Robin Ridge Cabernet Franc 2014

Robin Ridge 2014 Cabernet Franc

Robin Ridge is a small winery owned by Tim and Carolyn Cotrill  on Middle Bench Road just outside of the town of Keremeos, BC in the Similkameen Valley. They are known for bold tasting wines, red, white, and rosé and have a following for their Gamay and Pinot Noir, both of which are generally more extracted in style than other Similkameen (or even Okanagan) producers.

Zooming In: The Region and The Winery

I truly believe that the Similkameen Valley is one of the wonders of the BC wine world. There is a reason why the pyramids in Egypt are placed where they are and there is a reason by wine grown in the Similkameen Valley is as beautiful as it is. The Similkameen benefits from wind – a lot of wind – in fact annoying amounts of wind at times. But the benefits to grape and fruit growers is that it dries off the vines and trees so that mould, mildew, and rot have little to now chance of taking hold. Unlike in the Okanagan, where some farmers use the downdraft from helicopters hovering over their orchards to dry off the fruit after a summer rain (I have personally seen this many, many times), growers in the Similkameen need only wait a short time before the wind picks up again to dry everything off.

Geologically, the Similkameen differs again from the Okanagan. Thought they were both influenced by glacial activity in the last ice age, the Okanagan was a major drain (possibly a conduit for sub-glacial meltwater – but that’s just a theory) while the Similkameen had ice which then melted away with no significant effluent thereafter. The result is that many of the debris fans that descend from the valley walls remain nearly intact right down to the river while those of the Okanagan (such as the Golden Mile Bench) have been cut off at the knees and now end in dramatic drop-offs to the valley floor.

Robin Ridge’s location is on a plateau of land that is on the fan emanating from the valley to the north that enters the Similkameen at Keremeos. This the valley down which travellers from Penticton will descend as they head towards Keremeos. It is a relatively flat part of the plateau and is surrounded on all sides by beautiful vistas of the mountains, including the famously talused ‘K’ mountain towering over the southern horizon.

WITG (What’s in the glass)

This is all blueberries, dark cherries, black tea, and vanilla (courtesy of their oak program, no doubt). There are tannins here and they are smooth and ripe, without a trace of green in any way. Like the other reds in their portfolio, there are some good tannins here, which I love, and they are not out of balance at all. It is a style that is sometimes described (erroneously, in my opinion) as rustic, but that misses the point. To me, ‘rustic’ implies that the winemakers are hicks and don’t know what they are doing and that is absolutely not the case here. This is not the first vintage of Cab France that I have tasted from Robin Ridge and the consistency of their other reds, Pinot Noir and Gamay, are remarkably regardless of whatever weather Mother Nature dishes out in a particular vintage.

The Big Three Questions

Is it good for what it is?

Absolutely, insofar as anyone knows what a Similkameen Cabernet Franc should really taste like. Has there been enough of them to really give a fair comparison? Probably not yet although I have had great experiences with other Francs from Cerelia, Eau Vivre, and Seven Stones.

Will it Age?

Yes, probably medium-term at most. There are tannins there to be the anti-oxidant firewall and the acidity is good but will the fruit remain intact for the long-haul? Hard to tell. I do regret not buying a second bottle to keep in the cellar for a little longer, at least into 2020.

Would I buy it again?

Yes indeed and I would do it easily if I saw it on a wine list at a restaurant.

In short…

A beautiful example of a rich, extracted-style Cabernet Franc from the Similkameen Valley.

Cheers from wine country!


Larch Hills Siegerrebe 2014

Larch Hills Winery Siegerrebe 2014

Now owned by Jack and Hazel Manser, Larch Hills Winery is close to Salmon Arm, BC and is situated on a stunning ridge that faces due south, staring straight down the barrel of what appears to be an extension of the northern Okanagan Valley. Their portfolio of wines is centred around German white varieties, which is eminently suitable for this very northern and high altitude site.

A note on pronounciation: I say it as “Sig-ur-RAY-bee”. It’s easy to remember it by saying, “It’s Siegerrebe, baby!”

Zooming In: The Region and The Winery

The North Okanagan and Shuswap regions are buzzing with wine making activity these days and it’s not hard to see why. It is beautiful here and often not has hot as the southern part of the Okanagan.BC interior’s first-ever commercial vineyard operation was in Salmon Arm in 1907 so there is a lot of history here too. It is far more rural however so fine dining amenities are not going to be in as easy reach as they are in other areas. The stunning beauty of the land makes up for it and the longer drives between wineries means that there is plenty of time to catch that scenery. The added bonus for winemakers here is that the price of land in this region is a lot less than it is around the Okanagan, therefore starting up a small winery takes a lot less cash.

Original owners Hans and Hazel Nevrkla planted the site in 1992 and opened Larch Hills twenty years ago in 1997. They selected a site by intuition which has largely been proven correct. Happily, Jack and Hazel Manser continue that tradition with great aplomb and offer a wonderful portfolio of wines along with an excellent visitor experience now matter what time of year it is.

Just driving to Larch Hills is an experience. It is really off of the beaten path, which is something that I really enjoy. They are perched on the north edge of a ridge that faces south and offers stunning views of the valley below towards Vernon in the far distance. Highway 97A continues north from Vernon and technically leaves the Okanagan Valley shortly after Armstrong, where the rivers begin flowing north into the Shuswap instead of flowing south into the Okanagan. It is hard not to see how it really looks like exactly the same valley, so why this sudden shift? In long-ago geological times, the Okanagan watershed actually drained north into the Shuswap, so the continuous valley walls that make up the scenery in this area were very much part of the same system. How times have changed!

WITG (What’s in the glass)

This wine is beautifully aromatic. Spicy white pears, elderflowers, thyme, lemon verbena, and a soft perfume are all big components in this wine’s aroma. This is exactly why I love this style of wine. It isn’t just all predictable fruit-forward flavours like peaches and apricots in South Okanagan viogniers or plums and vanilla in the hundreds of merlots that get bottled every year. It is fabulously challenging and interesting and that continues to be interesting long into the meal. This wine finishes slightly off-dry but there are other wines in their portfolio that are sweeter. It is finely balanced however which makes it easy to drink with food or without.

I chose to talk about the Siegerrebe for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I knew that it was going to be good with the dinner that I had this evening. Secondly, because I believe that Siegerrebe is a fascinating grape for BC wine. Now when I say “BC wine”, I don’t mean “Okanagan wine”, which is usually what people in the trade typically mean. I really mean ALL of the wine regions in BC. On my trip to Vancouver Island last summer, I tasted some excellent examples of this variety from Saanich, Cowichan, and Pender Island. Domaine de Chaberton (now Chaberton Estates Winery) has been doing Siegerrebe for years in the Fraser Valley and other Shuswap wineries like Recline Ridge have made excellent versions of this variety. Siegerrebe is everywhere in BC.

To me, THAT IS FASCINATING!! What other grape variety do we have that we can compare so many different regions within the same province??  At best, we can compare many similar varieties between the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys and perhaps one could argue that Pinot Noir is in a few other regions as well. The dark horse sneaking up behind the pack is really Siegerrebe, and I find that amazing. Maybe I’m easily amazed, but I don’t think so. I think that is great and I look forward to doing a tasting at some point in the future that features as many Siegerrebes as possible just to see how they differ from region to region.

The Big Three Questions

Is it good for what it is?

As an aromatic white wine, it is beautiful. Complex, balanced, and endlessly intriguing. There is something about the aromatic wines that I have always found attractive (starting with Sumac Ridge’s Gewurztraminer when I first moved to BC). This wine is not overloaded with residual sugar to throw off the balance nor is it super-high in alcohol. Finishing the bottle at dinner is not going to make cleaning the dishes afterwards a potentially dangerous task.

Will it Age?

Probably not and, personally, I would probably never let it get farther away from 4 or 5 years from vintage if possible. These are fresh and fruity wines and if they are not fresh, then they probably won’t be fruity either. To me, that’s the draw for this style so these go in the easy-access areas of my cellar.

Would I buy it?

Yes, absolutely. I bought this last January while visiting the winery on a beautiful sunny afternoon and would love to return there to buy more at some point soon. I highly recommend this wine to anyone looking for a wine that shows something unique to BC.

In short…

Germanic varieties and styles of wines are a big part of BC wine’s history that include not only the grape varieties but the German-trained winemakers who have been a part of our industry here for decades. With plantings becoming more common around the province and a push by wineries to make this variety more commonly known, this is one grape variety to start seeking out. You will not be disappointed.

Cheers from wine country!



Vertical Party – Nota Bene 05-12

DSC_7450These are the bottles from my Nota Bene vertical tasting this past weekend. I’m happy to report that there were no corked bottles and that everything was showing brilliantly. As my regular readers will know, I hate writing (and reading) wine reviews but I was asked a few times on twitter if there were any of these wines that stood out. There were, but Twitter is a difficult place to explain things that require more than a half-baked thought. With only one exception, I was also amazed at how contiguous the whole collection was and thought that this in itself merited a summary here.

If you’ve never heard of a vertical tasting, it is tasting the same wine from many different vintages on one occasion. I would suggest that it requires a minimum of at least 3 vintages to get a fair idea of the wines’ characteristics. The point is not just to have a ton of wine at a party (a nice side-effect) but rather to have lots of wine with slight variations due to the different vintages. All wines will show slight differences although I believe that larger, commercially manufactured wines are by nature designed to minimize these differences. It is an illuminating experience.

As I had worked regularly with the 4 most recent vintages of this wine for 7 months this past year, I became very familiar with its moods. I had tried every vintage here before although never all in one sitting. I’d been building and saving this collection since 2006 with the intention of having it for a special event or occasion and it seemed to me that the time was right.

Nota Bene is always made with only 3 grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. With three exceptions since 1999, they have always been in that order. 1999 and 2012 were Merlot-dominant and 2000 was Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and then Merlot. The only outlier in this particular set was the Merlot-dominant 2012.

For me, the stand outs were the ’07 and the ’10. Here are my thoughts on all of the vintages in the order that I tasted them from oldest to youngest.

2005 – One word – yum. Still got some years left in it if you dare. I can’t because that was my last bottle but I would hold onto at least one for another year or two. It had softened beautifully without getting flabby. It was noticeably more delicate than the others and was covered by some of the more robust food items. Even still, the flavours were beautiful and complex which made this wine a joy to sip.

2006 – The one sore thumb for me was the ’06. It had far more oxidized, prune aromas than any of the other vintages. It wasn’t just that this particular bottle was off because of a failing cork, this is the consistent direction that the wine has been progressing since 2013. This is the vintage that I had the most bottles – a case – that was purchased in the infamous 47-minute online sell-out in 2008. It was brilliant in its youth, a little closed from 3-5 years old, and then it blossomed after that. But it kept blossoming and kind of went over the edge, in a way. The last 3 bottles that I’d opened over the past year indicated that it was headed for an early demise which made me concerned for the condition of the ’05 (needlessly, as it turned out). Let me clear though – it’s not that I didn’t like it, I did. Erin from Vines and Designs tweeted this as one of her 3 preferred vintages that evening. I enjoyed it as well but it stood out because of this very different flavour profile.

20150118-093305.jpg2007 – At just over 7 years of age now, the ’07 was right in that prime target area for where I think NB is most expressive. I think NB shines in the range from 6-9 years of age but that is entirely subjective on my part. It’s what I enjoy most out of it and nothing else. The aromas and flavours were complex and tannins and acidity were present but smooth and rounded. It really was the stand-out for me in this set.

2008 – This wine was the next car in the NB train that is going to get there but isn’t due to pull into the station yet. It’s showing well and is consistent with NB but hasn’t arrived yet. After 24 more hours in a decanter, it was showing beautifully.

2009 – See 2008 above. In the vertical tastings that I lead at Black Hills last year, this was usually the wine favoured by customers. But in my opinion is still only starting on its trip. Like the ’08, it showed better after 24 hours.

2010 – The ’10 was like a more youthful ’07. I thought it had the same complexity and range but was just a little more aggressive. With 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, this was the roughest wine of the 4 that we offered in the Black Hills Wine Experience Centre last summer. No other vintage of NB has ever had that much Cab Sauv. Last summer it was hidden, rough, and was rarely the vintage favoured by customers. I enjoyed its potential though and was really looking forward to trying it in this vertical. It didn’t disappoint at all. This was the only wine that I went back for seconds.

2011 – More closed than a coffee shop in Vancouver at 9pm.

The spread.

The spread.

2012 – Still has the freshness and vigour of a youthful wine but will probably loose that over the next year if it stays consistent with the previous 8 vintages of NB that I’ve experienced. This is only the second Merlot-dominated vintage so it could clear its own path away from the norm. Either way, it will be a fascinating vintage to follow. There is still a little of it left which I plan on trying tonight or tomorrow.

For the wine-nerd record, the bottles were all opened 1-2 hours before being served. The vintages ’05-’08 were decanted, ’09 had a Nuance wine finer, and ’10 and up were not decanted at all.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable flight in its proper setting – a dinner party featuring many foods that pair well with a meritage. We had lamb skewers, beef stew, pork ribs, and charcuterie along with an overwhelming set of accompanying tasty dishes. I’ve done vertical tastings before many times before and the clinical nature of the settings tends to focus on aspects of the wine that frankly I find irrelevant. A big part of what I enjoyed about presenting wines at Black Hills last year was that it was a more natural terroir for enjoying wine, a topic that I’ve covered previously on this blog. I’ve never been to a party where everyone sits down with 8 different pizza slices in front them, takes notes, and then compares their thoughts on each one after tasting them in silence. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to go to one.

If you haven’t done a vertical tasting at a party, I highly recommend it. Most everyone at my party were involved in the wine industry in some way but it is something that can still be enjoyed by anyone at all. Find a wine you like, save a few years’ worth of it (I suggest a minimum of 3 vintages), find some good food to pair, and away you go. It’s really not that more complicated than that and nor should it be. The point isn’t to show off your wines to your friends, it’s to share it and enjoy it all together.

Cheers from wine country!


Golden Mile, Indeed

Golden Mile, Indeed

A wonderful customer at the wine shop I work at in Vancouver popped in to let me try his Golden Mile Cellars 2005 Pinot Noir. He had recently purchased a Pinot Noir vertical from Road 13 that included wines from their previous Golden Mile Cellars label. This particular is definitely at its peak and should be enjoyed within the year. The tawny hue and delicate aromas of mushroom, pencil shavings, tobacco, and cherry really make this wine memorable. Thank you for sharing such a special wine with me.


Love this wine…

I know, it’s a little bit of a broken record for me. I’ve already mentioned this wine before but it still stands out and it did again recently.

Why aren’t there more wines like this in the Okanagan? It has a little spice. It has tons of fruit. It is beautifully balanced – vibrant acidity, moderate alcohol, and wonderful fruit (did I mention that already?) It goes with everything – burgers, pork, turkey, grilled beast-of-choice, chicken and really shines well with spaghetti and Italian food (which is a tough draw for most BC reds). Most recently I tried it with an Italian hot-pot and it totally outshone a big, alcoholic, woody meritage that was also going around the table.

It also has that purity and clarity-of-fruit thing that I’ve been noticing lately among the organic wineries around the Okanagan lately. They’ve won international awards for this and past vintages of their Zweigelt and they probably will for future vintages.  This is the 2nd (or 3rd?) vintage of their Zweigelt that I have tried and this one isn’t just a happy-accident vintage.

Learn about Zweigelt here.

Kalala Organic Estate Winery.

Podcast #40 featuring Kalala Zweigelt.

As most of you already know, I seldom do wine reviews here on Wine Country BC. We include tastings for opinions on our podcasts because it’s fun but beyond that, who really cares what we think? No one knows your palate like you do, so trust it and don’t let anyone tell you that your palate is wrong. So when a wine stands out in a crowd like this one has done (a few times now) I thought it might be interesting to share that experience.

(For the more cynical people out there (like myself), I am not being paid by anyone to push any particular wine or winery as part of some grand covert social-media marketing strategy. If that were really the case, I am clearly a failing at it and having to save my pennies for every single bottle of wine for the podcasts.)

At 17: Ode to a Lang Icewine

In light of the recent activities at Holman-Lang, my thoughts turned to the past when I was recently treated to a taste of the golden age of Naramata’s Lang Vineyards. And let me tell you, it was absolutely golden in every way.

I don’t usually do tasting notes here because I find them pretty boring to read. But this one merits a little note because it was a 1993 Riesling Icewine and it was unbelievable. It looked like amber and tasted like gold. Almonds, hazelnuts, honey, earthy minerals and dried apricots on the nose with Granny-Smith apple pie, peaches and more apricots on the palate. It still had a vibrant acidity and was expertly balanced – not too sweet, not too tangy – it was just right.

To be honest, icewine is something that I rarely take time to enjoy. The huge volume of sugar just overloads me and I just don’t feel very good after drinking icewine. There are a few recently that I’ve found that I enjoy but I’ll mostly bring them out at parties, have a tiny sip for myself and watch everyone else enjoy themselves. But this one was different. At 17 years old, this Riesling icewine had entered the prime of its life and it was the perfect time to taste it and reflect on one of BC’s pioneering wineries. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass me by.

Whatever the future holds for Lang and the rest of the wineries in the Holman-Lang group, I’m glad I had the chance to enjoy a truly great wine from a time when BC wine was just starting to build its reputation into what it is today. Cheers to the pioneers of BC wine!

Pinot Gris 2008 from Gray Monk

Ok, if you’re going to name your winery after a slang term for a grape, that winery better produce a great version of wine from that particular grape. That’s what Gray Monk has done again and again and this year is no exception.

Gray Monk has been around for quite a long time (by BC standards) and dates back to the late 1970’s. They have a large variety of wines in different styles to choose from and people who know their wines tend to have a favorite. A friend of mine picked out their Late Harvest Kerner as their absolute favorite white wine of all time. My wife frequently bought the Latitude 50 whites and reds, which is the first Gray Monk wine that I tried. Some people go for the Ehrenfelser or the Siegerebbe. They also have an outstanding pinot noir and a couple of different merlots. But the pinot gris is their namesake and that’s what makes this wine interesting for me.

I’ve had their gris in years past, probably starting with the ’01, which was out when I went there for the first time in the early spring of ’03 (my first real visit to ‘wine country’). The ’08 has that same aroma that always makes me remember that first visit (the Mission Hill Pinot Blanc does the same for me as well for some reason…) so there must be something to their grapes that gives them that kind of consistency. Anyways, this wine has a beautiful aroma of lemon meringue pie (like a sweet lemony aroma) mixed with a little flinty/mineral component that makes gives a little zing. The palate has some similar flavours with a little orange zest in there as well. It’s a beautiful, yummy wine that I would pair with some light appies (spinach & artichoke dip anyone?) or just enjoy it on its own, which is actually something that I rarely do.

In all, it’s a delightful wine that delivers on value, consistency and taste. Enjoy!

Zweigelt 2008 from Kalala Organic Estate

There hasn’t been a wine review in a while and this one caught my palate this afternoon, so here goes.

Kalala Organic Estate Winery’s Zweigelt 2007 did great things including winning a medal at the Northwest Wine Summit last spring. I remember it being quite bold and spicy, like a pinot noir with attitude. Their recent Zweigelt ’08 does not follow the ’07 in style but it is still a very interesting wine.

The ’08 is lighter in body and color that its predecessor. There is a good dose of black pepper, straw and cocoa on the nose, with a little dark cherry aromas in the background. It was quite light on the palate with flavours of sour cherries and cinnamon. It was bracingly acidic, which threw me for a little bit. Although at this point the wine is still quite young, I wasn’t quite prepared for that much acidity and thought it to be a little over the top.

Thinking about it a little more though, I remembered that I’ve always had trouble finding a good local wine to pair with Italian food. The best wines for Italian food have usually always been Italian wines, at least that’s the easy way. Italian wines can be quite acidic, which is what makes them pair well with tomato-based sauces or cream sauces. The ’08 Kalala Zweigelt would also match that style perfectly. It’s got more than enough acidity and fruit to match anything marinara sauce without any oak to get in the way. The next time I have a cannelloni, lasagna, or anything with an alfredo sauce, I’m going to try it with this Zweigelt. It might just be the wine that can match with foods that others from BC can’t. At the very least it’s different and good on them for making food worthy wine.

Okanagan Fall Winefest 2009

Hello all, and thank you for a great wine festival! It’s a special time of year when the leaves turn, and the fruit on the vine is coming in! The wineries are just get gearing up for a busy harvest with the cool weather coming sooner than expected….. most of the grapes are being processed already!

It’s been a great season, a long and warm autumn, and with things slowing down some now, I am able to think back on some of the great wines I’ve tasted these last few months and share some of them with you, along with their aproximated availability.

Road 13 Viognier Roussanne Marsanne ’08 (winery only)

Silk Scarf Viognier ’08 (winery and private retailers)

8th Generation Riesling Classic ’08 (winery, VQA stores, private retailers)

Twisted Tree Syrah ’07 (winery, VQA stores, private retailers)

Sumac Ridge Pipe ’05 (winery only)

Painted Rock Syrah ’07 (winery only)

Quails’ Gate ‘Stewart Family Reserve’ Chardonnay ’07 (winery, VQA stores)

Dunham Froese Pinot Blanc ’08 (winery, VQA stores, private retailers)

Kettle Valley Pinot Gris ’08 (winery, private retailers)

Sonoran Oraniensteiner Icewine ’07 (winery, private retailers)


Doing what we do, we are fortunate to taste many awesome wines, and it was hard to choose ten, but these are a few that are still available as I write this… and remember, the best wines never last, find them quick or you will have to wait ’til next year. Cheers!

Old Vines Foch 2007 from Quail’s Gate Estate Winery

Alright, I have to admit that I have a been a member of the ‘Foch Club’ for a while. I first tried Quail’s old vines foch a while ago with the 2000 or 2001 vintages and they were great – they were big and tasty without the drying tannic feel that usually accompanies big red wines. The local wine store manager told me that the foches from Quail’s had a loyal following and that the few cases that they were given were usually snapped up quite quickly.

So I was a little more than excited when I first saw the new vintage of the foch arrive from Quail’s Gate recently. It has a complex nose – sage, tar, black liquorice and red cherries – quite complex and a refreshing change from some of the simpler wines that we had been tasting earlier that week. It wasn’t as complex on the palate but had a good combination of dark fruit, plums, tar and leather to make it interesting.

Medium acid and low tannins, which is par for the course when it comes to foch, means that this variety doesn’t really age all that well. I learned that one the hard way when my 2001 foch from Quail’s Gate sat for 5 years in my less-than-ideal condo cellar. When we opened it, the fruit had left the building and taken most of the furniture with it. It tasted like dirt, although good quality dirt. This foch-not-really-good-at-aging thing was confirmed that same year when, visiting some family in Toronto, they opened a bottle of a ’98 foch from the Niagara with similar results. I like earthy, rustic, old-world style wines as much as anyone, but I do like to have at least a hint of fruit to remind me that the liquid in the glass did come from a grape.

Anyways, back to the ’07 Quail’s Gate Old Vines Foch – it is still hands down the best in the Okanagan and the ones to which all other foches aspire. It should be widely available throughout BC in specialty and VQA stores. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Are you the newest member of the foch club?