PnP Panel Tasting: Quench! Wines BC Portfolio

1 02 2018

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

First, some exciting news:  I’m happy to announce that Pop & Pour Wine Advent 2017 authors Raymond Lamontagne and Dan Steeves are officially going to be sticking around as regular contributors on the blog, bringing their expertise and exuberance to a screen near you and formally making PnP a joint venture from this point forward.  I’m hoping that this will allow the site to be less tied to my schedule and to have a greater presence around events and bottles that interest you (or that interest us, at least – hopefully they will interest you too).  And what better way to go from a solo gig to a group gig than having a panel tasting?

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A highly worthy BC lineup for our first PnP Panel Tasting.

Here’s how we play our game.  Dan, Ray and I got together to jointly taste a (remarkable) set of wines; we discussed while we tried each wine, but we evaluated and scored each bottle separately and independently, without sharing our final assessment until all scores were locked in.  We divvied up the writing duties, but rather than average out the scores or try to come to a numerical consensus, we preserved each person’s score for each bottle to give you a sense as to the level of divergence in the room through the course of the tasting.  Hopefully this will be the first of many such panel reviews, but if you have any thoughts as to the format or results, leave a comment or send me a message and let me know!

The focus of this inaugural Pop & Pour panel tasting was a sextet of offerings from Quench! Wines, a Vancouver Island-based agency exclusively focused on the burgeoning British Columbia production scene.  We got to taste a pair of wines each from three critically acclaimed Okanagan producers:  Terravista, Bella and Fairview Cellars.  You could not have put together three more divergent groups of wines if you tried, a testament to the diversity that is possible in the Okanagan Valley, particularly since each distinct grouping aptly highlighted a different element of the potential of the region.  I got to lead things off.

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Stelvin Ratings:  0.5/10 & 0.5/10 (Plain white? Seriously? Half a point for not being plain black.)

Terravista Vineyards (by Peter Vetsch)

One of British Columbia’s first high-end wine success stories was Black Hills Estate Winery, whose Nota Bene remains one of Canada’s most acclaimed and sought-after reds.  The founders of the winery, Bob and Senka Tennant, sold in 2007, but with a view to reinvesting in a new vinous venture, a smaller estate that would allow them to focus on a passion project.  Thus was born Terravista Vineyards, located on the Naramata Bench and devoted to the production of white wines only — and not just any whites, but the Spanish tag team of Albarino and Verdejo, highly unusual names on the Canadian wine scene.  We were sent both the single-varietal Albarino and the Fandango field blend of both grapes, and were instantly converted to the cause of Okanagan Spanish whites.

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2016 Terravista Albarino ($25 cellar door)

This is the third ever vintage of Terravista’s 100% Albarino offering, 70% of which is sourced from grapes from Terravista’s home Lone Hand Ranch vineyard in Naramata, with the remaining 30% coming from a spot further south on Black Sage Road.  This is weirdly the SECOND BC Albarino I have written up on Pop & Pour, after Stag’s Hollow’s take on the grape that I tried in the summer…so if there are any other BC wineries making Albarino out there, I want to know about it.  This rendition of what may be Spain’s top white hits the glass a light straw colour, which belies a raging torrent of sweet creamsicle, lemon drop, vanilla bean, milk foam and guava aromas, in your face and ready to make an impression.  The riot continues on the palate, powered by coursing acidity and alcoholic power, absolutely pulsing with concentrated flavours of lime and green leaves, margaritas and mango, everything super exuberant and turned up to 11.  It feels like there is so much packed inside that the wine practically vibrates trying to hold it all together.  Utterly delicious, though you feel the strain of that power struggle around the edges.

Peter: 90- points     Raymond: 89+ points     Dan: 89 points

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2016 Terravista Fandango ($25 cellar door)

The precise split of this Albarino/Verdejo blend is unknown, and because it’s a field blend (where both varietals were harvested from the same vineyard and fermented together), it may never be precisely known, but Albarino is the majority partner in the mix.  Even though a large chunk of this bottle was the same grape from the same vineyard as the last bottle, the differences between them were immediately apparent.  There is some spritz to the Fandango, which forsakes the happy mania of the Albarino’s nose in favour of something much more mineral and stern, almost angry:  piercing lemon, grapefruit Epsom salts, sage, falling rainwater.  Everything falls into place with poised, razor-blade precision, the wine lean and clear on the tongue, transparent and focused, just charming enough not to be austere.  Orange, grass clippings, beach rocks and steel flavours create a seamless veneer that impeccably balances all facets of this mesmerizing bottle.  Although the ABV is the same as the Albarino (14%), you get no trace of it at all, only a cohesive, quietly monumental whole.  My wine of the night.

Peter: 91+ points     Raymond: 90+ points     Dan: 89+ points

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Crown Cap Rating: 5.0/10 (subtly classy), Cork Rating: 2.0/10 (pretty vanilla)

Bella Wines (by Raymond Lamontagne)

Meet Jay Drysdale, a retired chef who had always wanted to run his own sparkling wine house, and Wendy Rose, who grew up steeped in the California Cuisine culture originated by Alice Waters. What happened when they went truffle hunting on a first date?  Well, some shared culinary values formed a synergy, and British Columbia’s only winery dedicated solely to sparkling wines was ultimately born, named after Jay’s bulldog Bella.  These two artisans (or should I say “highly educated hippies” … I mean, truffle hunting on a first date?! … That’s just awesome!) seek to create sublime single vineyard-single varietal sparklers using traditional methods, including natural farming, use of wild yeast, and riddling by hand, although it would be a mistake to assume that this operation lacks precision.  I am hard-pressed to think of another boutique Canadian winery that achieves such a seamless integration of bucolic terroir-focused expression on the one hand and cerebral, purposefully applied technical expertise on the other, all stitched together with a supple artistic vision.

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2016 Bella Sparkling Rosé Brut Natural “Westbank” ($26 cellar door)

With this review, this wine becomes the first in Pop & Pour history to be featured twice on the blog.  This beauty led off last year’s Wine Advent calendar campaign in resplendent fashion.  Although I’m always keen to try new things, all three of us loved this (half-)bottle the first time around, and I was curious about how my impressions might differ during a second tasting from a full-sized format. This rose is 100% organic Gamay Noir from the Beaumont Estate Vineyard in West Kelowna, a site that enjoys a south-facing lake view and soil enriched with glacial deposits and some volcanic rock. Four hours of skin contact yield a vivid hard candy pink hue and pungent floral aromatics. I remember much of this:  raw red currants, strawberries, and raspberries, pink and white peppercorns, rose petals, hibiscus herbal tea, and two distinct watermelon notes, one recalling tart green rind and the other a klaxon of Jolly Rancher.  Precise sharp acid like a box-cutter, and buzzing hornet bubbles to match.  What’s novel (or at least more salient) this time around seems to be a rich autolytic depth:  layers of lightly burnt buttery pastry that combine with the aforementioned fruity and green notes to make this a dead ringer for a (fizzy) strawberry-rhubarb pie.  Over time, a further element of robust meatiness emerges, like pastrami dredged in pickling spices.  I personally appreciated this enhanced yeasty character, feeling that it provided some additional ballast to anchor and offset what would otherwise be a fiercely potent linear exactness.  I concur with the emerging view that BC Gamay deserves a wider audience.

Peter: 89+ points     Raymond: 91+ points     Dan: 91 points

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2016 Bella Methode Ancestrale Brut Keremeos Vineyard ($40 cellar door)

Now THIS is interesting…  Disregard what I was saying earlier about cerebral winemaking.  This is an already-low-intervention winery stripping things back even further, all the way back to the days of the first unintentionally sparkling wines. This wine was made by pressing whole clusters of organic Keremeos Vineyard Chardonnay, with the resulting juice left to ferment wild in neutral barrels by whatever microorganisms happened to be in the neighbourhood.  At just the right time, the juice was bottled by hand and allowed to finish fermentation there, in all its natural splendor. The result is a lees-heavy, cloudy pour that smells of frosted apple Pop Tarts and sharp honey.  The acidity is fresh but far from ferocious.  The taste recalls a sweeter, creamier side of bakery shop key lime, granola bar, malted milk powder, and a less clearly defined warm weather Chardonnay fruit salad, all against a subtle backdrop of lemon-lime soda and saltines.  I want to compare this to a broad artist’s canvas, one that displays a few rather inspired embellishments but also considerable blank space.  Nature is not perfect, nor is it supposed to be.

Peter: 88- points     Raymond: 89+ points     Dan: 90- points

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Cork Ratings: 4.0/10 (Decent use of real estate, but the logo could use a refresh. Why are there two different corks for these bottles of red?)

Fairview Cellars (by Dan Steeves)

Unfamiliar with Fairview Cellars?  Well, if you live outside of British Columbia, you’re likely not the only one. Wines from this low-production boutique winery located on the Golden Mile Bench in Oliver, BC, are almost exclusively sold within the province’s borders, with only a few elusive bottles making their way onto Alberta shelves (although I’ve never seen any myself).  Perhaps the production is too small at ~3,500 cases per year to allow for much in the way of export; more likely, there’s too much local demand for the wines.  Either way, Fairview should be on your radar!

Fairview Cellars specializes in red wines, particularly those made wholly or in part from three Bordeaux varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  They also produce a small amount of Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec for blending; have a small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc located next to the 1st hole green of the neighbouring golf course that shares its name; and most recently started producing a Pinot Noir from vineyards located off the estate.  Big, bold reds remain the bread and butter though, as founder Bill Eggert knew early on that the Golden Mile Bench area was perfect for growing such grapes. The hot and dry desert-like climate of the southern Okanagan, combined with complex soils with sufficient water retention ability and an eastern exposure that limits the heat of the afternoon sun, creates the trifecta that enables some serious wines to be produced in this area – as evidenced by Fairview’s lineup.

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2014 Fairview Cellars Cabernet Franc Premier Series ($27 cellar door)

Cabernet Franc can be a difficult wine to make, with relatively late ripening of the grapes required (although less than Cab Sauv) and sometimes an overtly green flavour to the wine, but Fairview can definitely handle these obstacles.  This medium ruby-coloured wine displayed more red bell pepper than green bell pepper (nicely walking that tightrope between varietal correctness and ripeness) along with cherry, blackberry jam, a light smokiness, and the slight funk of a soft cheese rind. Balance is key with this wine, as everything seems to intertwine and mingle together so well. Soft but persistent tannins help provide a smooth and elegant feel to this Cab Franc, which masks the 14.6% ABV well. It is poised and not over-the-top which makes it so easy to enjoy.

Peter: 91- points     Raymond: 90+ points     Dan: 90 points

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2014 Fairview Cellars “The Bear” Premier Series ($45 cellar door)

With a name like “The Bear”, it’s easy to speculate what this wine might be like, but it lives up to such grand connotations. The Bear is a blend made with five of the traditional Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) and contains at least 50%, and up to 75%, Cab Sauv in any given year. Only the best barrels are used for the blend and the wine is aged 14-20 months in barrel before bottling.  Extended skin contact gives this wine a deep ruby colour and it shows dark cherry, blueberry, sweet preserves, and cherry cough syrup aromas.  A little bit of spruce tree sap and baking spices (allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon) make an appearance as well, giving it a spicy complexity.  Big and bold with all structural components coming in at above average levels, it currently shows its youth. It doesn’t exude the same finesse as the Cab Franc at this point in its life, but in a couple years it will certainly shine even brighter.

Peter: 90 points     Raymond: 90 points     Dan: 89 points

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