When the SIP Wines VQA store in Richmond closed early this year, there was concern that it also meant an end to the annual BC Iconic Reds tasting after eight years.
Fortunately, Sutton Place Wine Merchants stepped up as the wine store sponsor. The ninth annual tasting has just concluded.
The tasting, which the sponsors now bill as “British Columbia’s Premier Wine Tasting Competition,” emerged from brainstorming between the late John Levine and the owners of SIP Wines, Simon and Sandy Wosk. The idea was a competition among the best of British Columbia’s Bordeaux style reds.
John, a restaurateur and the founder of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, was an extraordinary wine lover and a perceptive champion of British Columbia wines. He recognized the dramatic increases in the quality of the wines. The Iconic Reds competition was conceived to bring more attention to these superb wines.
This year, about 100 wine lovers gathered in a ballroom at the Sutton Place Hotel to taste and judge 20 leading Okanagan red wines. The wines, which had been decanted in the afternoon, were served one at a time in a random order. Of course, the wines were not identified until the two-hour tasting was over.
At the end, the tasters voted on their top five picks, an arbitrary but sensible number to prevent overwhelming the computer tabulation. Rating all 20 wines would have meant an evening as long as the recent American election.
I have listed the five winners, followed by the others in alphabetical order. The tasting notes are from the wineries where such notes were available. Otherwise, I have inserted my tasting notes.
These are 20 of the best reds from three excellent recent vintages. Some of these wines are hard to find but Sutton Place Wine Merchants has allocations of all. The limited volumes mean buyers will need to move quickly to get these.
1. Nk'Mip Mer'r'iym 2014 ($50). Cabernet Sauvignon 55%, Merlot 30%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Malbec 5%. Alcohol 14.75%. Aged 18 months in French oak. Winery tasting notes: “Aromas of blackberry, tobacco, juniper and mint lead to flavours of berry fruits and chocolate. This is a full bodied wine with a soft entry that gives way to a fully structured palate with balanced acidity and great length.”
2. Laughing Stock Portfolio 2014 ($45). Merlot 49%, Cabernet Sauvignon 28%, Cabernet Franc 20%, Malbec 2%, Petit Verdot 1%. Alcohol 14.9%. Aged 19 months in French oak (40% new, 60% second fill). Production 2,450 cases. Winery tasting notes: “The 2014…has a luscious nose with flavour notes of sun-soaked strawberry, rich plum, dried thyme and a powerful and somewhat savoury body. The tannins are muscular and are highlighted by refreshing acid, which will ensure the age-ability of this wine. The finish is smooth and velvety.”
3. Clos Du Soleil Signature Red 2013 ($45) Merlot 51%, Cabernet Sauvignon 34%, Cabernet Franc 11%, Petit Verdot 2%, Malbec 2%. Aged 17 months in French oak barrels.
Winery tasting notes: “The taster is immediately enveloped in the dense and layered perfumes of this wine, with notes of cedar, fresh blackberry and cassis, and a hint of cracked black pepper. On the palate, the wine bursts with ripe fruit flavours—blackberry, raspberry and red currant—expressed through an elegant, mouth-filling structure and soft, round tannins.”
4. Cassini Cellars Maximus 2012 ($40 for 710 cases). Cabernet Sauvignon 53%, Merlot 44%, Petit Verdot 2%, Cabernet Franc 1%. Alcohol 14.2%. Aged 14 months in French (80%) and American oak barrels. Winery tasting notes: “This classic Bordeaux/Meritage blend has intense aromas of black currant, black pepper, strawberry jam, vanilla, cocoa and tobacco. This full-bodied wine finishes with a nice oaky balance, with a long lingering silky finish with soft and subtle tannins.”
5. Hester Creek The Judge 2012 ($45). Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc. Alcohol 14.3%. Aged 26 months in oak barrels. Production 900 cases.
Author’s tasting notes: “This is a dark, concentrated wine beginning with aromas of black cherry, plum, and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate, vanilla, and cedar. The texture is rich and elegant with a long, long finish.”
Black Hills Nota Bene 2014 ($52.09). Cabernet Sauvignon 52%, Merlot 33%, Cabernet Franc 15%. Alcohol 14.9%. Aged 16 months in barrels. Production 3,300 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “This new release of Nota Bene shows its tantalizing signature of raspberries, plum and fruit leather complemented by dusty, mushroom and earthy components. Rich velvety-smooth tannins coat the palate resulting in a well-balanced, elegant and delicate lingering finish or raspberries and spice.”
CedarCreek Platinum Meritage 2013 ($42.99 for 560 cases).Cabernet Sauvignon 58%, Cabernet Franc 22%, Merlot 14%, Malbec 6%. Alcohol 14.8%. Aged 22 months in French oak. Author’s tasting notes: “The wine begins with aromas of spicy dark fruit (the winery calls it fruitcake). On the palate, the wine is firm with flavours of cassis and cedar mingled with hints of tobacco and espresso. For immediate drinking, decanting is recommended. However, the wine has the bones to improve with age over the next decade.”
Clos Du Soleil Estate Reserve Red 2012 ($59.90). Cabernet Sauvignon 53%, Merlot 27%, Cabernet Franc 13%, Petit Verdot 6% and Malbec 1%. Aged 17 months in French oak. Alcohol 13.2%. Production 100 cases. Winery tasting notes: “This 2012 red Estate Reserve is a highly perfumed and expressive wine, displaying a layered complexity. On the nose the wine offers beautiful violet and other floral notes, followed by ripe fruit aromas, dominated by raspberry and blackberry, on a background of cedar and exotic spice. On the palate the wine is fresh and lively, first showing juicy, fresh raspberries, blackcurrant, flinty stoniness, and spice. The wine is mouth-filling and rich with fine tannins, while maintaining a sense of elegance and delicacy.”
Culmina Hypothesis 2012 ($55). Malbec 31%, Merlot 28%, Cabernet Franc 26%, Petit Verdot 15%. Alcohol 14.9%. Aged 18 months in French oak (50% new). Production 1,156 cases. Winery tasting notes: “This wine is rich and seductive with dark chocolate, coffee and black cherry combining with vanilla, showcasing the predominant varieties in the blend. More mocha and rich tones of black cherry, tobacco and cassis.”
Kanazawa Ronin 2012 ($29.90) Merlot 37%, Cabernet Sauvignon 31%, Petit Verdot 26%, Malbec 6%. Alcohol 12.6%. Production 311 cases. Aged 10 months in French oak. Author’s tasting notes: “The wine has an appealing fruity aroma that includes cherry and blueberry accented with vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of blackcurrant, blackberry, cherry, cola, and coffee. The texture is firm, with long, ripe tannins. The finish persists.”
Lake Breeze Tempest 2012 ($45). Merlot 45%, Malbec 30%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Petit Verdot 5%. Alcohol 15%. Aged in new French oak for 15 months. Author’s tasting notes: “The wine begins with powerful and appealing aromas of black cherry, mint and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and black currant with a suggestion of dark fruit cake. The texture is generous, with long ripe tannins.”
La Stella Fortissimo 2014 ($34.90). Merlot 57%, Sangiovese 21%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11%, Cabernet Franc 11%. Alcohol 14.5%. Aged 15 months in French and Slavonian oak (15% new). Production 1,495 cases, 120 magnums, 24 double magnums, 60 cases of 375 mL bottles. Winery tasting notes: “The wine has fantastic layers of flavour and nuances. Bing cherry mingles with red and black cherry fruit. Herbal underbrush notes meet tobacco notes and damp earth.”
Lariana Thirteen 2013 ($45). Cabernet Sauvignon 68%, Syrah 20%, Carmenère 12%. Alcohol 14.5%. Production 555 cases. Fermented and aged separately until blending at 8 months. Total aging 20 months, predominantly in French oak. Production 555 cases.
Author’s tasting notes: “The wine begins with aromas of cassis lightly touched with mint. On the palate, the flavours are savoury and earthy, with notes of black cherry, blackcurrant, and black coffee mingling with peppery dark chocolate and polished tannins on the finish.”
Mission Hill Compendium 2012 ($75). Cabernet Sauvignon 42%, Merlot 41%, Cabernet Franc 17%. Alcohol 14.2%. Production 2,575 cases. Aged 14 months in French oak. Winery’s tasting notes: “The 2012 Compendium is distinctive, with black currant, Italian plum aromas and flavours up front, but also displays blackberry, wild herb and star anise notes. Elegant and concentrated, this wine presents a core of fruit accented by youthful tannins that will soften in the short term.”
Mission Hill Quatrain 2012 ($65). Merlot 45%, Syrah 21%, Cabernet Franc 18%, Cabernet Sauvignon 16%. Alcohol 14.2%. Production 2,050 cases. Aged 14 months in French oak. Winery tasting notes: “This vibrant red displays black cherry and licorice notes which are framed by hints of mint chocolate and orange peel. The [wine] is a rich and dense red with a long savoury aftertaste that is reminiscent of mincemeat tarts.”
Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2013 ($45.99). Merlot 57%, Cabernet Franc 17%, Cabernet Sauvignon 16%, Petit Verdot 6%, Malbec 4%. Aged 18 to 20 months in French oak (60% new). Author’s tasting notes: “The wine is structured with a Bordeaux-inspired firmness that portends aging potential. It begins with aromas of mint, black currant, and cedar. On the palate, there are flavours of blackcurrant, espresso, dark chocolate, and graphite-like minerality.”
Painted Rock Red Icon 2014 ($55). Merlot 33%, Cabernet Franc 21%, Malbec 19%, Petit Verdot 16%, Cabernet Sauvignon 11%. Alcohol 14.3%. Aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). Production 1,153 cases. Winery tasting notes: “This wine invites you in with rich aromas of blackberry, dark plums, cassis and sweet spices. The palate, with its velvety tannins and high acid, offers bold and juicy black fruit layered with pepper, baking spices, vanilla and chocolate.”
Perseus Invictus 2013 ($45). Cabernet Franc 42%, Merlot 38%, Cabernet Sauvignon 13%, Malbec 7%. Alcohol 14.5%. Production 700 cases. Winery tasting notes: “Our 2013 Invictus showcases the true potential that Bordeaux-style wines can achieve here in the South Okanagan. This wine bursts out of the bottle with concentrated aromas of black cherry, ripe plum and dark chocolate. The bouquet is echoed on the palate with additional hints of clove, eucalyptus and smoked meats. This well-structured, balanced wine has a velvety mouth-feel with long, lingering tannins.”
Poplar Grove Legacy 2012 ($45). Merlot 45%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, Cabernet Franc 22%, Malbec 7%, Petit Verdot 1%. Alcohol 14.7%. Production 2,087 cases.
Winery tasting notes: “This wine is a complex layering of dark berries, herbs and oak aromas. Strong notes of mint, cassis and thyme are in harmony with the jammy fruit, dark chocolate and vanilla undertones. On the palate, the tannins are supple and the fruit is prominent, proudly showcasing the warm growing season. The end result is a smooth, long finish and a wine built to age.”
Summerhill "OM" Organic Meritage 2012 ($63.25). A blend of 56% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 2% Malbec. Alcohol 13%. Aged 12 months in French and American oak barriques. Author’s tasting notes: “This densely textured wine begins with aromas of black currants and figs. On the palate, there are flavours of figs, black olives and dark ch0colate with oak notes on the finish.”