A roundup of the year's best domestic reds

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      If any further proof were needed that people who claim B.C. can’t produce any fine red wines simply don’t know anything about wine, the 30th annual B.C. Wine Awards laid that one to rest. And so say all of us. Sixteen of the gold medals awarded went to reds, and 50 of the silvers. I can’t recall how many bronzes; I stopped counting.

      So here’s a roundup of Best of the Year domestic reds—they’ve been kept on file since the start of the year. Five aren’t included below since they have long been sold out: 8th Generation Pinot Noir, La Frenz Shiraz, La Frenz Reserve Pinot Noir, Orofino Petit Verdot, and Twisted Tree Tempranillo. All were 2008 vintages. Twisted Tree, in fact, has only one red remaining in its portfolio, the Tannat, and that too may well be gone by the time this column hits print.

      Burrowing Owl Athene 2008 ($37)
      This is a fabulous new blend, the first new label to be added to the winery’s gorgeous portfolio in eight years. Named after the genus Athene to which the burrowing owl belongs, it’s a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in almost equal amounts that began as an experimental blend in the cellar. It is a sensational sipping wine, full of fruit, mint, chocolate, herbs, and spices, and a choice cheese wine that works wonderfully with my favourite “3Ms”: Morbier, Mimolette, and (aged) Manchego. Only 663 cases were produced, and it was only released a few months ago. It won’t be around for long.

      Desert Hills Syrah Select 2007 ($34.90)
      Everything a good homegrown Shiraz should be: big, bold fruit; complex flavours all along the palate; a stunning finish. If you can get some for Christmas dinner, it will do the traditional roasts proud.

      Ex Nihilo Merlot 2006 ($34.95)
      From the winery that gave us the Rolling Stones icewine, a state-of-the-art Merlot with dark chocolate depth and fragrant fruit. There are few Merlots this or any year in the Okanagan that can touch it for complexity and satisfaction. If you thought you “can’t get no”, here it is, in spades.

      Herder Meritage 2008 ($20)
      This is quite likely the best-value B.C. Meritage this year. Mostly Merlot, the two Cabernets, Malbec, and Petit Verdot constitute the mix. Soft and round and worth the trip to the winery—yes, even in the snow. Finesse embodied in a bottle.

      Orofino Beleza 2008 ($33.90)
      Another glorious blend, fronted by lots of Merlot. Huge, ripe fruit, too many flavour components to try and identify them all, but that might be a nice after-dinner party game, so get the magnum ($80) and everyone can participate. At the winery only, of course.

      Painted Rock Red Icon 2007 ($55)
      Who’d have believed, 10 years ago (back when perhaps we couldn’t produce much great red wine!), that we’d get to the point where 50-plus-dollar wines are starting to become commonplace. Who’ll break the hundred-dollar barrier? Painted Rock came out of the chute with all barrels blazing. This is their Meritage-style blend, and it still has a few years to go to reach its full potential. Not that you can’t drink it now—and thoroughly enjoy it—but I think there’s still taste treasure locked inside, so get some to keep awhile.

      Seven Stones Row 128 Merlot 2008 ($24.99)
      One of the Similkameen’s real chart-busters, 100-percent Merlot, this is the first vintage, and few bottles of the 300-case total remain. But they’re sure worth tracking down. Intriguing in aroma, palate, and an endless finish. Have you noticed how many of these winners are Merlot-focused?

      Seven Stones The Legend 2008 ($45)
      Another high-bid blend, and another Meritage-style wine from this iconic winery. (Can you get to be iconic after only three or four vintages?) The base here is Cabernet Sauvignon at 50 percent, there’s Merlot at 30, Petit Verdot at 12, and Cab Franc at eight. Textbook Meritage mix, sumptuous all over the palate, you can pick out the individual fruit, and it’s fabulous. I hope George and Vivianne Hanson have their vineyards heavily insured.

      Stoneboat Pinotage Solo 2008 ($33)
      The temptation is great to list the whole Stoneboat portfolio in any Best of the Year lineup, but while the other reds (and the whites and the sweets) are worthy of your attention anytime, the fact that the Martiniuk family has tamed the stubborn South African grape and created such a soft, lively, mellow wine is nothing short of marvellous. If you’ve tried Pinotage before and not found it to your liking, try it again here.

      Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2007 ($29.99)
      The Oldfield Series is winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s top-tier label, and here’s why. Made from 100-percent Syrah, it’s a treat with fine barbecue dishes (you know, not just blackened for the sake of, but something sauced and spiced í  la the Fire Chef). A most mellow Syrah with lots of finesse.

      Van Westen Voluptuous 2007 ($29.90)
      Merlot married to Cabernet Franc with big bunches of ripe fruit and (the winemaker’s term) “burlap” in the aroma. It’s got cherries and brown sugar, even some rye toast when it finishes, which could take till after New Year’s!

      Van Westen Vivre la Vie 2007 ($27.90)
      The newest of Rob Van Westen’s labels, still keeping with the V theme, is this all-Merlot (well, he couldn’t very well call it Verlot, could he?). He defines the name as “to live the life”, which about sums up the whole winemaking thing for this former fruit farmer and his family. That’s some Merlot! Get it, keep it, and we’ll talk again in 2015, by which time it might be ready to give up some of its still-locked-in flavour secrets. Rich and spicy, for Parmesan and frantoio extra virgin olive oil and the classic, salt-less Tuscan bread, and prosciutto and pears and dried nectarines. Remarkably fine Merlot.

      Young & Wyse Collection “33”¢30”¢24”¢13” 2009 ($27.90)
      This is the fairly fledgling winery’s Meritage, and the number is the formula: in sequence, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. It’s a clever bit of naming for a beautiful blend; you’ll taste coffee and licorice, dark fruit and almonds, cinnamon and star anise. A rich wine and well priced amid the welter of 40-plusers. Based on its initial (red) offerings, let me make my first New Year’s prediction: this is shaping up to be one standout winery. Get in on it early.

      Next week we start retasting imports.




      Dec 17, 2010 at 10:49am

      I was in a little wine shop in the West End yesterday (in the Denman mall) and I'm pretty sure they have some of the Orofino 'Beliza' in stock. They had a few Painted Rocks as well, although I'm not entirely sure of which they were or if they had the Red Icon. Young & Wyse they've carried for awhile now. I know because I've had a few to drink! ;)


      Dec 18, 2010 at 12:33pm

      Well done..a great list all round.
      I would have included the top end reds from Pentage, Poplar Grove and ANYTHING made by Bill Eggert at Fairview but that's just me..

      Bill Phillips

      Dec 18, 2010 at 3:38pm

      Amen to your praise of the Stoneboat Pinotage! I'm one of those who have tried pinotage before and wondered why the South Africans fuss over it. But Stoneboat's velvety 2008 Solo is a Road-To-Damascus revelation.

      Philip Durell

      Jul 7, 2011 at 9:41am

      Totally agree on the Herder Meritage & guess what it drinks better with age - simply outstanding for a $20 BC wine & better than many at nearly double the price. It is my standard drinking red.

      On another Herder note the 2007 Josephine ($40) is drinking really well right now. Can't wait for October when they release the 2008 vintage - yes that's right a BC winery waiting a full 3 years before releasing its signature wine so that it drinks well on sale. Compare that to many much more expensive 2009 BC red wines already released & some as early as April.

      Herder's doing it right