B.C. wine stands up in blind Merlot tasting

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      I’ve been to a fair number of events where a winery’s new vintage of their flagship wine was launched, but I had never experienced something quite like this.

      It was just last week in a handsome room at the Vancouver Club, where British Columbia’s Culmina Family Estate Winery was presenting its 2013 Hypothesis, its latest red Bordeaux-blend wine coming from estate fruit grown on Oliver’s Golden Mile.

      Assembled in the room were 40 of Vancouver’s top sommeliers, retailers, and media, who were facing the presenting panel: family winery owners Don, Elaine, and (their daughter) Sara Triggs, along with the Vancouver Sun’s Anthony Gismondi, who acted as moderator.

      So why the need for a moderator when it’s just the launch of the new wine?

      Here’s where things get bold, and why it was a new experience for me. The Triggs family opted to launch their wine in a blind tasting, where their new release would be presented alongside global icons of a similar style.

      That’s gutsy, yeah?

      Now, consider that the wines they poured shoulder to shoulder with their own were all priced higher than theirs. As someone who often tastes wines blind, I can assure even the biggest skeptics that nothing is ever a lock. When it comes to unveiling a wine in any sort of exercise like this, it’s pretty much guaranteed that gasps will emanate from a few mouths. This is why I’d venture that it is potential suicide to launch a wine this way, to a room full of the city’s biggest buyers and influencers.

      Here are the five wines that were poured, in the order they were presented in front of us. All we were told was that they were all Merlots, or Merlot-dominant blends. (The 2013 Hypothesis is 38 percent Merlot, 36 percent Cabernet Franc, and 26 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.) That’s it. We weren’t aware of provenance, prices—nothing.

      Schiopetto Rivarossa 2013

      (Friuli, Italy; $55.99, Kitsilano Wine Cellar)

      No one, no one, in the room opined this wine was Italian. Words like Washington, Napa, and Chile were uttered, but I can’t even recall anyone going Old World. Ninety percent Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon rounding it out, this northern Italian wonder leads with mocha notes, followed by well-integrated dark berry fruit, with a good mineral undercurrent.

      It’s well concentrated, and although it’s well balanced with alcohol and said minerality, there’s an opulence here. Instinctively, I thought New World, warm climate—pinning it as Washington state. Nevertheless, a new favourite for me.

      Clos des Menuts Saint-émilion Grand Cru 2012

      (Bordeaux, France; $46.99, Kitsilano Wine Cellar)

      This was textbook right-bank Bordeaux, and most of us made that call. Currants, plums, spearmint, and a dusting of cocoa are all in fine restraint; the wine is so damn elegant, and the value here is impressive.

      Culmina Family Estate Winery Hypothesis 2013

      (Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $46, online)

      A few thought the Culmina wine was Chilean, and there was a smattering of discussion about it being Bordeaux as well. I enjoyed the sticky black fruit, mulberries, crackling minerality, and bright acidity. The giveaway (to me, at least) was the hallmark Okanagan sagebrush, along with rich concentration and the tannins being fairly grippy, all things we’re known for around these parts.

      This and the previous Saint-Émilion wine were my two favourites of the tasting; stylistically at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet each wonderful in its own way. There were many in the room of similar opinion.

      Château Gazin Pomerol 2013

      (Bordeaux, France; $142.99, Kitsilano Wine Cellar)

      By far the most expensive and, frankly, my least favourite. I found the blueberries and sour cherries to be a bit soupy, and although there were decent tannins, it somehow seemed as if that fruit and some oregano flavours were still spilling over the edges.

      Many agreed it was an outlier, though there were a fair number in the room who liked the style. Oddly enough, this is the wine that most thought was the Culmina. By far the priciest wine in the flight. I got nothing, other than a curiosity as to how I would have perceived the wine if I had known both where it was from and that jaw-dropping price.

      Merryvale Merlot 2013

      (Napa Valley, California; $94.99, Everything Wine)

      Back on track, most of us nailed this wine as coming from a Napa producer. Rich warm-climate Merlot is much of what one would expect: stewed dates, Italian plums, and blueberry compote are rich and inviting, kissed with a touch of sweetness on the finish. Oh, the decadence here.

      I don’t know what’s more impressive. Is it the Triggs family sticking their necks out for such a really courageous event? Is it that their wine showed very well among its global contemporaries? Or is it that—with all the yakking from many locals that B.C. wine can be so damn expensive—it was the least expensive wine that many preferred in the flight?

      It doesn’t matter what is more impressive. What matters is that the wine is worthy. It’s just being released this week; you should jump on it while you can.