Ageing Wines – Why Bother?

Here we go – another off-shoot of my Nota Bene vertical tasting from earlier in January. This is something that I think is an extension of many other articles that I’ve been writing lately. On we go…

Why bother buying a bottle of wine and then waiting 7 years to open it? How ridiculous is that? Why do some people do it?

20140425-193555.jpgI’ve had more than a few customers guffaw at my suggestion that this or that wine can be aged for up to 10 years. The typical reply is something like, “Wine doesn’t last more than a few days in our house!” and then they look to their spouse / friend / entourage for the requisite approving laughter.

Most wine made today isn’t meant for long-term ageing. I remember a wine teacher of mine saying that 99% of all wine produced is meant for consumption within 2 years. Most of it probably will be anyway regardless of the producers’ intent.

So what is the point of ageing wine?

Mature wine tastes different. A well made wine is smoother, more complex, and full of nearly unidentifiable aromas and flavours that would not have been apparent without age. The way that I describe it to customers is that young wine has all kinds of easily identifiable flavours – black fruits, red fruits, cocoa, chocolate, vanilla, campfire smoke, etc. As the wine ages, those flavours will change, mutate, and intertwine into things like coffee, burned almonds, and maybe blueberry teacake. As the wine gets even older, the flavours become less easy to identify. They turn into something that still smells good but for some reason just doesn’t trigger a sense memory as easily. This is where the most bizarre descriptors, that some people like to make fun of, are often used. A very good taster will be able to perceive some of these aromas earlier on in the life of the wine and be able to predict what will happen as it ages.

Up until about 50 years ago, wine making technology had not yet evolved to be able to make a wine that was palatable when it was young. Only certain areas producing softer wine styles (like Beaujolais) were able to produce wines that could be consumed very young. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, mature wine was preferred in the Roman empire and it was also possible that the Greeks aged their wines as well. It was not done in bottles as we know today but rather in casks (barrels and larger vats).

DSC_3031Bottles sealed with corks became available for ageing in the 17th century but this did not become widespread even by the time of Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. Bottles were (and still are) difficult to transport safely without breaking so bottling at the destination was common until the early 20th century. Even still, the wines weren’t really ready to drink.

It wasn’t until the invention of certain winery techniques and technology that people were able to make wine that was ready to drink sooner. Protecting the grapes, juice, and young wine from oxygen was a new thing in the 20th century. Fine filtering was new as well. Fermenting the whole berries or even whole bunches of grapes without crushing them first made the resulting wines fruitier with less grippy tannins and therefore, easier to drink sooner. This, I think, is the New World’s biggest stylistic contribution to the world of wine.

20150123-095548.jpgOf course, that march of technology didn’t just end with that. Membrane filters, micro-oxygenation (a technique pioneered by winemaker Patrick Ducournau in Madiran, France to tame the insane amount of tannins in that appellations’s Tannat grapes), reverse-osmosis and spinning cones, yeast nutrients, and bags of tannins, acids, and colouring agents all give wineries the ability to manipulate all kinds of aspects of a wine’s flavour profile so that the wine is smooth, tasty, and easy to drink almost immediately. The result was smooth wine in no time at all. It was wine for impatient people.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that at all. We need wine in the marketplace (and to be perfectly honest, in my house) that doesn’t have to be aged. What I am interested in here is encouraging people to try saving some of those bottles that are capable of ageing because I think they are missing out on some truly amazing wine experiences. From my point of view, it’s like watching someone purchase a Ferrari who only plans to use it to get around on slow city streets and never take it above 2nd gear. Buying a top-quality, age-worthy wine and drinking it within the next 6 months is really missing out on a great experience. I encourage everyone who buys those kinds of wines to hold on to at least one of them for a little longer.

It’s not only red wines that can age. We’re very lucky here in BC to have an abundance of natural acidity that Rhys Pender MW claims other wine regions around the world would love to have. It is acidity that helps preserve whites for long-term ageing. He mentioned that as part of the 5 year vertical of Clos du Soleil that I attended a couple of years ago. The complexity of the flavours was astounding and I enjoyed every single wine in the vertical of Capella. (I very much regretted drinking my 2007 white – it wasn’t called Capella then – far too early.)

Here is a list of some BC white wines that I’ve had success with ageing, either on my own or as part of tastings or events (in no particular order).

  • Clos du Soleil Capella (aka White)
  • Tantalus Old Vines Riesling (I’m holding onto a few of these)
  • Orofino Riesling (same with this one)
  • 8th Generation Riesling (and this one)
  • (notice a trend yet??)
  • Domain Combret Chardonnay (at 16 years it should have been salad dressing at that point, but it wasn’t)
  • Painted Rock Chardonnay
  • just about anyone’s Late Harvest or Icewine (the ’93 Riesling Icewine from Lang was beautiful but still not quite ready in 2010)
  • Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc

And reds…

  • Black Hills Nota Bene
  • Clos du Soleil Signature
  • Mission Hill Oculus (and the other 1st generation of BC Meritages – Pinnacle, Osoyoos-Larose, etc)
  • Just about anything from Fairview Cellars or Kettle Valley
  • Hester Creek Cabernet Franc (and many Cab Franc – I think this is a great variety in BC for ageing.)
  • 2nd Generation Meritages (Laughing Stock Portfolio, Poplar Grove Legacy are the ones I’m familiar with)
  • Nk’Mip Syrah (always a staple at their wine maker’s dinners)
  • Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir (the ’97 in 2009 was ridiculous)
  • Painted Rock Syrah (I haven’t tried them all in a vertical yet, but if you check back here next January…hint hint)

I may have forgotten some but it’s a start. It’s not easy predicting which wines will age and which ones won’t. I’m had some go off that I thought would be sure to do well. Unless the winery has been in business longer than 10 years (which is not very many of them at this point), they won’t really know either. They can tell you what they think will happen based on what the winemaker has intended to happen, but that’s not always a sure thing either.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. If you haven’t ever had an aged wine, there’s a possibility that you might not like it. If you don’t like the aroma of apples and flowers soaked in kerosene, don’t age your Riesling because that’s very likely what they will become. I’ve had aged Riesling and I absolutely love those aromas so I know that’s what I’m interested in waiting for.

So I encourage you to try, just try, to put a few bottles away of wines that you enjoy and want to see through to maturity. It takes the whole wine experience to another level.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Clos du Soleil in the UK

Contributed image

Contributed image

It’s so nice to see that we here in the colonies are able to rise to royal occasions and recently Clos du Soleil from the Similkameen Valley has had the opportunity for pouring wine at such an event. The event in question is the official re-opening of Canada House in London, England where where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presided over the opening ceremonies.

Spencer Massie

Spencer Massie

“An absolute honour”, said winery Founder Spencer Massie in a press release from London, “my fellow Director’s Winemaker Mike Clark, Les LeQuelenec, Peter Lee and our closely knit team of partners and staff are elated that we are here and able to showcase what Canada, BC specifically, can do.” (You can read the full press release here.)

The wine being showcased is the 2013 Capella, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that is Clos du Soleil’s flagship white. Capella and other wines from Clos du Soleil have been featured numerous times on Wine Country BC podcasts and posts, notably in a podcast of the 5-year vertical tasting in 2013 that featured the first 5 vintages of Capella and Signature.

This is not the first boutique BC wine to get the royal treatment. Township 7’s Chardonnay 2007 was served at a dinner with the Queen and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July 2010. However the resulting media around this event may be a little wider reaching in terms of visibility for Clos du Soleil within the realm of English wine media. Perhaps one of the guests has a cousin that works at Berry Bros & Rudd or a friend that works at Decanter?

Historically of course, acceptance and popularity of a wine in England represented success for the wine producer world-wide. While England may not necessarily be the largest wine consumer anymore, they are still a dominant player in the trade. Through respected publications like Decanter and writers like Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, they are also one of the most influential forces world-wide for opinionmongering. Essentially, they’ve got opinions and they’re very good at getting people to read them.

Getting a BC wine on their radar means that BC wine will be on the radar of most wine students and people in the wine trade around the globe regardless of their ability to actually try the wine. Meyer Family Vineyards started distributing with Ellis of Richmond in London a few years ago and suddenly their label appeared in the recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine. Coincidence? Maybe, but like Tantalus in Kelowna (who has been featured in the Atlas over multiple editions) they’re now on the radar of wine lovers around the world because of it and that’s not a bad thing at all. This could prove to be a similar turning point for Clos du Soleil as well.

This could be very big indeed. Congratulations to Clos du Soleil! Cheers from the colonies in wine country!

~Luke

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Recapping Garagiste North 2014

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Lisa Elgert from Cana Vines

It seems that with each passing year that I live in the Okanagan, the number and quality of festivals of some kind rises dramatically. Of course there are the seasonal wine festivals from the Okanagan Wine Festival Society, the perpetually popular Festival of the Grape in Oliver, and there have been 3 Oyster Festivals in Osoyoos since its inception in 2012. Last year’s Okanagan Food and Wine Film Festival did not continue into 2014 but happily I hear that it will be moving to the spring of 2015. There are annual events that don’t have the word “festival” in the name such as my favourite Similkameen BBQ King Championship and marathons that get you, let’s be honest, Most Definitely corked. But there’s a new player in town on the festival scene and if any more events happen as well as this one did, then you will really want to pay attention to this one in the future.

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The gang at VinPerdu

It’s called The Garagiste North, the Small Guys Wine Festival. Yes, it sort of sounds like it has height restrictions but rest assured that anyone over 5’3″ of any gender is more than welcome to take part if they produce under 2000 cases of wine annually. These people are focused on their 1 or 2 barrels that they make every year. It’s not about quantity but quality and with that comes a whole lot of fun because what’s obvious about these people is that they truly love what they do.

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Dan, Jennifer, and Terry

Jennifer Schell and Terry Meyer-Stone are the evil-genius types behind Garagiste North. Meyer Family Vineyards provided the stunning lawn space in front of their wine shop. Gregor’s Gourmet was on hand busily serving up amazing food constantly for the entire afternoon. (Honestly Greg, everyone noticed you both working away constantly all afternoon with no break at all. You deserve a huge thanks for that!) Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole provided the music. I had my Garagiste mug shot taken (just like the ones that they used to promote the festival) and there were t-shirts and water for sale. Everything was easy to find and very well organized.

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Dan and Carol Scott from Lariana Cellars

Then there was the wine. And then there were the stories that went with the wine.

20140919-093134.jpg“This is from the only barrel that we made last year…”

“No, you won’t find this in Vancouver…”

“We haven’t released this wine yet because it’s not finished…”

“Um, well, , we don’t have a wine shop. It’s more of a two-car garage…”

The best part of the day was the wine, which is really what everyone was there to taste anyway. Getting the opportunity just to taste these rare and hard-to-find wines was the draw and the people who attended the festival seemed to enjoy the diversity and range of styles that each winery presented. While most had small portfolios of wines, there were some that had only one or two available. (VinPerdu had only a barrel sample of Cabernet Franc.) Even with all that diversity of styles and wines, I found some interesting things that united the wineries that I spoke with.

Andrew Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards, before drinking his Chardonnay...

Andrew Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards, before drinking his Chardonnay…

... and after.

… and after.

While all the wine makers took their craft seriously, none of them took it too seriously. It was obvious they were having fun and even veterans of the scene (winemakers who work ‘day jobs’ at larger wineries) seemed to enjoy pouring these wines more than at other, bigger tasting events. Perhaps it was the casual nature of the event, but I don’t think so. I’ve been lucky to have chatted and tasted wines with more than a few of these wine makers previously and shining the spotlight on them with a festival like this seemed to bring out the best in all of them. They all seemed very proud to be there as a small wine producer and rightly so. They love what they do and it shows.

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Ted and Lorraine Kane from River Stone.

As for the wines themselves, I did not see any unanimity of varieties or styles amongst the produces there that day. With the strong sense of individuality that it takes just to be a small independent wine maker, I wasn’t really expecting to either. Generally I did find that there were more single-variety wines than blends however and that the blended wines were usually very creative and tasty. There were more than a few Viogniers around and Pinot Noir was a popular choice among red varieties, perhaps because it’s a challenge to produce a great Pinot Noir. There were whites that were both dry and off-dry and more than a few rosés which were popular on this fine, sunny day.

Some of the stand out wines for me: (listed alphabetically)

Anarchist Mountain Chardonnay – We reviewed the first vintage on this on a previous podcast and it received mixed reviews from my industry friends involved that evening. The version I tasted was the follow-up vintage and Andrew Stone told me that he had much more control over this vintage than the one that we’d tasted. It was a real stand out for this variety today. I heard other people mentioning it as something not to miss that day so it wasn’t just me. I like a Chard that has shows the primary fruit flavours but doesn’t cover it with oak. It was complex, yummy (a technical wine term), and I loved it. Hello cedar planked salmon.

"No pictures, please!"

“No pictures, please!”

Black Cloud Altostratus Pinot Noir – Quickly becoming the most sought after Pinot Noir in BC, this is Brad Cooper and Audralee Daum’s label that focuses entirely on Pinot Noir. The rosé Red Sky was lovely the but the Altostratus takes it for me. It’s a focused and chewy Pinot that jumps out of the glass, grabs your tongue by the taste buds and yells, “You want some duck with that??” Yes. Yes I do.

Carson Pinot Co. Pinot Noir – My mom raved about this one all the way home, describing it as smooth and silky. For some reason, I never got to try it so you’ll have to just believe my mom on this one. If anyone offers this wine to you at a party, just say, “Thank you.”

Jesce and Charlie from Corcelletes

Jesce and Charlie from Corcelletes

Corcelletes Rosé – It’s made from Zweigelt!! And you know I’m a sucker for Zweigelt. I’ve featured their Trivium in a recent podcast and have been intrigued (ok, enthralled) by the wine making and viticultural talents of the Baessler family since they started growing the Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc from Clos du Soleil some years ago. So Corcelletes has been on my radar for a while and it’s time it was on yours as well.

Lariana Cellars Viognier – What can I say? I love a good Viognier and this one had it all – complex and intense aromas, soft texture, and a long finish. With Senka Tennant as the consulting wine maker and a future vintage of Carmenere due for release sometime next year, this is a serious winery to follow online. I think I bought my Viognier at a VQA store so they shouldn’t be that hard to find.

VinPerdu Cellars Cabernet Franc (barrel sample) – I’m a sucker for Cabernet Franc. I’m also a sucker for barrel samples. So already this winery is a good fit for me. The sample was young and a bit hidden but showed some good fruit and structure that will bring it out of its shell in the next year or so. If they bottle this wine in the spring, it could be available by this time next year but that depends on how the wine progresses and what their plans are for it. As noted in this previous post, their new winery is right on the highway south of Oliver.

Scott Stefishen from Money Pit Wines

Scott Stefishen from Money Pit Wines

Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole

Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole

At larger tastings, these wineries often get overlooked in favour of the big names and their huge displays with professional sales teams. I imagine that it is probably much more difficult for small wineries to even participate in an event like the WestJet tasting or Vancouver Wine Festival since that would mean pouring samples of wine that could amount to a large percentage of their entire production, which would make it hardly worth it.

Overall, this proved to be exactly what the t-shirts proclaimed – it was “the coolest wine festival ever.” I really hope this can start to bring more attention to the smaller producers out there because there really are some amazing wines. Garagiste North has the real potential to be an exciting launch pad for some great BC wine in the future.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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I heard a rumour that this festival might go on the road to other, more urban, locations in the future. (Just your eyes on the street, that’s all I am.)

Also note that I did have my sound recorder there that day and recorded some interviews. However, the microphone misbehaved – OK, I set it wrong, my bad – and so the sound quality is unfortunately not up to standard for a Wine Country BC podcast. Unless I can discover some new audio processing tricks of which I was hitherto unaware, I’m pretty sure that I can’t make a podcast out of it. 

Podcast 143 – Courcelettes’ Trivium in the Similkameen

20140625-100901.jpg20140625-100924.jpgThis week’s podcast is all about the new wineries in the Similkameen valley, which seems to be where my motorcycle takes me frequently for some reason. It also features a new winery from the Similkameen Valley called Courcelettes. It’s the Baessler family’s vineyard and winery, which is named after their home town of Courcelettes, Switzerland. They are not new to the BC wine world and if you’ve been a fan of the Pinot Blanc from Clos du Soleil over the past few years, you should really be keeping your eye out for Courcelettes’ wines in stores. Click over to their website for more information about their wines and history.

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Charlie Baessler

Charlie gave me this wonderful bottle of their Trivium and that’s the wine that Calli and I are tasting in this podcast. I also bought a bottle of their red blend called Menhir with the intention of using it for a podcast or video but somehow it got imbibed for dinner with friends and, well, that’s how it goes.
Since recording this podcast, I noticed that they have their own ‘official’ highway sign up on Route 3 going through Cawston. Just to give you an idea as to where it is, it’s in the same neck of the woods as Eau Vivre but on the other side of the highway. Their website says that they are open from Thursday to Monday 11-5 so try stopping in on your next travel through the Sim. I know that’s where I’ll be heading as soon as I can.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Podcast 138 – A Conversation with The Demystified Vine

20130618-223952.jpgThe Demystified Vine, aka Valerie Stride, has been writing about wine on her blog The Demystified Vine.com which in celebrating its first blogiversary in July. She’s been working her way through the WSET courses in Vancouver, works at Liberty Wine Merchants in Vancouver, and works as the ‘in-house sommelier’ for Clos Du Soleil among other wine pursuits. It is immediately evident when speaking with her that wine has clearly become her passion in life.

In this podcast, she shares her thoughts on what she’s learned about wine, what BC wine has to offer the world, and how a sommelier can legitimately enjoy a glass of white zinfandel.