Wines spring up: fresh, fruity, and scrubby, too

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      Not a week goes by without a clutch of new wines appearing, especially at this time of year. Sometimes they’re new vintages of old favourites. Sometimes they’re brand-new names and labels—fledgling wineries that are sending their first offerings out into a crowded and discerning market. Sometimes they’re wines that have been renamed, repackaged, rebranded.

      This week, they come from Langley, Vancouver Island, Australia’s McLaren Vale, and New Zealand’s Marlborough area. One or two names will be familiar to you; the rest may come as a surprise.

      Especially the first offerings, from what is now Vancouver Island’s largest vineyard and winery estate, the Cowichan Valley–based Averill Creek. This is the impressive culmination of a 30-year fixation of a former physician from Edmonton named Andy Johnson. In order to get a handle on grape growing and winemaking, Johnson apprenticed in vineyards in France and Italy, Australia and New Zealand, before settling in on the slopes of Mount Prevost, outside of Duncan.

      And there it is, then: a new winery, a portfolio of six varietals, and, this time out, a 2006 Pinot Gris (Johnson also makes it the Italian way, as a Pinot Grigio) and a Pinot Noir of the same vintage. The white costs $22, the red $23.

      I would have liked to taste the Grigio as well as the Gris, to find out what the difference is. The Pinot Gris is very light, somewhat tart, clean and bright and fresh, but perhaps not yet showing all that much individuality in style or flavour. It’s a refreshing, pleasing wine, but at that price point it faces quite a lot of competition.

      Averill Creek’s Pinot Noir hits the mark squarely this time out. Read Johnson’s Web site manifesto and you’ll learn why: his ambition is to produce the quintessential Canadian Pinot Noir. Based on this initial tasting, he’s well on his way. The wine has excellent fruit, massive extract, and a terrific follow-through from nose to finish; all present found a wonderful wine. Watch for subsequent vintages, and enjoy the 2006 now.

      (You can taste the portfolio at the winery’s big opening on Saturday [April 26] from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. See for details.)

      Australia’s Scrubby Rise vineyard is curiously named—there’s no scrub and it’s totally flat. It provides the name for some of the wines from Wirra Wirra Vineyards that have been in our market for a while. Here are two current vintages, again one white and one red. “Scrubby white” is apparently Aussie vernacular for Sauvignon Blanc, and that’s mostly what’s in the Sauvignon Blanc–Sémillon–Viognier 2007, fine value at $16.84. It’s ripe and rich, and mellower than most Sauvignons from McLaren Vale or elsewhere; the mellowing influence of the Viognier and the Sémillon is definitely felt. Lively and full and very fresh with fine acidity, this will be appearing on a patio or sun deck near you any day now.

      The red is even better. Scrubby Rise Shiraz–Cabernet–Petit Verdot 2006 ($17.83), despite its hefty 14.5 percent alcohol, is as round and mellow as you could ask for; big and bold and plummy, it coats the palate as it undulates to a silky finish. My first outing with it came as accompaniment to bison burgers with white anchovies and five-year-old Balderson cheddar and red onion and pickles on a crusty bun. Best barbie of the season so far, in terms of the food and wine pairing.

      It’s been years since I heard anything out of the Fraser Valley’s Domaine de Chaberton; I knew there was new ownership, among other changes. Here are the first two wines from the Chaberton new order to cross the palate: a 2006 Chardonnay (regular price $19.99, reduced for a limited time to $17.49), a so-called Barrel Reserve with massive alcohol at 14.8 percent. Two different wines, one aged nine months in new American oak, the other for the same length of time in new French. Deep, golden colour, rich, butterscotchy flavours, even some intriguing Dutch licorice in the taste mix—a most unusual Chardonnay. They say lobster, and I can see that, for the richness; maybe also select Chinese cuisine.

      For the red, there was Domaine de Chaberton Canoe Cove Okanagan Valley Shiraz 2004. The $30 price tag puts it in keen competition with other Okanagan Valley producers, particularly those on the Naramata Bench. (These grapes come from Black Sage, in the south Okanagan.) Plenty of mellow cherry fruit here, with big cinnamon in the spice mix and a lingering, soft finish. More predictable in the flavour profile than the Chardonnay, but very well made.

      Many wine drinkers have something of a love-hate thing with New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. They fluctuate so wildly, from the Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush style (don’t laugh—that’s the name on the label) to the crisp and slaty very French style, as in Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($18.99), from the Marlborough region. As well as slate, there’s smoke and lime and bright freshness. Somewhere, I have a lamb roast recipe from a New Zealand chef that matches this wine perfectly. The gooseberry aromas are here, but there’s something lush and tropical too. You may find this quite different from your current concept (or preconcept!) of kiwi SB; they’ve mellowed it out, and that suits this palate just fine. Great with Cobb salads, herby omelettes, quiches, a croque monsieur, etc.

      Last time I travelled through New Zealand, I came away with the distinct impression that nobody there knew how to make Riesling. The Villa Maria Marlborough Riesling 2006 ($16.99) doesn’t go very far to changing my mind, unfortunately. There’s far too much alcohol, which overwhelms the fruit. Instead, opt for the label’s Marlborough Riesling 2006 (also $16.99), which is very grapey and big, but not oaky or oily, with lots of curious fruit components—yellow plums and tart green apples, celery leaf and shredded kale. Unusual and very green, in colour and flavour. This one would be a terrific ringer in a Chardonnay blind tasting; nobody’d guess it.