata, i4C+ 2016

Ian d'Agata

i4C+ 2016 Keynote Speaker Ian d’Agata

Ian D’Agata opened this year’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration with greetings in Italian. The venerable wine writer heralds originally from Canada and has devoted his life since to understanding Italian wine. Most recently, in 2015 his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy was awarded wine book of the year by the prestigious Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards. At Vinous.com, D’Agata serves as Senior Editor and Head of Development for Europe & Asia. He has stands as a self-described champion of Canadian wine.

In his keynote address, D’Agata considered the notion of a cool climate, asking what the nomenclature means without formal definition. As he pointed out, regions that count as cool climates in the world of wine “get just as hot at the peak of the season” as other warm climates of the world but, importantly, cool climate temperatures drop more quickly approaching harvest. Grapes at harvest, then, are picked at a different point in the arc of ripening “insuring the wines taste differently” than those from fruit selected at higher temperatures.

He pointed out that growing degree days and mean temperature indexes offer only rudimentary insight into the growing conditions of a region. Instead, a latitude index also being integrated into degree day measurements offer additional insight. D’Agata emphasized the challenges of classifying cool climate regions as no single measurement can discern them from other climate types. He pointed out that factors such as diurnal shift, solar radiation, soil type and its drainage, the average length of a growing season and the demand to plant for heat conservation are all relevant considerations. Cool climates, as he pointed out, limit grape ripening and include the sincere threat of damage to the vines in the winter due to weather.

When considering the wines themselves, D’Agata explains that “the hallmarks of cool climate wines” include high perceived acidity, brightness, freshness, crispness, minerality and that these characteristics “tend to be achieved naturally without excessive intervention.” Flavors, D’Agata mentioned from cool climate wines tend to include notes like citrus, melon, minerality and salinity. He also pointed out that to some degree cellar interventions can adulterate otherwise cool climate wines. In his view excessively apparent oak and overall flabbiness to the wine tend to hide cool climate character.

As he continued, D’Agata questioned the degree to which these hallmarks of a cool climate can be achieved in otherwise warmer regions. The implication was that generally speaking it is harder to capture the constellation of qualities common to cooler climates simply by picking earlier (for example) in a warmer one. At the same time, he acknowledged that no growing region is homogenous. In any region there may be specific mesoclimates with unique soil, drainage, aspect, and temperature etc that when all in balance deliver cooler character in an otherwise warmer clime.

With all of this in mind, D’Agata noted that truly understanding cool climate regions depends on considering latitude, growing degree days and expression in the wines themselves.

Finally, and in recognition to our event hosts, D’Agata emphasized that in his view Chardonnays from Canada really are world class. He pointed out that he can speak to how wines of the region have improved and the industry has grown since the late 1980s and early 1990s when “it was much harder going” tasting the wines. At the time, “I was very proud to bring back Ontario wines to my wine snob friends in Italy,” he joked. He continued, “and they would laugh me out of the room.” But when he brings back wines of Canada to taste with his friends in Rome today, he says, “I tell you, they’re not laughing anymore.” The wines today are good.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

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The Judgment of BC

View from the Judges Seat, Judgment of BC

This week I’ve been touring wine country of the Okanagan Valley with Jamie Goode and our trusty (and patient) tour pilot, Laura Kittmer. We’re hosted by the BC Wine Institute and welcomed by WineAlign to help judge the annual National Wine Awards of Canada looking at wines from across Canada at the close of our visit.

One of the highlights of the trip so far was participating in the 2nd Annual Judgement of BC. The tasting brought 29 top tasters from across Canada, as well as Jamie and myself, to blind taste and rank 12 wines from BC against 12 wines of the world. It was arranged in two flights, one pinot noir, the other riesling, both evenly split between BC and International wines. The event was sponsored by the BC Wine Institute and organized by Canadian wine educator DJ Kearney.

The inaugural event last year celebrated Steven Spurrier visiting British Columbia wine country for the first time and looked at Syrah and Chardonnay. As DJ Kearney explained, the goal for the Judgment of BC is not to ask who is best in the world but rather to investigate how BC wines rank against standard bearers from around the world. It’s an opportunity to investigate how well a relatively young wine region is doing on the world stage in terms of quality.

It was an honor to become part of the group present for the tasting. It’s a group that includes top writers, sommeliers, and buyers from across the country. Jamie also served as a judge last year. This year they decided to include a second international judge as well and kindly invited me.

DJ did a masterful job selecting wines. The international wines were all chosen purposefully to offer wines known as standards from their region meant to both push the local industry towards quality and give the judges insight into how local wines are actually doing currently. Wines were also selected to be in a relatively comparable price range.

As a taster one of the things I found most insightful was that when it came to quality the wines of BC were on par with the international selection. It was profoundly difficult for judges across the board to accurately select the BC contingent from their international counterparts.

Here are the final rankings. Judges were asked to taste each of the two flights and rank wines 1 to 12. Judges’ results were then added together and averaged to determine the final rank for the wines.

Pinot Noir

1. Bouchard Pere Premier Cru Beaune Clos de la Mousse Monopole 2012 Burgundy, France 13%
2. Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 Willamette Valley AVA Oregon USA 14%
3. Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand 14%
4. Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2014 Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5%
5. Meyer Family Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Okanagan Valley, BC 13%
6. Quail’s Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Falls, BC 12.5%
7. Blue Mountain Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Falls, BC 12.5%

Two wines tied for 8th place:

Thibault Liger-Belair Bourgogne Les Grands Chaillots 2012 Burgundy, France 13%
JoieFarm Reserve En Famille Pinot Noir 2012 Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC 13.6%

10. BK Wines Skin n’ Bones Pinot Noir 2013 Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5%
11. Moraine Pinot Noir 2013 Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC 13.1%
12. Meomi Pinot Noir 2014 California, USA 13.7%

Though I was disappointed to see Meomi in the tasting (yes, I did score it 12 as well in my personal ranking of the wines), DJ was smart in her explanation of why it was included. Meomi is the number one selling Pinot Noir in all of British Columbia by a large margin and she felt it was important for judges to be aware of what that market share looks and tastes like in the context of global wine. Not all judges ranked it in last place.

Riesling

1. Max Gerd Richter Grazer Himmelreich Riesling Kabinette 2013 Mosel Valley, Germany 9%
2. Cedar Creek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 Okanagan Valley BC 12.2%
3. Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013 Okanagan Falls BC 13.3%
4. Chateau Ste Michelle & Dr Loosen Eroica Riesling 2013 Columbia Valley AVA Washington 12%
5. Leeuwin Art Series Riesling 2012 Margaret River, Australia 12%
6. Synchromesh Storm Haven Vineyard Riesling 2015 Okanagan Falls BC 8.9%
7. Culmina Decora Riesling 2015 Okanagan Valley BC 13.5%
8. Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2014 South Australia 12%
9. Robert Weil Kiedricher Riesling Trocken 2012 Rheingau, Germany 11.5%
10. Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 Okanagan Valley BC 13.1%
11. Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2013 Similkameen Valley BC 12%
12. Trimbach Riesling 2012 Alsace, France 12.5%

It was interesting to judge both flights blind partially because of the mix of styles and sugar levels for both sets of wines. Ranking them was very much an exercise in looking for harmony and quality regardless of style.

Before results were announced judges had the opportunity to judge amongst themselves and beyond the judging, just in terms of personal interest, some expressed a strong preference against the sweet styles while others notes that the RS in some cases brought the balance to the wine.

In my own case I noticed I was more willing to allow RS in the Rieslings than the Pinots and did feel that in the case of the Rieslings the high acidity levels sometimes benefited from a bit of sweetness. In other words, my views here remained consistent with how I’d viewed tasting Riesling previously.

It’s been a ton of fun to investigate BC wines and get to know the people of the region. I’m looking forward to tasting wines from across Canada when Jamie and I join the final rounds of the National Wine Awards.

If you want to read more about the event, this article offers some additional information from one of the other judges:

http://myvancity.ca/2016/06/22/the-wines-of-british-columbia-stand-up-to-the-world-at-the-second-annual-judgment-of-bc-wine-tasting/

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

For Love of Pinot Meunier

Last year I celebrated 12 Days of Christmas by enjoying a different 100% Pinot Meunier every day for 12 days. It was wonderful. Pinot Meunier is the grape that made me irretrievably fall in love with wine. Burgundy and Tuscan Sangiovese were the two wines that had made me start paying attention to wine, but it was Pinot Meunier that ruined me for life.

It’s no small thing that Pinot Meunier won my heart. Though it is widely planted through Champagne, it is actually quite uncommon to find a 100% Pinot Meunier bottling anywhere sparkling or still. So for me to happen upon a still red Pinot Meunier by Eyrie Vineyards rather accidentally early in my wine education is surprising.

Though claims have long been made that the variety doesn’t age, the truth is Pinot Meunier can age wonderfully. I’ve been lucky enough to taste examples of still red Pinot Meunier from as far back as the 1970s that not only held up but developed a sultry earthiness in that delicate frame I couldn’t get enough of.

There has also often been talk of the variety lacking finesse for sparkling wines but, again, with the right vintners that couldn’t be further from the truth. My very favorite examples have been extra brut or no dosage. The fleshiness of the grape seems to do well without added sugar. That said, there are some delicious examples of brut sparkling Pinot Meunier as well. Egly Ouriet brut “Les Vigney des Vrigny” was the first sparkling example I ever tasted years ago and it’s definitely recommended.

Visions from Instagram

Over on Instagram I share photos with explanatory captions when I’m on wine trips or working on detailed projects, like the 12 Days of Pinot Meunier. With the wine trips especially the collection of photos from a particular wine region tend to go fairly in depth and all together share the story of a region.

I’ve been asked by several of my readers if I’d be willing to gather some of these photo sets from Instagram and share them here so that the information is more readily accessible. Over the next several months in the New Year, then, I’ll be posting some of those regional collections here alongside more in-depth features on producers from those regions.

Several people also asked if I’d please share my holiday with Pinot Meunier from Instagram here. With that in mind, here is the collection captured from Instagram in screen shots. Thank you for asking, and enjoy!

Happy Holidays!

12 Days of Pinot Meunier

Day 1: The Eyrie Vineyards 1996 Pinot Meunier

Day 2: La Closerie Les Beguines (2009)

Day 3: Lelarge Pugeot Les Meuniers de Clemence (2010)

Day 4: Breech et Fils Vallée de la Marne (2009)

Day 5: Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres (2009)

Day 6: Best’s Great Western 2012 Old Vine Pinot Meunier

Day 7: Christophe Mignon 2008 Brut Nature 

Day 8: Teutonic 2013 Borgo Pass Vineyard

Day 9: Vineland 2011 Pinot Meunier

Day 10: Darting 2012 Pinot Meunier Trocken; Heitlinger 2009 Blanc de Noir Brut 

Day 11: René Geoffroy 2008 Cumières Rouge Coteaux Champenois. 

Day 12: Lahore Freres Blanc de Noirs 2009 + Rosé de Saignée w Eyrie 2012 Pinot Meunier

To follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hawk_wakawaka/

I also received numerous requests to get Hawk Wakawaka t-shirts back in stock over at my shop. So, Pho t-shirts and Pinot Noir t-shirts are now both available in a range of sizes, as are my biodynamics posters and Corison 25-yr Vertical art prints. Here’s the link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/HawkWakawaka

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.