Archive for October, 2019

Ask Sid: How much has the BC wine industry increased in the last while?

October 30th, 2019
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british columbia wine industry vineyards

Question: Has the British Columbia wine industry increased much in the last while?

Answer: Yes indeed! As reported by Wines of British Columbia ( there has been a dramatic increase. Back in 1990 the number of wineries with grape production sat at only 17 with 1,476 acres planted. Those figures have continued to increase steadily every year now standing at the beginning of 2019 as a total of 280 and 10,499. Still relatively small on the world stage but expanding with a diverse unique terroir.

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Masterclass: Built to Last – The Ageability of BC Wine

October 28th, 2019

Just attended a wonderful educational program called Wine BC BootCamp organized by the always forward thinking BC Wine Institute to increase global awareness of this Province as a unique premium wine region. This was the third annual one and the best yet with knowledgeable influential enthusiasts invited from all over Canada plus USA, UK, Hong Kong and Shanghai China. The sessions were organized and ably moderated by Rhys Pender MW and his team over 4 days including meals with insightful wine pairings plus cutting edge Masterclass topics for discussion led by winery principals. A brief summary of 10 highlights would include these:

1. What makes British Columbia wine country so UNIQUE? History lesson welcome looking at climate and #BCVQA quality standards. Changing from 75% white to now only 25% but still with only some 12,000+ acres far behind leaders Spain 1.24 million, China & France at 1.9 and Italy 1.7. Nearing 300 wineries (3 times that is growers) with 84% total acreage 185 wineries 4 GIs in Okanagan Valley, 6% Similkameen 15 wineries, but diversely spreading to 32 Vancouver Island, 25 Fraser Valley, 4 Gulf Islands, 2 Lillooet, 4 Thompson Valley, 10 Shuswap, and 6 Kootenays. Some important factors of climate influence on resulting wines:

(a) Naturally high levels of acidity
(b) Naturally intense fruit flavours
(c) Naturally high levels of tannins in the reds
(d) Warm to hot days over a shorter compact season with cool nights
(e) Long sunlight hours
(f) Cold winters
(g) Rain shadow dry conditions

2. Diversity-Terroir, Culture, Cuisine in Southerly Oliver Osoyoos region of 33 km from McIntyre Bluff to USA border supplying 60% of all grapes grown in BC.

3. Soils & Geology. Soil scientist Scott Smith gave a detailed review of the silt loam sandy character lower down, granite & gravel above on the higher slopes together with calcium carbonate of spreading alluvial fans all contributing diverse complexity. Admirably using more science to base his evolving GI (Geographical Indication) expansion of BC appellations than used in òother places.

4. Digging Deep in Similkameen Valley examining 3 pits dug out at Corcelettes Estate Winery showing typical dirt, Stemwinder with some chalk, and mixtures of soils with and without stones but with that constant wind blowing through cooling down plus keeping the grapes clean.

5. Brilliant highly recommended new Row Fourteen Restaurant at Klippers in Cawston highlighting the micro-climates of the Similkameen wines at delicious lunch using local ingredients.

6. Tasting 88 top BC wines and choosing some which match best to regional chef preparations for a dinner menu. Classics like a Rhone white blend with Arctic Char to a daring Syrah with dark chocolate dessert worked well.

7. The “Why” behind the “Where” of 30 wineries along a winding 15 km road of Naramata Bench on the east side overlooking Okanagan Lake.

8. BC’s Top Varietals featured not the most planted Pinot Gris & Merlot varieties but Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah both tasting disclosed textbook fine examples plus trying blind against International examples and faring very well indeed!

9. Super “Natural” BC including Orange, Wild Ferments, Concrete, Ancestral…

10. Built to Last – The Ageability of BC Wine. Longevity most promising from natural acidity, intense fruit, and impressive structure shown in 4 mini-verticals each of 3 wines each held at Painted Rock where long hang time for reds there continues into November for this promising but cooler year 2019. All these wines certainly showed encouragement for aging:

(a) Riesling Orofino 2008 still pale vibrant colour same young look as 2012 & 2017 but has lovely developing petrol. John Weber says all high acid (9-11) with low residual sugar (2012 has most at 9 g/l)and drinkable either young or older with more complexity. Your choice.

(b) Pinot Noir Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve 2017 and earlier picked 2013 holding well as is warmer year 2009. Ross Baker says style changing somewhat with less skin contact (16-18 days) and 45% new French oak but giving the consumer what she expects from it. Richard’s Block is a different clone with more structure and allows them to play, push, and experiment more with the variety. Place is key for pinot noir with sandy soils lighter more forwardly while more structured to age from most appropriate soils including clay.

(c) Signature Bordeaux Blend Clos du Soleil 2008, 2012, and 2015. Michael Clark started with south side of Osoyoos fruit but 2008 had that plus some younger Similkameen while 2012 only 5% from Okanagan and 2015 only their 2 Similkameen sites. Getting more of that distinctive graphite, mineral, smoky notes of his specific terroir own grapes now with the future looking bright indeed. His wine science background is valuable and he is managing his 3 tiers of Bordeaux blends well with a sometimes “less is more” mentality for excellent aging potential.

(d) Cabernet Sauvignon Painted Rock 2007, cooler 2011, and 2014 all still developing. Owner John Skinner after long search for great property potential planted in 2005 and first crop 2007. Smart to plant Chardonnay on north part where 5 degrees cooler and this cab on the warmer sections. Encouraged by Consultant Alain Sutre telling him that his yet to be picked 2019 reds should be his best cool year yet. Structure and approach make for long aging wines.
BC wine is on the move with wines looking more age worthy all the time.


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Ask Sid: Best wine made in Spain?

October 23rd, 2019
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what is the best spanish wine?

Question: What is the best wine made in Spain?

Answer: Difficult question with lots of appropriate answers. It definitely should include  Unico (“only one” or “unique”) made by Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero. It is a fantastic expensive red wine produced from Tempranillo (called “Tinto Fino”) & Cabernet Sauvignon grapes aged a long time in various size barrels of French & American oak resulting in spectacular complexity.

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BARBARESCO: An exquisite wine region!

October 21st, 2019

Always enjoy a visit to the vineyards in the Barbaresco area of Italy which includes that wonderful village plus Neive & Treiso. They are still so uniquely quaint when compared with the always increasing in size Alba and much busier Barolo region. In fact they posted a sign on the main road of Barbaresco “No cars beyond this point” on Tuesday October 8, 2019 saying “The Nebbiolo Harvest is happening now”. What a total community effort saying “You are welcome to walk and watch”. Got to like that. The last 2 weeks before harvest were perfect for nebbiolo ripening with cool mornings, warm afternoons, and cool nights. Encouraging. So many small wineries but being led by the quality for price Produttori del Barbaresco and the iconic Gaja. Visited both for updates this month and continue to be very impressed with their outstanding wines.

PRODUTTORI Del BARBARESCO: Spent most of October 7 (the day before their 2019 harvest of nebbiolo commenced) with the incomparable so knowledgeable Aldo Vacca including a tour of their 2 wineries & vineyards, a wine tasting, and a tarajin tartufo bianco d’Alba lunch at next door Antica Torre. Aldo spent 4 years at Gaja but now 25 at PdB bringing them to their elite status. Unbelievable how he has brought all 54 members farming 110 hectares onto the same page focusing on what is best for overall quality of the coop including reliable flagship Barbaresco. Their 9 single-cru Riservas launched in 1967 are now sensational at showing the terroir differences in those vineyards. They range from powerful full “Barolo of Barbaresco” Montestefano, austere sharper finish Montefico, bright high acid affected by northern winds and closest to Tanaro river Paje – improving by global climate change, softer more approachable Pora & Rio Sordo, and highest at 320 metres where the 15% & 24% calcium soils meet for the most complete elegant Rabaja (not easy to appreciate young). PdB has larger holding in lively Ovello and Aldo says they could increase the cru bottling by 6 times there while in Paje not much land owned so most of it goes into that cru. Good to know as this makes Ovello perhaps most reliable in difficult vintages by their best selection. The coop elects 9 members to a Board for 3 year terms and appoint a president with meetings held monthly. Interesting decision how in 2010 (a great Barolo vintage) no crus were declared because more rain and wet soil in Barbaresco. Some members had excellent quality grapes and were paid accordingly but that improved the 2010 Barbaresco. 2014 was the reverse with Barbaresco enjoying better weather than Barolo (who had more August & September rain) with a smaller resulting production but turned out better than consumers realize. They are presently available at BC LDB stores at relative value of $70.99 Canadian a bottle (with mags of Montestefano, Ovello, and Rabaja at $145.99). Aldo has been mentoring Luca one of the family members for the last 5 years and eventually hopes to step aside to find time to ride his bicycle more and perhaps remain in a role as reception room host. Your scribe also elicted from Aldo on this trip seven more learned gems:

1. Overall quality of nebbiolo vines has improved now as all clonal selection used since 1995 must come from University of Torino research on low yielding fruit best aromatics virus free 12 dozen mother plants propagated supplied by the nursey.

2. Better weather plus old clones with vine age and these choice new plants are resulting in the best nebbiolo wines ever produced.

3. Dolcetto now a tendency to get too ripe or being picked too early so some being replanted with nebbiolo.

4. Alcohol levels go by .5 degrees so where it says 14.5 on the label it actually could be anywhere from 14.1 to 14.9.

5. 2018 is good but perhaps not complex enough. Keep separate now but may blend later. Like 2010 may be too much on the light side.

6. 2015 is a fantastic vintage mellow and very ripe while 2016 also exciting being very bright.

7. Regulations allow both Barolo & Barbaresco to use screw cap closures. Might be a good marketing opportunity for some producer to try.

GAJA: What can you say about this historic family. So great. What leadership with a continuing emphasis on quality that they have provided for the whole Piedmont region. From 1961 only using their own grapes. Great history lesson again at the winery from the always personable Sonia Franco but they normally don’t take visitors. Lots of old botti including #1. Wood can dry out during hot summers so spray to keep humidity up. Enjoyed time again with Gaia Gaja who is following her father Angelo. She spent 2 years in San Franciso before coming back and we reminisced about the Mondavis and the Napa wine scene. She tried from their own cellar recently a Carneros Pinot Noir from the seventies that was still very good. Also that her last visit to Vancouver for a wine event was held on the unusual site of the Canucks ice hockey rink floor. Gaia feels the 2015 is very good for them with healthy grapes, good acidity and lots of finesse too – an impressive Barolo Sperss. 2016 is vibrant & fresh as shown by oldest vines Costa Russi, higher up Sori Tildin & richer complex Sori San Lorenzo all opened at 8:30 for a noon tasting. Aged 1999 Barbaresco so elegant with a remarkable mature bouquet of true tar & roses combining power & delicacy. Surprise was how fresh the 2006 chardonnay remained with complex pineapple and pears. Nothing but admiration for Gaja.

So much fun just walking through the vineyards and spending time trying to understand their uniqueness better. A 11K jaunt to Neive round trip was super and found there a new high quality wine inventory store Vinoland with free tasting run by young enthusiast Vincenzo Nicotra from Sicily. Also check out Bottega Dei Grandi Vini di Treiso Enoteca Comunale and amazing culinary treats and vast cellar at La Ciau del Tornavento. In Barbaresco the new keen to excel Campamac restaurant and informal fun Koki wine bar are a must. Highest recommendation to stay right in the town at Casa Boffo Camere with Carlo & Laura for comfort & tremendous hospitality.


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Ask Sid: Where was the first sparkling wine in the world produced?

October 16th, 2019
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where was champagne invented?

Question: Where was the first sparkling wine made?

Answer: Many people think immediately of Champagne and Dom Perignon or the recently proclaimed early fizz in England all during the 1600s. However the historians now believe it was produced first around the city of Limoux in SW France by Saint-Hilaire monks in the 1500s (around 1531). Those ancient bubbles now are 3 AOC wines of Blanquette de Limoux. Blanquette method ancestrale, and Cremant de Limoux.

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