chardonnay

CHECKMATE ARTISANAL WINERY

Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Photo courtesy of CheckMate Artisanal Winery

Winery Visits: By Appointment Only

Location: Golden Mile, Oliver, BC

Website: www.checkmatewinery.com

A no-expenses-spared undertaking funded by the Mission Hill umbrella, this top secret project is finally available to taste. The winery has released just five wines: all are 100% Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.

CheckMate’s winery is tucked away off the road south of Oliver in the Golden Mile area - near CC Jentsch and Culmina - available to visit only through privately arranged appointment (and it sounds like those are very exclusive indeed). Actually, until recently almost everything about this project has been cloaked in a shroud of prestige and mystery, including the wines themselves.

Before we talk wine, though, a little history: in 1994, Mission Hill Winery's reserve Chardonnay won Avery's Trophy at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. This was to put it mildly, a game changer for the Okanagan. The grapes used in that wine are from some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in Canada, from a plot on the Golden Mile that’s newly under the ownership of CheckMate. The plot’s still planted with this not yet identifiable clone that's being called Heritage.

These are wines several years in the making, and no corners have been cut. From three different sites, Aussie winemaker Philip Mcgahan (a transplant by way of the Hunter and Russian River Valleys) had his pick of the best rows from the best sites. Grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, and in the winery they’re experimenting with wild ferments. Kudos for their championing of no fining or filtration, instead letting the work of gravity and time take place. The bottles themselves are a tactile person’s delight, heavy and stubbily 19th century in shape.

The five wines, in what some may consider hubris, others brilliant marketing, range from $80 to $125 per bottle, and are available only through direct purchase on their website or from a restaurant wine list. Online, they are offered in elegantly packaged sets of three or five wines.

As I tasted the wines, I had a mixture of thoughts: not wanting to be accused of provincialism, but proud that these marquee wines may further help put the Okanagan on wine lover’s minds and maps. I’ve talked with some people ready to dismiss them as outrageously priced, and others ready to drink the kool-aid before they’ve even drunk the wines.

After tasting, I’m converted. They’re impeccably made, beautiful wines with soul.

Capture $90 - 94 points

The grapes for this wine are from the Border Vista vineyard, a warm site on the east bench of Osoyoos overlooking Osoyoos Lake. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, and only seven barrel’s worth was made. 

This was my favourite of the five, peaches and cream in the mouth, mineral, then with a clementine-citrus ring of acidity that kept going and going. Just amazing.

Queen Taken $125 - 92 points

Made from those mysterious Heritage grapes, on the cooler slopes of the Golden Mile, aged in French oak for 17 months.

Pear, apple, white peach, less linear than Capture but there’s lime here, and a touch of feminine floral perfume.

Little Pawn $110 - 93 points

Grapes are from the Barn vineyard, on the sunny eastern side of the valley’s Black Sage Bench.

Playful, with mineral on the nose, then pepper and ginger spiced apples on the palate. Sophisticated, hinting at ripeness yet taut.

Fool’s Mate $80 - 91 points

A blend of all three vineyard sites, aged 17 months in French oak.

Delightful yeast and biscuit nose. Generous but balanced oak, vanilla cream, mandarine, citrus, and peach.

Attack $115 - 93 points

A blend of grapes from the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile sites. Aged 18 months in a substantial and new French oak foudre (large oval barrel).

Restrained toast and vanilla nose, silky textured palate, with gunmetal and gravel, then a hint of lemon, almond blossom, white pepper and ginger root.

REFRESHING AUSSIE WHITES FOR PATIO WEATHER

What do patio umbrellas, floppy hats, coconut scented sunblock and backyard bbqs bring to mind? If you’re a wine lover, it’s a crisp, refreshing glass of chilled white wine.

Here are a few selections from a country that knows how to rock the outdoor get together, Australia! They may be best known for their powerhouse Shiraz reds, but I think you’re going to fall in love with these distinctive, lively whites from some of the oldest family wineries in the country.

Next time you head to the wine shop, seek out the Aussie section for these tasty bottles:

‘The Money Spider’ Roussanne 2013 – d’Arenberg

Rumour has it, if the tiny money spider crosses your path, money is soon to follow. This zesty, zingy wine is vibrantly full of lime and honey blossom. If you’re into NZ Sauv Blanc, give this little number a try! $17+

Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2013 – McWilliam’s

Made from high altitude grapes, which helps capture bright acidity, and concentrated crisp green apple and pear flavors. If you’re into Chablis, give this zinger a chance to delight you at your next picnic. $18+

‘Museum Release’ Marsanne 2008 – Tahbilk

Not too many people have had the chance to taste a Marsanne-based wine, a bit of a shame really, as with a little age like this 2008 release, it has incredible mineral, peach & melon, plus a nutty, toasty richness. Perfect for a leisurely glass on a chic patio. $21+

‘Vat 1’ Semillon 2011 – Tyrrell’s

This lux sipper is perfect for bringing to a fancy BBQ, a total crowd pleaser with hints of lemon, lime and a hit of popcorn richness from bottle aging. Pair with some shrimp kabobs and you’re golden! $35+

HOW TO FIND A NEW GRAPE TO TRY (BASED ON WINE YOU LOVE)

Hey, sometimes it’s nice having a routine. You know, get home on a Wednesday night, put on some PJ’s and pop the same old merlot while you cook dinner. It’s comfy, cozy, familiar, and for sure it’s going to taste great.

But you only live once, and there are so many delicious grapes out there that you could be missing out on (#grapefomo - it's real).

I’m here to issue a challenge: Try A New Grape

Find your usual go-to grape below (they’re listed in order from light to more powerful flavour-wise), and check out the alternate I’ve suggested for you.

Next time you find yourself in the shop or at the wine bar, I double dare you to try something new!

If you usually drink: Pinot Grigio Try: Pinot Gris

Yes, these are absolutely the same grape. I’m not trying to trick you! There is a stylistic difference between the more acidic, crisp and neutral Italian Pinot Grigio, and the softer, fuller bodied but still racy Pinot Gris. You’re going to find the Pinot Gris has riper flavours of lemon and peach, and will often carry a whiff of honey. PG is such a food wine, it’s going to go great with everything from cheeses to spicy take-out. The regions to look out for are Oregon (I LOVE Willamette Valley) and Alsace in France.

If you usually drink: Sauvignon Blanc Try: Gruner Veltliner

When you think of Sauvignon Blanc, do you picture New Zealand? I know I do. The classic NZ Sauv is distinctly grassy and herbal, sometimes with green pepper, elderflower and gooseberry flavours, and is deliciously juicy. OK, so now I totally feel like a glass of the stuff. But I want you to try something new, a funny little grape called Gruner (pronounced “groon-er”). Gruner’s had a hot moment among sommeliers, so you should be able to find one by the glass no problemo. Expect a fuller bodied white, with citrus flavour and a little white pepper spice. The country to look out for is Austria, and make sure you ask for a dry Gruner as some have residual sugar (aka are off-dry).

If you usually drink: Chardonnay Try: Semillon

Where my ABC’ers at (Anything But Chardonnay)? Keep moving, peeps. For those who love the Chard, you know it can make everything from refreshing un-oaked lemony goodness, all the way to buttery vanilla bombs. I personally don’t mind a distinct oak flavour, although wine snobs will rue my lack of sophistication! I want you to try Semillon, which produces ripe, fuller bodied wines with honeyed citrus flavours. The home base of Semillion is Bordeaux, France, where it’s often blended with Sauv Blanc (and makes the cult sweet wine Sauternes). Look to Australia (Hunter and Barossa Valleys, and Margaret River) for lusher, quaffable dry examples.

If you usually drink: Riesling Try: Chenin Blanc

If you’re a true Riesling evangelist, nothing I say is going to make you jump ship to another varietal. Heck, it’s my favourite white grape. I love that it can produce incredibly refreshing, zesty wines with a distinctive white flower andpeach/nectarine aroma, but with it’s high acidity is also capable of making some of the best sweet wines in the world. Think mouthwatering honey, orange peel, and a distinct petrol smell when it ages. I’m putting forward Chenin as an alternate. Look to France’s Loire Valley for Chenin, from Savennieres for a dry style or from Vouvray for sweet. Chenin has bracing acidity, and can have a pleasing minerality. Let me know if you like it!

If you usually drink: Gewurtztraminer Try: Viognier

Gewurtz (‘guh-werts-tra-meen-er’) is one of those grapes that I pray is on a blind tasting exam. It’s got a lovely rosewater and lychee perfume that is unmistakable. However, it can be an acquired taste, as its strong aroma and full body can be overpowering for some. If you love the Gew, I want you to try Viognier, also a full bodied wine with pleasing bouquet. Viognier also has this incredible waxy texture that I adore, and flavours of nuts, stone fruits, and honeysuckle. Both Gewurtz and Viognier tend to have lower acidity (that mouth puckering effect), and can have higher alcohol than other whites. Viognier’s classical home base is Condrieu in France’s Northern Rhone Valley, but that area can be a bit spendy. Look to British Columbia, California, Australia, and Argentina for thriftier options.

If you usually drink: Pinot Noir Try: Tempranillo

Pinot, the darling of the movie “Sideways”, totally has my heart. If there was a perfume I could buy that accurately captured its enticing strawberry, cherry, forest floor and leather scent, I would bathe in it. Pinot can range from the elegant and “restrained” reds of Burgundy, to the riper and more accessible wines of New Zealand (Central Otago) and Oregon. Not that it will replace your beloved Pinot, but Tempranillo (“tem-pran-ee-yo”) can also claim an intoxicating perfume of cherries and tobacco. Look for luscious examples from Ribera del Douro or Rioja in Spain (watch out for these aging terms on the label: Crianza are youthful and riper, the Reserva/Gran Reserva have less overtly fruity flavours).

If you usually drink: Merlot Try: Carmenere

Ahh, plummy, ripe and plush Merlot, why do people neglect you so? Nothing goes so well with a pleasant evening as a nice glass of easygoing Merlot.  That being said, why not give Carmenere a try? Both of these grapes call Bordeaux home, they’re like kissing cousins, really. Chile is where you’ll find the Carm, some of it from very old vines, where it produces a deeply coloured wine with smooth, plump red and black fruit flavours.

If you usually drink: Syrah/Shiraz Try: Mourvedre/Monastrell

Syrah and Shiraz are two sides of the same coin, the same grape done in different styles. Syrah can be lighter in colour, more restrained, with more chewy tannins, and finds its home in the Rhone Valley. Shiraz, the fruitier, riper, chattier of the two is famously produced in Australia and California. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone dislike a Shiraz, they’re just so unrepentantly jammy and tasty. I want you to give Mourvedre/Monastrell a try. Again, these are different names for the same grape. Mourvedre calls Southern Rhone home, and Monastrell lives in Spain. They’re stylistically closer to Shiraz, with peppery, meaty, mocha, and blackberry notes. Look for approachable examples from Eastern Washington State, Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla in Spain, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.

If you usually drink: Cabernet Sauvignon Try: Pinotage

When I picture Cab Sauv drinkers, they’re in a cozy, masculine den, a roaring fire, smoking cigars after dinner. This powerhouse, known as the “King of Grapes, makes some incredible wines, with good acidity, full body and noticeable tannins. It has black fruit flavours, and sometimes you can catch a whiff of mint or eucalyptus on the nose. Cab’s often blended with Merlot to soften it up, and if you’re in Napa Valley and hear someone say “it’s a Bordeaux blend” that’s exactly what’s going on. Cab lover, I want you to give Pinotage (“pee-no-taj”) a try. Although Pinot Noir is Pinotage’s parent, they are very different, which you’ll learn as soon as you encounter it’s bold tannins. This grape finds its epicentre in South Africa, and makes dark, spicy, black fruit, and mocha wines that can have a neat licorice finish.

If you usually drink: Zinfandel Try: Nero D’Avola

Zin, you’re another one of those grapes where I’ve never had a bad glass. Perhaps it’s because you thrive in hot sunny climates, where getting ripe is not a problem. Zin has smooth velvety tannins, bold black fruit flavours, and mocha and tobacco notes. It’s home is Lodi, California, and is also found under the name Primitivo in Puglia (heel of the boot), Italy. I want to steer you towards Sicily, where you’ll find Nero D’Avola (“the black grape from Avola“). This is another full-bodied, heat loving grape that’s going to give you soft plummy spice flavours of with a little more acidity than your Zin.

Whew! We made it through. Now I want to know, what’s YOUR go-to grape, and what’s new to you that you’re most excited to try?

ROAD 13 VINEYARDS

Photo courtesy Road 13 Vineyards

Photo courtesy Road 13 Vineyards

Winery Visits: Daily 10 am-5:30 pm Easter to Oct 31st / Mon-Sat 11 am-4 pm Nov 1st to Easter

Location: 799 Ponderosa Road, Oliver, BC

Website: www.road13vineyards.com

Phone: 250-498-8330

I recently had the chance to taste through some of Road 13 Vineyard’s best reserve bottles. The winery, located in the Okanagan’s Golden Mile, has some of the oldest Chenin vines in Canada, planted in 1968. They’re having fun making a wide variety of wines, and experimenting with Rhone varietals like viognier, mourvedre, and syrah. GM Joe Luckhurst was on hand to walk us through the tasting, and he explained the Jackpot series is named for the old gold mine once open near the property.

The 2011 Jackpot Chardonnay ($40) stood out among the whites, and is the perfect gift for the Chardonnay hound in your life. Full bodied, vanilla finish, barrel fermented in French oak, this is a big, ripe, smooth wine that tasted like “liquid luck”.

Among the reds, their 2011 Jackpot Syrah ($40) was notable for its incredible nose, with tobacco smoke, and an earthy, savoury leather character. It tasted of ripe cherries and blackcurrant, with a pleasant meaty note and silky tannins. This would be a real hit with your next Sunday lamb roast.

Also of note was the 2011 Petit Verdot, at $75, a contender for the next big cult BC wine. Opaque ruby in the glass, this had candied violets and mocha on the nose, with big high acid black fruit and a long peppery finish. Lay it down for a couple of years, and you would have a spectacular special occasion wine.

All the wines we tasted were well made, with attention to detail and obvious pride. While the whites shared a full bodied style, with a distinct mouth coating waxiness, moderate acidity, and interesting character, the crowd pleasers were the ripe, luscious reds. Road 13 is making some great wines which are worth seeking out.

Road 13 Vineyards

799 Ponderosa Road, Road 13
Oliver, BC V0H 1T1
Phone: 250.498.8330