One evening, Nine Chablis

Chablis map

Words: Henry Yuen ( Chinese post: )

I recently talked about the cache and status that Champagne brings forward and how the whole sparkling wine world look up to Champagne with awe and revere. Champagne’s esteemed reputation has always been invariably shared by imitators who liberally use the name and by novice drinkers who misuse it.

Evidently, Chablis is in the same boat. Chablis takes on the same challenge to convince to the world that only wines made from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Chablis region in France can be called Chablis. Other Chardonnays around the world should never have the word “Chablis” in their labels!  So why is Chablis so unique that a lot of other Chardonnay wines want to associate with it?

For one, Chardonnay is the only grape varietal produced in the area surrounding the village of Chablis in France. Located in the northern part of Burgundy, it has about 10,000 acres of vines planted in a relatively cool climate region. Soil is predominately clay and limestone as a result of the area being under sea level million years ago and yielding in lots of fossils such as sea shells and oyster sediments. The unique terroir generally produces wines that carry handsome crispness with bright acidity, minerality and a hint of wet earth. It is this distinct characteristic that makes Chablis famous!

Usually un-oaked and 100% Chardonnay, Chablis is fresh, lively yet elegant.  The word ‘elegant’ is aptly and frequently used to describe Chablis for its tantalizing flavour profile and lush golden colour. Usage of oak aging introduced by certain contemporary winemakers recently started to give the wines a more balanced profile. While the region has warm days and cool nights, early spring frost can sometimes wipe out substantial crops, hence the importance of selecting good vintages. Needless to say, such year by year fluctuation pushes up the demand for preferred vintages and consequently, higher price points.

I had the chance to learn more about the wines of Chablis at a wine-pairing 3 course dinner at Secret Location Restaurant in Gastown.  Conducted by three of Vancouver’s celebrated sommeliers – Brooke Delves from Wildebeest; Jason Yamasaki of Chambar and Roger Maniwa of Hawksworth. Each chef recommended one Chablis to pair with each course and asked the guests to choose their preferences. The refreshing La CHABLISIENNE, Chablis La Pierrelee 2010 we sipped with fresh oysters prior dinner has already heightened our anticipation.  The nine smartly selected Chablis were indeed the perfect presentation for a fun and educational evening.

  1. Domaine DROUHIN VAUDON, Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2009
  2. Domaine BILLAUD-SIMON, Chablis Premier Cru Montee de Tonnerre 2009
  3. Domanie A’DAIR, Chablis 2008
  4. PASCAL BOUCHARD, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2010
  5. Domaine LOUIS MOREAU, Chablis 2011
  6. Domaine CHRISTIAN MOREAU Pere et Fils, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons Cuvee Guy Morneau 2011
  7. Domaine PATTES LOUP, Chablis 2011
  8. Jean-Marc BROCARD, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010
  9. Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2008 

Seldom do we have the chance to taste these wines all in one session! These Chablis were poured and discussed to provide the comparison and understanding of Chablis throughout the evening. Such well-organized wine event that allowed us to expand our horizon in the world of Chablis is truly enjoyed and appreciated. It takes wine-drinking to a higher level, for both wine-lovers and novices alike!

Meyer’s wines

Meyer wine pix

Words: Henry Yuen       Pix: Stephanie Yuen

Chinese blog:

A recent wine-pairing dinner hosted by the Meyer Family Vineyards at Forage comported wine lovers to fully appreciate what terroir in wine-making was all about!

Meyer Family Vineyards of the Okanagan Valley owns vineyards in both the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls. Their philosophy; which they diligently practise is to concentrate on producing what is best for the terroir instead of casting a wide net to plant and use every varietal possible. As a result, the vineyards dedicate their efforts on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Proprietor Jak Meyer, an astute businessman with background in investment banking, understands and grasps the importance of quality over quantity. Different tiers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to best embrace and utilize what Mother Nature granted the two benches are their strongholds.

To wet our palate, we tasted the 2012 Rose along with the very tender braised octopus salad. The evening got more serious when a line-up of four different Chardonnays came on board to be sipped with the moist and flaky Pacific spring salmon with leeks, squash gnocchi and shrimp chowder sauce. They were: 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay, the 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay, the 2011Tribute Series Chardonnay and the Micro Cuvee Chardonnay. The wines, each with its own subtly-unique flavour and body, were there to demonstrate how different terroir produced diversed grapes, though they belonged to the same varietal. And of course, the detail orientation; timely observation and wine-making techniques of Chris Carson the winemaker, was the other key element behind these delicious Chardonnays.

Jak Mayer and Chef Whittaker

The entry level 2012 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay is sourced from both the McLean Creek Vineyard and the Old Main Road Vineyard in the Naramata Bench. It is a crispy, uncomplicated Chardonnay which is fresh on the palate with a hint of apple sauce and warm citrus profile. The 2011 Tribute Series Chardonnay is 100% made from 15 year old vines in the Naramata Bench that is known for its distinct soil profile of clay and loam. The grapes were gently pressed and the light French oak treatment gave the wine the creamy golden colour. Clean entrance with   refreshing citrus notes and peach aroma; and a hint of oak and buttery in mid-palate. This is definitely a signature Naramata Bench product. The 2011 McLean Creek Chardonnay made with 100% grapes from the vineyard in the Okanagan Falls. The winemaking technique is perhaps more or less the same, but the fruits here render its own character due to the different soil profile, elevation and slope angle. A creamy entry with hints of peach and honey, this Chardonnay benefits from the oak treatment but not enough to weight it down. Finally, the 2011 Micro Cuvee Chardonnay is produced only from the best juice worthy for the quality demanded of this tier. When a particular vintage is deemed not good enough; no Micro Cuvee will be produce. The aroma is of tropical fruits, citrus and a lovely peach note with good creamy mouth feel and proper weight and balance.

Pork due + 4 Pinot Noir

Next came the flight of four Pinot Noir to pair with The Geiderman Farms Pork Duo. The 2011 Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir was sourced from different contracted growers throughout the Okanagan Valley. The aroma is full of berries and black fruits. It is a juicy Pinot with a lighter profile with decent acidity. The 2011 McLean Creek Pinot Noir is 100% from the Naramata Bench with 10 months in 100% French oak to give it the structure and depth and is fumed with oma of black fruits; has adequate acidity and good balance. The 2011 Reimer Pinot Noir came from the vineyard in the Kelowna region. Using 100% French oak and 10 months in barrels, this wine has lots of depth, balanced acidity and fruit components. Luckily, the 2012 was considered good enough and Micro Cuvee Pinot Noir was produced for this vintage. With aroma of plum and berries, this Pinot Noir is smooth and well balanced, thanks to the 100% new French oak treatment. A decidedly Okanagan Pinot Noir that is jammy with sensual acidity with enough structure. This Pinot is cellar worth quality!


A big round of applause to the 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival

pouring red wine

Words & Pix: Henry Yuen

Judging by the public response, the media coverage and all the sold out events, the just-ended Vancouver wine festival, already at its 36th year, was no doubt a huge success. Once again, Vancouverites’ overall interest in wines was verified. Also demonstrated was their high level of understanding and appreciating both the New World and Old World wines.

Look no further than the layered crowd gathered at the French wine-tasting stations at the main tasting room.  French wines; inevitably; still carry the suave and draw mystic amongst the minds of wine lovers. Even though Bordeaux was just one of the nine French regions represented, it still was the much revered tasting section and crowds were there all night long. I am sure if there is ever a special event in Vancouver that focuses on Bordeaux wines, it’s guaranteed to be vibrantly successful.

Glad to be able to taste my way through stations where apparently presenters from other French wine regions were there to offer their signature wines to tantalize everyone’s taste bud. The Burgundy, Rhone and Loire regions all have exceptional wines on display and information to share. From fruity and floral whites to the sophisticated and intense reds, there were no shortage of wine profiles to suit all desires.  Can’t argue that the 52 participating French wineries was a small representation of French wines in terms of numbers, nevertheless, their presentations solidified the calibre of old world French wines and verified their pride and passion already etched in our minds.

The well-attended “All About Bubbly” event indicated our adoration towards bubbles and of course, Champagne!  Here, we learnt how the ranking of Champagne applied fittingly into the sparkling wine category. “Ultimate”, “Premium”, “Revered” were the vocabularies common amongst wine lovers who, swirling and sipping tentatively, were describing the sensational feel of Champagne they encountered. French wines and Champagne definitely performed their wine festival anchor job beautifully. I firmly believe these two were the ultimate keys that laid such a strong fab foundation to the entire event.


Having said that, it’s nice to see a good number of fine products from other wine regions of the world were also poured. Kudos to our very own local wine producers who did not disappoint either; more than 25 BC wineries had tasting stations at the festival.  These were outstanding representations of tasty and exceptional wines. We understand it was costly to participate in the wine festival, however, what better venue and opportunity it was to showcase your wines and tell your side of the story to a highly focused group who know their wines pretty well? Vancouver wine drinkers have come a long way in terms of expectation and taste buds. We have a lot more exposures to quality wines through the good efforts and visionary of wine merchants, wineries, vineyards, restaurants and those who help and make things happen.  Vancouver International Wine Festival who has been creating waves and stamping statements year after year is inarguably the very important factor. Cheers to organizers and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to a good cause!

domaine de babio

Wines worth tasting:

Champagne Lanson Exrta Age Blanc de Blanc NV

Champagne Thienot Blanc de Noirs 2006

Cave De Lugny Cremant De Bourgogne Rose NV  $24.99

Domaine De Longue Toque Gigondas 2011

Romain Duvernay Hermitage 2009

Chateau Rey La Tour Reserve 2009

Domaine de longue toqueChateau Dubourg Saint-Emilion 2011

Chateau Fourcas Hosten 2005

Domaine De Babio 2010 Minervois

Cave De Rasteau La Domeliere 2011  $19.99

El Petit Bonhomme Blanco

Antano Crianza Rioja 2009  $12.95

Villa Teresa Organic Rose Frizzante N/V  $17.49

Haywire The Bub  $24.99

Cremont de bourgogneCastano Hecula 2011  $15.99

Domaines Paul Mas Estate Malbec 2012  $15.99

Cono Sur Single Vineyard Carmenere 2011 $19.99

Hester Creek Character Red VQA 2012  $19.95

Domaine Bousquet Organic Malbec 2012  $15.99



Finding good value wines

IMG_5455Words: Henry Yuen

Chinese blog:

Any way you look at it, wine prices in B.C. are higher than most other places. Chalk it up to the taxes involved and the way wine distribution is managed in this province. Having said that, let it be known the theory is that your purchase of wine is contributing to the government coffers to support health care, education, transportation…etc. directly or indirectly. So every bottle you drink, you are helping out in some way, perhaps this will make you feel better! In spite of that, there is no reason why the effort of finding good value wines should be diminished. The satisfaction in finding wines is when the price to value ratio is high, given that fact that there is a host of reasons why sometimes wine price is not a good judge of the quality. Higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is higher in ratio.

The upcoming Vancouver International Wine Festival has an event on March 01 called 25 under $25 where you can taste 25 very good wines all priced at under $25. Here is the list of the wines that wouldn’t go wrong in any occasion:

Domaine Bousquet Malbec Organic 2012

Peter Lehmann Wines Layers Red 2011

Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2012

Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Pinot Blanc 2012

Burrowing Owl Winery Chardonnay 2011

Haywire The Bub Traditional Method Sparkling Wine 2012

Hester Creek Estate Winery Character Red VQA 2012

Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery Single Vineyard Carmenère 2011

Famille Bougrier Vouvray AOC -Famille Bougrier 2012

Cave de Lugny Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé

Marrenon Classique Luberon Rosé 2012

Ogier Côtes du Rhône Heritages Blanc 2012

Domaines Paul Mas Estate Malbec 2011

Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2012

Cave de Rasteau La Domelière 2011

Fontanafredda Barbera Piemonte “Briccotondo” DOC 2012

MASI Agricola S.p.A. Masianco 2012

Vini Tonon Villa Teresa Organic Rose Frizzante

Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Ramos Pinto Douro Vinho Tinto Duas Quintas Red 2010

Nederburg Manor House Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Bodegas Castaño Hecula 2011

Nathalie Bonhomme El Petit Bonhomme Blanco 2012

Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009

West Coast Wine Partners Lake Sonoma Russian River Chardonnay 2012

Perez Cruz CS

There are others worthy of consideration in the price range of around $25.  Most will be available at government liquor stores but some will need to be purchased from private wine shops or VQA stores.  Due to the costly underlying fees, some wineries cannot afford listing wine at government liquor stores, hence the limitation on released quantity. All better for making the wine shopping exercise more adventurous and finding good-valued wines more exciting!

While I will report on VIWF list after the tasting event, here are my favourites from a series of recent wine tastings:

Sumac Ridge Steller Jay Brut

Summerhill Cipes Brut

Oak Bay Vineyard Gewurztraminer

Haywire Pinot Gris

Bodega Norton Privada

Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon

Valle Las Acequias Malbec

Coyam – Emiliana Colchagua Orgainc

Sideral – Altair Rapel Valley

Concha Y Toro Marques Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon

Santa Rita Medalla Real Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon

Edge North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

Prices and availability do vary a bit depending on location of purchase, vintages or stocks on hand. However, these fit in nicely my personal taste profile and some wouldn’t hurt cellaring a year or two before uncorking them. Cheers!

2011 haywire PN     Summerhill Cipes

Niagara Wine Regions

IMG_5384Chinese blog:

Words: Henry Yuen    Pix: Stephanie Yuen

My wife and I visited Niagara Wine Regions for the first time recently.  We were so taken by their natural beauty and by how country-like and nostalgic the areas were; we left with a fantastic impression and the promise to a return trip in the Summer time.

The stay at this quaint little town of Niagara-On-The-Lake, a historic town with lots of characters, was equally lovely. Only about an hour’s drive from Toronto, Niagara-on-the-lake took me by surprise – I would never imagine one could get away from all the hustle and bustle of Toronto in such a short time.  It’s like entering into another world where all of a sudden everything stands still for a moment waiting to embrace you. With its heritage buildings, neat and unique arts & craft shops, tree- lined mansions and top rated restaurants, the town itself is like a movie-set. The picturesque country side and scenic trails along Niagara River take your breath away.  We stayed at this charming sea-side “Harbour House” that welcomed guests with country-style warmth and pampered everyone with cozy décor and top-notched hospitality which included home-style buffet breakfast daily. The town, the scenic drive and the leisurely stay were key elements making this Niagara Wine Tour memorable and exceptional. But most impressive were the wines I tasted!  IMG_5331


Our first wine stop was a relatively new winery in Beamsville, the Good Earth Winery possesses the look and the feel of a charming country farm house. With their first vintage planted in 2008 in the 55 acres of orchard-converted vineyard. The short distance to the lake that brings breeze and adequate moisture benefits the vineyards. The soil profile is predominately sandy and loam on flat surface. Proprietor Nicolette Novak greeted us with open arms as if we were her next door neighbours. The extended warm welcome included a delicious lunch at her bistro, starting with a wine tasting with Nicolette in the tasting room/wine shop.IMG_5258

IMG_5279The Good Earth wines:

2010 Chardonnay: Well-balanced wine with enough citrus and weight on the palate.

The 2010 Riesling: Has adequate acidity and sweetness for a crispy finish.

The Betty’s Blend: Predominately Chardonnay; with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc to round out this wine with stone fruit and bake apple aromas and a delicate smooth finish.IMG_5269IMG_5274

Reds sampled with our lunch:

2012 Gamay Noir: Lovely aroma with lots of fruit on the palate.

2010 Pinot Noir:  A lighter body structure with good presence of black fruit bouquet and a smooth finish.

2011 Cabernet Franc: Infused with subtle tobacco and red berries aroma and a balanced finish due to 12 months in oak treatment.

After a hearty home-style but nicely plated luncheon, we headed for Rosewood Estate Winery, the only winery in Ontario to operate as both a winery and a meadery. Greeted by William Roman, Operations Manager & Beemaster whose family founded Rosewood. With European heritage, they brought with them expertise in both areas – grape growing and beekeeping. But it was their foresight to establish their operation in the Niagara region that made it all happened. Fast forward to today with the first planting in 2003, the winery is producing award winning wines and the mead wines are equally impressive and delicious. With 10 acres in the Beamsville Bench and another 20 acres in the Twenty-Mile Bench, Rosewood is producing over 7,000 cases with hand pruning and zero irrigation. Vineyard management emphasis on the production and caring of quality grapes. Being a third generation of beekeeping, they understand how to take advantage of the beekeeping operation to benefit vineyard health, such as helping grapes to set during blooming season. Harvested honey is used to make top rated mead (honey wine) and other products.  After a tour of the operation and especially the eye-opening and educational session on beekeeping, set in the most natural environment in the back valley, we could not help but appreciate what Rosewood has been doing. Our heightened anticipation took us into the tasting room which showcased their efforts and products very well.IMG_5293


Rosewood’s wines:

2012 Reserve Riesling: An off dry version with a hint of melon and honeydew that is crisp, juicy and with a slight hint of minerality.

2010 Merlot: 100% Merlot with 14 months in a combination of American, French and Hungarian oak. The nose is luscious with lots of berries and good tannins on the palate. Definitely a fruit forward wine to fully express the terrior of the Beamsville region.

We don’t know much about honey wines but what we tasted were delicious and could be substituted for any late harvest wines to pair with desserts. The 2010 Harvest Gold is un-oaked with refreshing aroma of peach and pear. The uniqueness of this wine is that it is produced from wildflower honey to give it the floral fragrant and unique taste profile as compared to other regular honey wines. Besides dessert, it is a mead wine that can also pair well with some spicy dishes and soft cheeses.



IMG_5296After checking into the charming Harbour House right beside the river, we headed to Charles Inn for a sumptuous dinner. A Victorian mansion with 12 guest rooms, the restaurant is a return to the 19th century nostalgic room with a menu offering classic dishes using local ingredients. We’re quite surprised by how young but creative Chef Spirling was! After dinner, we retreated back to the Harbour house and relaxed in front of the fire place for some “R&R” time in our cozy suite This classic and luxurious inn has all the amenities to pamper guests and make them feel welcome and looking for a return booking.

IMG_5369 IMG_5352

The next morning, a short drive took us to the Stratus Vineyards. We noticed some grapes were still on the vines and was told some harvesting was yet to be done, thanks to the permitting weather development and the micro climate in that area. A modern facility with high expectation, Stratus is a winery that is progressive in their daily practice while simultaneously stressing sustainability and good vineyard management. With 55 acres planted since 2000 on 62 acres of land, the focus is on low yield to produce better fruits. They average about 10,000 cases annually that weights in quality rather than quantity. The pump-free winery operation is designed to utilize gravity to render tenderness during transportation and processing with minimal bruising. To avoid pumping of the juice, elevator is used to move the tanks and containers after hand sorting so there is very limited impact. 100% French oak usage  with 12 to 24 months aging is the norm and the barrels are retired after just two vintages.


Stratus Vineyard’s wines:

The 2009 Stratus White: A blend of Semillion, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Gewürztraminer. With the 1st vintage in 2000, it has developed good acidity with bright Asian fruits aroma and a gentle, pleasant dry finish.

2009 Stratus Red:  This luscious red with aroma of berries and anise is a blend of 42% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 13% Petit Verdot and 5% Tannat and is equally impressive.  On the palate, there are plum and black currents with a slight hint of mint and herb to round out this medium bodied red with delicate oak treatment.IMG_5379

IMG_5390The 2009 Stratus Cabernet Franc: A classic Niagara cool climate and low yield (1 ton/acre) Cabernet Franc with lots of cherries and berries aroma. The 20 months with 47% in new French oak adds tantalizling smokiness with a hint of spice. A Cabernet Franc done really well that is fruit forward and with balanced tannins. A good candidate for the cellar!

The 2012 Stratus Icewine Red has sweet nectar with aroma of peach and stone fruit, sensational on its own.

A short drive away is the Ravine Vineyards on 34 acres with 19 acres under vines. Owned by the same family since 1867, it is an organic vineyard with responsible and sustainable vineyard management. We noticed there are no windmills and no bird bangers on site indicating the St. David Bench area has adequate air flow for the vines to flourish. There were still Riesling and some Cabernet Franc on the vines telling us the relatively long growing season allows the opportunity to manage the vines for hand harvesting under the best possible condition. At the characteristic tasting room, we had the opportunity to taste some of the signature lineup and were impressed.IMG_5394


IMG_5391Ravine Vineyards’  wines:

2011 Cabernet Franc: Medium-bodies with lots of red fruits and well- structured tannins.

2011 Meritage: More refined and nicely-structured with a well-balanced effort.IMG_5392

We also tasted both the 2010 and 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon where the different vintages offering slightly different intrigue and taste profile. The lineups for the white wine are also well-represented.

2011 Riesling: Good acidity and deliciously loaded with bright fruit.

2011 Sauvignon Blanc: Packs in a lot of melon and grape fruit aroma, a beautiful patio sipper.

2011 Chardonnay: Well-crafted and has a lot to offer in the finish. This is a nice Chardonnay to represent this region.

2011 Gewurztraminer: Floral and beautiful bouquet with reserved sweetness.

Vidal and Cabernet Franc ice wines:  True expression of the Niagara-On-the-Lake region ice wines that fills the mouth with sensational fruity sweetness and peach nectar that lingers on the palate.

Followed by lunch in their adjacent award winning Ravine Restaurant where European trained chef Paul Harber showcased his craftsmanship. We had more wines to go along with our unpretentious but divine dishes recommended by the very knowledgeable serving staff.


In the afternoon, we arrived at 125-acre Reif Estate Winery set along the picturesque Niagara Parkway. Reif has established at the very same location since 1977 with the 1st vintage in 1982. The proprietor packs over 300 years of European winemaking experience within the family. The vineyard has drain pipes to channel away moisture to induce stress on the vines which results in more vigorous growth. Being close to the river, the site has 7 windmills to drive the cool air away.

IMG_5405The vineyard management philosophy strives on innovation and sustainability. After a tour of the facility with Klaus Reif, we were led to the well-designed tasting room for a Food & Wine Sensory Experience. Instead of straight forward wine tasting, a wine and cheese session was offered to educate us on the finer details of wine appreciation. Different wine glasses were used and different local cheeses were presented to enhance the appreciation of the wines. The exercise was to showcase; with proper stemware, food flavour and texture to evoke the senses; the joy of embracing the wine appreciation experience.

IMG_5401  IMG_5404

Reif Estate Winery’s wines:

2010 White Meritage is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon under cool fermentation to maintain the bright fruit and acidity level. The Meritage served in aromatic glass was paired with a semi-soft cheese from Five Brothers cheese Farm.

2010 Chardonnay Reserve served in balloon glasses were from old vines planted in 1981 with 18 months in French and American oak to give it the luxurious buttery feel and baked apple aroma. This is paired with hand-crafted cheese from the Upper Canada Cheese Company.

The 2010 Merlot Reserve served in magnum glass was fermented on its skin for 12 days and aged in French and American barrels for 12 months rendering lots of plum and dark cherries upon entry that ends with a smooth lengthy finish. This Merlot was paired with old-fashioned cheddar from the Thornloe Cheese Company.

The 2012 Vidal Icewine served in dessert glass was from 26 years old vines and carried a lot of peach and apricot flavour with balanced sweetness and acidity. This dessert wine was paired with an earthy and salty cow’s milk semi-soft blue cheese from Thornloe Cheese Company.


Highlight of the evening was the dinner at Treadwell’s Farm to Table Cuisine. Local and in seasonal ingredients were the emphasis with all the local farms and producers listed on the menu to give diners a sense of what the Niagara farming community is all about.


The next morning we woke up to semi-cloudy sky and cool air, rather windy at times. We headed for the Southbrook Vineyards on the main road where a modern, state-of-the-art building and the Gold Level LEED certified winery facility (in2008) greeted us.

IMG_5441The operation was moved from Richmond Hill in 2005 to its current location of 150 acres, but planting is limited to 63 acres to protect natural terroir which is vital to this first certified organic and biodynamic vineyard in Canada. Vineyard management include efforts to induce some resistance to strengthen the vines, applying various natural herbs and substances as pesticides; and the protection of the natural surroundings to enhance the ecosystem. About 13,000 cases are produced annually by observing low yield practices. Owner, Bill Redelmeier, was there to greet us and was gracious to explain his operation and management concepts in detail. His passion for the respect of the land and his expectation of supporting the neighbourhood businesses for the long term common good flowed across. Sitting in the airy and open tasting room, we tasted all three tiers of Southbrook wines crafted with different emphasis.

Southbrook Vineyards’ wines:

The Triomphe include the lineup of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rose, Cabernet Merlot and a Red Blend. The 2012 Chardonnay is a cool climate Chardonnay with baked apple and melon aroma and a creamy mouth-feel. The 2011 Cabernet Franc has blueberry and cherries aroma with an earthy and luscious finish. The 2008 Cabernet Merlot is a well-balanced wine with enticing aroma of dark berries and plum. The entry is smooth with a lasting finish.


The Poetica lineup is not produced every year as only the highest quality grapes harvested would qualify.

IMG_5444The Whimsy are small batches, premium, artisanal wines where winemakers were given the freedom to express their own feelings, passions, expertise and artistic inkling. Their signatures are in every bottle to represent Southbrook Vineyard’s philosophy and strong suit.


After lunch at the Inn on the Twenty in another story-like village of Jordan that reminded us so much of a colonial hotel with classic settings and elegant interior designs. With lunch we sampled a selection of wines from Cave Spring Cellars, our next destination.


Cave Spring Cellars  locates just across street from the Inn. Established in 1986, it is truly a family business where the owners are active in the day to day operation. Now with 145 acres planted, production is in the range of 17,000 cases annually. The soil profile is mainly clay and sandstone with high limestone component that is especially good for Riesling. Old and new French, American and Hungarian medium toasted oak barrels are used in various combinations to enhance the profile of the wines.


Cave Spring Cellar’s wines:

The VQA estate bottled 2011 Riesling is from 10 year old vines. Bright fruit and melon aroma, this Riesling is crisp and juicy. I like the 2011 Estate Chenin Blanc which is packed with sweetness, grape fruit aroma and minerality. The Pinot Noir is a cool climate Pinot Noir that is jammy and supple on the palate. The Cabernet Franc upkeeps the excellence taste profile of grapes from the Niagara Peninsula Escarpment. The 2008 Riesling Icewine is burst with honeydew and nectarine aroma and on the palate.

IMG_5471IMG_5482After thoughts: It was an amazing trip, an eye-opener that allowed us to witness and appreciate how different Niagara Wine Regions are from those of BC. In terms of the accomplishments and passions of the people in the wine business, we are totally impressed.  With over 17,000 acres planted, Ontario wine regions are growing at a rapid pace. Even though the number of wineries is lower than British Columbia’s 250, the Ontario wineries count of over 140 is expanding with a strong business model of producing quality VQA wines with international fame. We visited different portfolios of small family style operations, each with its own energy and character; and large established wineries with resources and hospitality to provide top-rate guest experiences. Such a short distance from Toronto, Niagara-On-The-Lake is so beautiful, so worth a stroll, if not a vacation. It is a must destination for wine oenophile but for those who are looking for simply a relaxing and pampered vacation, this is definitely a hidden gem.IMG_5322


Cipes Rosé Sparkling – Top 10 of the World!

Words: Henry Yuen (Chinese blog: )

How are you going to celebrate the arrival of 2014?

No matter how 2013 was for you, you will be looking forward to better, if not great things in 2014! There might have been ups and downs throughout the year but the good news is, there’s always a fabulous way to end 2013 with a bang! Guess what, you can do your count down celebration with a world class award winning sparkling wine that you can call your own – the Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Rosé Sparkling - a beautiful British Columbia sparkling that has just been awarded a gold medal at the Effervescents du Monde sparkling wine competition in Burgundy, France! Not only that, this Sparkling Rosé has been named one of the top 10 in the world! And, of the 46 gold medal awarded, the Summerhill Cipes Rosé is the one and only one from North America to win a medal, let alone making it to the top 10 of the world. In other words, it beats out all the competitors from California, Ontario and producers from other North American wine regions!
What are the significances you might ask?

Firstly, for a BC wine to be awarded a gold medal and named to the top 10 in the world tells the world our wines are as good as the other big-name producers’ wines – this is a huge achievement for Summerhill Pyramid Winery as well as British Columbia!
Secondly, to win a sparkling wine award in France is never easy; especially when we are talking about winning an award in the home turf of where the indigenously famous Champagne is. This is more than accomplishing big. What better testament than to beat out 600 wines from 30 countries in front of 100 judges with 50% of them pride their trade in the home turf of France?

Summerhill Pyramid Winery has been one of the longest standing and more progressive organic wineries in Canada and is the first to receive the highly regarded certified biodynamic designation in the Okanagan. The result is in their wines. This Cipes Sparkling Rosé is 100% Pinot Noir from vineyards in the Okanagan Valley with the grapes specifically and extremely carefully tended to with the intention of making a sparkling wine using the traditional champagne method. It’s definitely a triumph for the Cipes family and winemaker, Eric von Krosigk, who have always been firm believers that when the land is embraced and taken care of first, their high hopes of Okanagan Valley as a wine region  capable of producing award winning wines will come later.
Instead of my trying to describe this award winning Summerhill Cipes Sparkling Rosé by throwing out all the big wine terms, the oohs and aahs adjectives to parlay this wine, why don’t you go grab one! I believe it is best for you to start sipping this top 10 wine of the world yourself so you’ll have your own words of description and most rewardingly, the first hand mouth-feel and palate appreciation. You’ll then agree with the judges and understand why this wine will fit any of your celebrations. Cheers!

Raise a glass or two…

AM1470 Modern Deborah – Tuesday, Dec 17, 2013

Chinese post:

British Columbia Wines
1/ Sparkling
Cipes Rosé, Summerhill Estate Winery
The Cipes Rosé Sparkling, perfect for any occasions, is made in the traditional Champagne method and is a 100% organic Pinot Noir cuvee. It is the only North American wine that won one of the 46 gold medals awards and made the top 10 list last month at the “Effervescents du Monde” who are the leading authority on quality sparkling wine. With an assembly of over 100 international expert judges applying strict guidelines and sampling over 600 wines from almost 30 countries. This is a perfect gift for even the pickiest wine savvies.

Stella Jay Brut, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery
An award-winning and iconic BC sparkling wine with true stellar status and superior quality, this golden and crispy brut is an brilliant blend of red and white: Pinot Noir, Chardonna and Pinot Blanc. Sweet aroma of strawberry and fragrant peach, enticing notes of passion fruit and rambutan that leads to a creamy mouth feel. Drink it before and during dinner, or even with savoury snacks in the afternoon, and of course, with a Sunday brunch.stella jay brut
2/ Red
2010 Meritage – Backyards Vineyards (Langley, BC)
A beautiful Meritage with an outstanding blending formula: Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, and Cab Franc. The entrance may be a bit quiet but once it opens up, the ripe berry note with a subtle hint of 5-spices starts to cuddle you palate, leading to a finish with is both elegant and flavourful. At $20, the value of this wine is exceptional.
2011 Pinot Noir – Haywire Winery
With grapes grown in Summerland and fermentation done in the egg-shaped concrete tanks, this Pinot Noir brings lots of surprises to the palate, thanks to the aging in the 3-year old barrel. The complex flavour and smooth texture, pleasant notes of red dates, cherries and a hint of cranberries along with soft tannins give this wine mellow, lengthy finish.2011 haywire PN

Backyard Vineyards - 2010 Meritage

3/ White
2012 Chasselas – St. Hubertus Estate Winery
This beautiful made-in-BC Swiss wine is floral and bright. 11.1% alcohol gives the wine a mellow and easy-to-please mouth feel, but the hints of summer fruits stays in the palate. An Asian cuisine delight, this white goes well with Asian salad, wok-fried prawn, quick hot-oil pan-fried geoduck slices, sushi and sashimi.
2012 Character White – Hester Creek Estate Winery
Another great wine to be had with Asian food, this is Hester Creek’s good value signature white blend which delivers luring aroma and tropical fruit notes with hints of citrus. Well-balanced structure and smooth texture render this wine a good match with dimsum, Shanghai dumplings, chicken pot-pies, mildly-spiced crab and lobster in cream sauce.Character White 2012Prod-Bu-Chasselas









4/ Dessert Wine
2011 Riesling Icewine – Inniskillin
Syrupy, rich and blanketed with a symphony of tropical fruit aromas, this liquid of gold is laced with sweet notes of dripping nectarine, peach and dried apricot. Already a dessert on its own, this wine can go well with deep-fried banana with ice-cream, Chinese pastries stuffed with pumpkin, bean paste and lotus paste.2011 Riesling Icewine, Inniskillin
Imported Wines

2012 Saumur “Les Pouches” Chenin Blanc – Loire Vallely, France
With centuries of cultivation history in Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc happens to be a wine that matches Chinese cuisine nicely, be it spicy or high wok-energy. Juicy, crisp and refreshing with balanced acidity, the floral aroma of this wine meanders in the palate. The hint of rock sugar sweetness harmonizes the peppery Sichuan spicy and its clean crisp cuts through oily meat dishes.
2013 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand
Sauvignon Blanc is the signature varietal of New Zealand while both Kim Crawford and Marlborough are the key stamps behind a good sauvignon Blanc,.  This 2013 released just in time to kick-off the holiday season with Thanksgiving as a starter. This first brew tea colour wine renders a tropical fruit aroma of Asian pear and a hint of mandarin peel with a fresh, lively body goes well with Turkey and the trimming, therefore is a good fit for the holiday tables. Juicy and fruity, this wine will also a good sipper to start any gathering.
2012 Ruffino Chianti, Italy
Our Asian Chianti fans will enjoy this Tuscan wine for its great value ($14.95), its premium quality and the fact that it does elevate the flavour and texture of most barbequed or roasted meat items such as the Chinese barbequed duck and char-siu. Verifying further that this Chianti will be an added pleasure to the Luner New Year Table. The price point of this wine may be a bit misleading because the grapes are indeed grown in one of the best wine regions in the world!
2009 Ruffino Riserva Ducale, Chianti Classico, Italy
This classic and elegant Chianti will satisfy any big red wine lovers with its influx of floral and fruity notes. The entrance of this wine demands full attention, with hints of peppery spices, subtle toffee and ripened cherries swirl the palate, sip it with game roasts, lamb stews and Sichuan pork dishes; and if you desire, with heavy cheese, chocolate torte and baked tapioca layered with lotus seed paste.IMG_5889ruffino Riserva Ducale 2009 #2

Loire Valley, 2012 Chenin BlancRuffino Chiante 2012

Wyndham Estate Winery – The shiraz for the evening

George Wyndham Founders Reserve 2010 Shiraz - bottle image

Words: Henry Yuen

(Chinese post: )

     I am of the opinion that staying power is a virtue in the wine business. Why? Simply because the longer a winery has been in business, the better indication that they are on the right track as far as wine production is concerned. No arguments that older wineries gather strong creditability and recognition in the wine world; given the time and proven wine quality status, the respect and attention from the wine public come along naturally.

In New South Wales, Australia, Wyndham Estate Winery has been in business since the eighteen hundreds. First planted Shiraz in 1830 in HunterValley north of Sydney, Wyndham is the pioneer of Australian wines. The winery has evolved and grown over the years but the fine quality of wine-making heritage is still very much in evidence.

While changes, including personnel over the years, are inevitable; the long and solid history however upholds the very essential keys – assured consistency and firm leadership which allows the delivery of quality wines vintage after vintage.

At a unique tasting recently, their 2010 Wyndham Estate Langhorne Creek Founder Reserve Shiraz was featured. The challenge for the chef of Fable Restaurant Trevor Bird was to design a multi-course dinner to pair with this one Shiraz. The objective was to showcase the versatility of this full-bodied wine – a very different yet enthralling approach for sure! To no surprise, this singular wine sailed through the evening complimenting Chef Bird’s well-planned menu with flying colour.

This Shiraz, Wyndham’s mid-range wine under the banner of founder George Wyndham, is an outstanding and definitive Australian classic Shiraz with supple berries and dry plum on the nose, and a hint of herb, mint and cocoa to charm the palate that finishes with an illusive smokiness. 20 months in both new and one year old French and American oak contributes to its soft tannins and jammy mouth-feel, which matched the structured and the savoury parsnip and apple soup with subtle sweetness served room temperature; while the weight of the soup held up nicely to the accompanying creamy blue cheese garnished with dates and bacon. Travor’s choice of the locally farmed rabbit leg with a lighter meat density embraced the softness of the tannin of this velvety wine in harmony. The second meat course – braised beef Stiletto with triple-cooked potatoes and porcini in the Shiraz jus captured my full attention the moment it was placed in front of me.  The tender, juicy, flavour-drenched beef; the seductive potatoes and the rustic porcini waltzed gracefully with the luscious Shiraz in my mouth.

To remind us that red wines could certainly pair with dessert, Trevor created a dark chocolate terrine with olive oil ice cream. The slight bitterness of the chocolate and a touch of saltiness of the ice-cream mingling together enhanced the smokiness in the wine, rendering a lengthy aftertaste. Kudos to the beautiful marriage of this lovely George Wyndham Shiraz crafted by Chief winemaker Steve Meyer and Chef Todd’s brilliant culinary creations! Chef’s menu choices confirmed the fact that one good wine could go a long way; and vice versa, a well-structured and tasty wine was quite often, all one needs to enjoy a good meal.Steve Meyer - Wyndham Estates 01

The evening further attested “Older is wiser” is the true testament here for Wyndham Estate Winery whose century-old strength and skills along with years of experience in crafting exceptional wines. The profound arts and pleasure of food and wine pairing can now be reflected in a simple manner – one wine, one meal!

A DIY week-end get-away to Okanagan Wine regions


Henry Yuen (Chinese blog:                                             )

To thoroughly enjoy a wine tour of the Okanagan, a lot of people assume a weekend trip will be an undercut. I can certainly understand the rationale as there are so many fun things to do and interesting places to visit. With over 200 wineries and growing, it certainly is a challenge to choose where to go and perhaps a bit greedy to try and cover the entire area searching for a particular vinous exploration.

Having said that, if you only have a weekend, an awesome trip to the Okanagan to taste food and wines is more than achievable than you may think. Sure, a thorough map-out plan would enhance the journey but not necessary since over the years Okanagan’s hospitality industry has grown to comprehend and deliver what hospitality is all about, ergo a spontaneous decision simply to get away can still be a pleasant road trip – just drive up there late Friday afternoon and return Sunday evening. Well, that’s what we recently did! We confined our trip to the southern Okanagan region visiting wineries and vineyards in Oliver, Osoyoos, Summerland and Penticton.

We may be familiar with the area but the wine industry’s rapid growth in recent years makes it difficult at times to keep up with the latest news and developments! Glad to notice recent changes are not only promising but have definitely raised the Valley’s overall profile as the food and wine destination.

Bravo to the pioneering effort of Summerhill Pyramid Estate Winery whose winery restaurant finally got the approval from the liquor distribution branch to serve not just their own wines but wines from other places; as well as spirits if customers fancy a cocktail. Other similar winery restaurants’ eager anticipation to be granted the same flexibility will likely happen soon. This certainly is a big step forward to show the Province’s liquor law is in alignment with times and doesn’t loiter in the dark ages any more.  Other than the regulation changes, we also saw the regions becoming much more user-friendly. Wine route signs are prominent so getting to destinations is a whisk. From local artisan bread, cheese and farm produce; casual picnic in the vineyard to gourmet fine-dining, the food scene is noticeable. Hotels and accommodations are readily available. People are friendly and willing to help and please. From the young server that knew exactly what to do upon approaching our table to the gas station attendant offering warm assistance; the overall experience was a charming one.

Upon arrival Friday evening we checked into the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos. This modern lakefront hotel is both chic and quaint with apt amenities, not surprised at all to find a pair of washer and dryer in our suite! We then took a short drive to Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver just in time for a fantastic six-course wine-pairing dinner at their Miradoro Restaurant to wet our appetite for the next two days! The dinner featured two Gold Medal Plates champions ‘Marc & Marc’ showcasing their skills and collaborating with the restaurant resident chef Jeff to create a line-up of amazing plates paired with outstanding local wines. The welcoming drinks to pair with the canapés were the refreshing 2012 Moscato Frizzante from Orofino Vineyards and the never-disappointing 2005 Steller’s Jay from Sumac Ridge Winery. Next up were the 2012 Alibi, a Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon blend from Black Hills Estate Winery and the mood-setting 2012 Two Bench Rose from Tinhorn Creek Vineyards to go with local heirloom tomatoes. The beautifully crafted 2012 Old Vines Trebbiano from Hester Creek Estate Winery and the pleasing 2011 Pinot Noir from Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery were paired with the albacore tuna. Two seemingly contrasting wines: The 2010 Nk’Mip Cellars Chardonnay and the 2009 Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir were poured and both worked magically with the buttered-poached scallops and lobster. For the Angus beef dish, we had the very desirable 2009 Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2 Bench Red and the harmonizing 2010 Church & State Wines Coyote Bowl Petit Verdot Malbec. Before dessert came the aromatic 2011 St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery Gewurztraminer to go with local artisan cheeses. To round out the evening, we had the 2011 Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards Riesling Icewine. We were having such good time we didn’t want to leave but after a few hours of driving and a stomach full of brilliantly matched food & wine, the soft down duvet and comfortable bedding at the Watermark Beach Resort was calling.

IMG_4706Miradoro dining roomAfter a restful sleep, we were ready for a full Saturday of wine tastings. A short drive to Black Hills Estate Winery up on the Black Sage bench in Oliver was the first stop. Established in 1996, this winery has 27 acres up on the Bench and has been producing some amazing grapes; thanks to the dry desert condition with warm days and cool nights. The strong breeze keeps the moisture in check, providing ideal growing condition.  Adjacent to the pool and patio area framing a nice view of the valley, the tasting room is set up to welcome both big and small groups. Black Hills has large followers and a growing list of wine club members. Exclusive wines like the 2011 Nota Bene can only be purchased through the wine club. A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, this Nota Bene was aged 80% in French and 20% in American oak. It’s a mellow fruit-forward wine full of blackberries, plum and a hint of sage on the nose with a toasty, lengthy finish; definitely a wine worth cellaring.  The flight of samplings included the 2011 Viognier, the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2011 Carmenere and the 2010 Syrah, chosen carefully to showcase the particular season’s harvest. IMG_4753


Hester Creek Estate Winery has gone through quite a transformation since 1968. Hard work and improvement paved every step of the way. Not only the wines are outstanding, the winery is a not-to-be-missed wine tour destination with lots of history! Featuring Mediterranean villa style guest houses, a fantastic Terrafina Restaurant on site and a tasting room offering small plates to go with the wines, a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen to conduct cooking classes and wine-paired events etc, the exterior and interior designs, the ambiance, the décor are all ravishing. Under the tutelage of winemaker Rob Summers, General Manager Mark Sheridan and Director of hospitality Roger Gillespie, the exploring and wine-tasting experience guarantee to be enjoyable – you can literally feel their passion; their pride and joy in being integral parts of the improvement process. Roger guided us through their wine portfolio. The Character Red and White are good value wines for all occasions. The line-up of whites  were the 2012 Pinot Gris, 2012 Pinot Blanc and the 2012 Chardonnay. For the reds, there were the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2011 Reserve Merlot and the well-crafted 2010 Judge. From the oldest vines planted in the Golden Mile Bench, the Judge is a Bordeaux blend aged over 24 months in 75% in French oak and 25% American oak; fantastically laced with ripened berries, a soft plum aroma and a hint of spice. Bold and jammy, this wine finishes nicely with a bit of cocoa and toasted fragrant and is definitely a collector’s wine!IMG_4777 









After a delectable lunch at Terrafina, we headed north to Naramata just in time to catch the harvesting activities at Serendipity Winery. Converted from an orchard, this young winery established was in 2005 with 10 acre producing some promising fruits and the proprietor, Judy Kingston, a lawyer-turned winery operator who finds much joy in working with nature, is expecting a good harvest. Pickers from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces had been working hard in the vineyards since day break. Soon after, meal time was served and we sat down to join them for some team-bonding conversations and most rewardingly, wine tasting with Judy. Outside, winemaker Richard Kanawaza was busy working with other staff on the de-stemmer making sure the time frame from picking to de-stemming was as short as possible. We sampled the 2011 Rose, lively and fruit forward but not too sweet displaying generous Asian fruit aroma and a dry finish. The cutely-named White Lie blend has lots of pear, honeydew aroma with crisp and juicy ending note. The 2010 Devil’s Advocate is a red blend with bouquet of dark cherries and spices. The finish is soft with black fruits and a bit of vanilla and chocolate at the end. As we depart, truckloads of grapes on crates were coming in from neighbouring vineyards to bolster the production. What better way to witness a busy harvest in action when time is of essence!IMG_4810


Not too far away on Naramata Road in Penticton is Hillside Winery & Bistro. The winery was founded in the 1980’s also by converting an orchard to a vineyard. The objective all along is to craft wines in its natural state that best expresses what the vineyard has to offer. With meal time approaching, we decided to have the tasting in conjunction with our dinner at the Bistro which is tucked away at the garden-like back porch. The 2012 un-oaked Pinot Gris is refreshing and crisp with bright fruit character. A different style is the 2010 Pinot Gris Reserve that has a vivid bouquet of tropical fruits. The time spent in Hungarian oak barrel gives it the supple treatment and a smooth finish. The 2010 Old Vines Gamay Noir has lots of berry fruits in the bottle. Eight months in barrel adds nice texture but adequate acidity of the Gamay still retains. The 2010 Syrah is from the HiddenValley vineyards and is filled with berry aroma with a touch of clove and spices and enough tannin to offer a pleasant finish. Cabernet Franc is a varietal that flourishes in Okanagan and the Hillside Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc is consistent with that assertion. A medium-bodied wine with raspberry and red fruit aroma, it is velvety due to the well-integrated oak treatment. The finale is the Hillside Winery 2008 Mosaic crafted as a Bordeaux style blend with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot exhibit in harmony. It is luscious and silky on the palate with an elegant finish.


IMG_4826The stay at the Summerland Waterfront Resort & Spa for the evening was greeted by an art show at the lobby displaying works from various local artists, a lovely way to end the day. Waved goodbye to the cool evening breeze, we relaxed in front of the fireplace to reminiscent the tasty events of the day. Accompanied by the morning sun the next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast in the balcony overlooking the glistering OkanaganLake. What a sight to behold and what a splendid start to another day!

We headed back to Naramata in Penticton to kick off our packed Sunday activities.  Perseus Winery on Lower Bench Road was the first on the itinerary. Built upon the hillside, the tasting room has a picturesque view of the OkanaganLake and the Penticton city proper. Greeted by Rob Ingram, the President of the parent company, Terrabella who is a chartered Accountant by trade and brings years of valuable experience in the management and financial fields to the Winery. It was refreshing to hear somebody from an entrepreneurial aspect balancing the passion from the wine side with the practicality and common sense of the business operations. IMG_4862

An array of whites and reds awaited us for tasting. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc has rich aroma of honeydew and grapefruit. Lightly oaked, it is crisp and sprightly. To offer flexibility, there is the innovative 2012 Pinot Blanc 3 Litres ‘bag in a box’ that caters to special events and larger groups. With no spoilage and 6 weeks shelf life, it is a make-sense alternative to guarantee freshness of this Pinot Blanc which is loaded with peach and melon bouquet and a palate-pleasing finish.


The 2012 Gewurztraminer was harvested right from the Naramata Bench. It has lots of green apple and a floral aroma on the dry side which I quite enjoyed. The 2012 Viognier is from the dryer and warmer Similkameen region. Asian fruits aroma exhibiting fragrances of lychee and mandarin orange peel made this wine sensual and very appealing. On the reds, we sampled the 2011 Cabernet Franc, from the dryer Blind Creek also in the Similkameen, has tantalizing red fruit aroma. The light oak treatment balanced the acidity and tannins well. The 2010 Perseus Invictus, a blend of 56% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec, is regarded as their flagship red.  On the palate, the luscious fruity and spicy hint linger along the beautifully-balanced tannin. With a silky structure, a complex aroma of dried figs, berries and subtle mint and smokiness, this crafted wine offers good potential; decant or cellar. The limited release 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, with 75% in French oak and 25% in American oak, is another solid and profound surprise. Flows of black current and preserved plum on the nose; dry cherries and berries to prelude the cocoa and tobacco finish, is no doubt a candidate for your private cellar.

Poplar Grove Winery is our next destination. High upon the hill of Naramata overlooking the breath-taking OkanaganLake, the contemporary building hosting an airy and open tasting area and a warm and welcoming restaurant the Vanilla Pod was built in 2011. Led by Ian Sutherland, owner and Executive Winemaker, we had a visual and descriptive tour of the gorgeous tasting room and the cellar room, while sipping the refreshing Rose refreshing our palate with gusto lime aroma. Transforming from an artisan winery in 1993 to the existing breathtaking 36,000 sq. ft. building operation, their wines have also come a long way to the current stellar status. Staying with the tradition of doing what they know best, they start with six core wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah and the Legacy blend on their over 110 acres estate vineyards. Besides this core wine group, other specific series are crafted for the restaurant and the wine club to showcase the skills of the winemaker and the philosophy of the winery. To pair with our lunch orders, we had the 2011 Pinot Gris. 100% stainless steel tank fermented, it is crisp and lively with grapefruit and star-fruit aroma. The limited production 2011 Chardonnay has a golden colour; thanks to 20% fermented in French oak which also provides the smoothness on the palate. On the nose is the enticing hints of Asian pear and pineapple. We couldn’t give up tasting the CSM, a well-balanced blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot exclusively at the winery restaurant and wine club. We also tasted the 2009 Cabernet Franc with raspberry and caramelized onion on the nose; red currents on the palate with a balanced finish, a well-crafted wine that supports the winery’s focus of sticking to the core and doing the best with it.IMG_4876


Arriving at the other side of Penticton, we went into Painted Rock Estate Winery’s   immaculate architectural building with a stunning view enveloping from the east side to the equally beautiful SkahaLake. With 60 acres planted, the expansion plan on the horizon is to build a restaurant and maybe guest houses to go in next to the sleek and high-tech tasting room. Starting as an apricot orchard, the site was not converted until 2004 to the current vineyard with first planting in 2005. The topography of the slope and the wind from the mountain blowing down to the lake provide the ideal condition   preventing infestation and rotting. Planted mostly were Bordeaux varietals at the beginning and other varietals were introduced later. The 2012 Chardonnay has good flavour intensity and structure resulted from 50% in new French oak which also renders the golden colour, complimented by the stone fruit aroma and smooth mouth feel. The 2010 Merlot seduces with prunes and plum aroma. With 80% in new French oak, it has a toasty and cocoa note on the palate with soft tannins. The 2010 Syrah, benefited from 18 months in 60% new French oak and 40% new American oak, demonstrates well-balanced tannin and a hint of toffee and coffee beans on the nose. The award winning 2010 Red Icon blend infused with blackberries and dry cherries hints is ranked highly amongst the top. 18 months in 80% new French oak gave the wine the added structure lined with smoky and earthy mouth-feel.IMG_4898

IMG_4901The afternoon tour ended with a visit to the Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland.  My first visit to this facility, I can easily feel the energy and excitement in the air as workers were busy loading grapes into the de-stemmer. We were told they would be doing this throughout the night as new crews were coming in. Launched in 2010 by industry stalwart, Christine Coletta, it is a facility setup to provide custom- winemaking for others in the industry. However, with experienced winemaker, Michael Bartier and other renowned international experts providing advice and expertise on a regular basis, their own labels of Haywire and Bartier & Scholefield (B & S) wines are well received. Christine Coletta is evidently the pioneer in the BC wine industry who back at the hay days successfully helped position the VQA brand to its current status. Also a visionary and astute marketer with many years in the PR and Marketing sector for the industry, her recent induction into the BC Restaurant Association’s ‘Hall of Fame’ is an attestation. Outside in the vineyard, we couldn’t help but noticed each row of vine was marked with different names and soon found out they were the names of those who helped planted the vines. What a wonderful and thoughtful gesture to appreciate and recognize the hard-working folks; a good story to share with visitors for sure. IMG_4939

Under the watchful eyes of winemaker Michael Bartier and winery manager, Julian Scholefield, the winery is full of activity and excitements! The large concrete egg-shaped tanks to give the wines more depth and complexity are in full production mode. Thinking outside the box and addressing to the fine details are what this winery does approvingly. We sampled a number of wines and I must admit they were all impressive! The 2012 Haywire Gewurztraminer emits floral bouquet. The 2012 B & S Sauvignon Blanc caresses with baked apple and grapefruit aroma and balanced acidity. The 2012 B & S Semillon displays subtle minerality and oyster shell hints due to its rocky and stony soil profile in the Black Sage Bench. 3rd vintage 2011 Pinot Gris from Switchback Vineyard is brisk and fruit-forward. The refreshing 2011 Gamay Noir Rose has luring strawberry aroma and a light body with restrained acidity. The 2011 B & S Chardonnay carries the lightly oaked treatment nicely, 50% in new French oak and 50% in new American oak brings out the creaminess. The 2011 Haywire White label Pinot Noir has bright fruits and plum aroma. A good contrast is the 2011 Haywire Silver label Pinot Noir that has gone through some fermentation in those egg-shaped concrete tanks which fine-tuned and smoothed the wine structure. The 2011 B & S Merlot and Syrah are both fine products to express the terroir and the best of BC grapes. To round out the sampling, we had the 2011 B & S Goal as the finale. With a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, this is a nicely crafted wine with a silky, lengthy finish.IMG_4925We were happy to walk out of the place knowing we just had sampled some outstanding wines that represent the terroir and the meticulous efforts put into the vineyards and the winery. We got a lot out of this weekend; an awesome snapshot of what Okanagan wine tour is all about and how hard folks work behind the scene to make everything come together. If you go, it’s guaranteed you will have a good time exploring!

Wines of South American

Words: Henry Yuen ( )

Why are wines from Argentina and Chile so likable? Mostly because the price point to quality ratio is never disappointing; definitely excellent values for those wine lovers whose affinity is quality driven rather than reputation alone. No doubt certain varietals flourish in specific parts of the continent; be it Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere in Chile or Malbec in Argentina. The consensus is that these varietals are perfect match to the terroir and growing conditions and is difficult to replicate in other parts of the world.

Vina Santa Rita Winery

santarita_triple_c_red07__41915_1374682842_1280_1280This winery in Chile is known for it’s offering of the familiar ‘120’ tier of wines. On top of this, they have the ‘Reserva’, ‘Medalla Real’ and the coveted ‘Triple C’ tiers of wines. The ‘120’ tier is tagged with everyday price that is considered to be very consumer friendly. For example, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon offers adequate black fruits and earthy aroma with berries, tobacco and tannins on the finish and delivers beyond the price sipping pleasure.

The 2010 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon is a higher tier at $14.99. The fruit is more intense with cocoa and tobacco on a smooth finish. Up a few notches is the 2009 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $19.99. It carries more complexity and   fruity intensity on the nose, followed by a lengthy, velvety finish. The 2007 Triple C (55% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carmenere) at $38.99 portrays skilled winemaking technique and varietal cultivation. Well-balanced and full-bodied with bold and intense flavour, definitely a classy wine showcasing how much Chilean wines came around since the bulk wine era.  

While the Santa Rita line up is impressive, other worthy considerations are:

Concha Y Toro Trio at $14.95 – A fine effort that combines black fruit and plum as the welcoming bouquet; and a hint of spice and tobacco to finish.

The 2011 Errazuriz Estate Carmenere – At $14.99, this is a mouth-watering beauty with red fruits and ripe berries on the nose and a chocolate and cocoa finish.

Finca Decero

Finca Decero Winery from the Mendoza region of Argentina is a rather focused winery. Decero literally means “from scratch”. They find out what’re best for the terroir first then concentrate the expertise onto crafting those wines. As a result, only red varietals are grown. There is no attempt to stretch its resources beyond what the appellation, the soil and the land are providing.  As a matter of fact, the results are so positive there is no need to consider anything else!

The vineyards, located at the foothills of the Andes at an elevation of above 1000 meters, are granted with adequate sunlight; ideal conditions of warm days and cool nights, Mother Nature’s gift benefits the grapes to flourish to the fullest.2010 Decero malbec-bottle

Five wines are produced from this single vineyard producer. What not to like about the 2010 Decero Malbec? Nothing! This enticing example of a typical Argentine Malbec is well crafted with herbal aroma and dry cherries bouquet; laced gently with a hint of mint, the reserved oak treatment enhanced the balance of the wine. The 2010 Decero Petit Verdot is from a 40 acres vineyard. A fruit forward wine exhibiting flows of red fruits and plum. With 16 months in new French oak, this wine is delicately smooth with soft tannins. The 2010 Decero Syrah has a fine combination of barnyard earthiness, limestone and herbal aroma. On the palate, it is peppery with generous ripe plum and black fruits. 14 months in oak produced the velvet body structure. The 2010 Decero Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied with black current and prune on the palate. With light stem contact during fermentation, it gives the wine the balance tannins. The aroma of sage along with a hint of fine cigar and tobacco note provides a lengthy and luring ending. The 2009 Decero Amano is a fantastic wine with the 2006 vintage garnering 94 points from Wine Advocate and the 2007 getting the Top 100 wines from Wine Enthusiast. The 2009 with great finesse is as fine a wine. A blend of 60% Malbec, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Tannat, the bouquet of black current and dried stone fruit is a beautiful invitation. On the palate, this full-bodied wine is jammy with soft tannins and a hint of smoky and cocoa on the finish. The benefit of the gently basket pressed, 20 months in French oak and a year in bottle gives this wine the unique touch that lingers. A good demonstration of the winemaker’s determined focus and a sincere testament of not having to do too much but staying with what you know best.     

As for other Argentina Malbecs, I like the Norton Reserva Malbec ($17.99), with its jammy, plum and spice aroma with a smoky finish. The Altos Las Hormigas Malbec ($15.99) is a good deal with plum and berries fruits and the finish is earthy and spicy. My favourite is the 2007 Valle Las Acequais Malbec from Mendoza ($22.99), it only takes the first sip to love its fine effort.  It is a full-bodied Malbec with lots of red fruits and prune on the nose and silky soft tannins. If you want to find out what a good Argentina Malbec tastes like, this is it!2007 Valle Las Acequais Malbec from Mendoza

These are great examples of good valued South American wines that deliver consistent quality and signature craftsmanship. At very approachable price points, South American wines have no doubt been garnering more and more retail attentions.