Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wines
August 8, 2006
Low profile in its first two years, the awards got much more notice last year when the trophies were presented personally at the wineries by the Lieutenant Governor. Presentations take place in early August each year.
The awards, beside recognizing good work, also help Government House choose the best British Columbia wines for its own cellar.
The wines are judged by a panel of six experienced judges, including wine writers and industry professionals. The number of awards is limited to no more than a dozen, maintaining the exclusivity of this award.
In 2006, the judges tasted about 140 wines and gave excellence awards to 11 wines. The Vincor International properties, now owned by Constellation Brands, were honoured with 6 of the 11 awards, as well as another award for Nk’Mip Cellars - North America’s first Aboriginal-owned winery, which is a 50/50 joint venture between the Osoyoos Indian Band and Vincor.
Amongst the Vincor honourees was Inniskillin, Niagara’s original boutique winery, which opened its Okanagan winery in 1994. The winery now gets a quarter of its grapes from a superb site called the Dark Horse Vineyard; but the winery also has access to niche varieties trialed in other vineyards operated nearby by Vincor. These wines – made from varieties such as Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage – are released in small lots as the winery’s Discovery Series. The object is to discover which esoteric varieties thrive in the Okanagan.
Malbec must be one of those. The 2004 Inniskillin Okanagan, ‘Discovery Series’ Malbec ($24.99) is a dark-coloured wine with a dense texture of fruit and fine ripe tannins. The aroma is powerful, suggesting spice and berries. On the palate, there are rich flavours of prunes, coffee, spice and minerals. The finish is long. This wine has good aging potential. (89 points)
If the 2004 is hard to get because of this award, there is good news. A recent tasting of a barrel sample of the 2005 Inniskillin Okanagan, ‘Discovery Series’ Malbec, of which about 500 cases will be released, revealed a wine even more exciting, with toast, mocha and berry aromas and flavours of plums.
Also winning an award for Inniskillin was the 2004 Riesling Icewine from the Darkhorse Vineyard. Icewine is an icon of Canadian winemaking and, since 1984, Inniskillin has been the leading producer of the style, initially making its reputation with wines made with Vidal, grown in the Niagara region. The winery’s 23-acre Dark Horse Vineyard in the south Okanagan, which was planted in 1990, includes a plot of Riesling now reserved exclusively for the finest Icewines that winemaker Sandor Mayer makes.
This wine is inviting in the glass, with a light golden hue and with aromas of peaches, strawberries and honey. On the palate, it delivers a punch of honeyed tropical fruit with a piquant acidity that gives this Icewine excellent balance. The wine has an amazing 222 grams of residual sugar per litre but, with the racy acidity to refresh the palate, it tastes nowhere as sweet as it is. There is a very long, lingering finish. (90 points)
Jackson Triggs, another winery under the Vincor umbrella, has been one of the wineries behind the success of Okanagan Valley Syrah – or Shiraz, as Jackson Triggs like to call it. The success of Syrah in the Okanagan has been something of a surprise, considering that this is a late ripening variety identified with the Rhone or Australia. It succeeds on the Okanagan’s desert because of the heat and of the long summer days with intense sunlight.
In 1999, Jackson Triggs planted a large vineyard near Osoyoos, in the south Okanagan, that was initially called Bear Cub. A few years ago, the upper half, about 110 acres, was designated the SunRock Vineyard (because it backs against a sun-baked cliff) and has now become the source for a series of premium vineyard-designated vines. Winemaker Bruce Nicholson has had a particular string of success with the Shiraz wines from this vineyard.
One of these is the 2003 Jackson Triggs Shiraz, SunRock Vineyard ($29.99). The deep colour signals that this wine is intense, beginning with aromas of spice and plum and leather - classic Shiraz aromas. The flavours deliver layer upon layer of fruit – spice, black cherries, blackberries, plum, mocha and even a note of tar. The structure is bold and ripe and the finish lasts and lasts. (92 points)
Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve wines are just one step below the top tier of single vineyard wines – but obviously, it is a short step. The 2004 Jackson Triggs, Proprietors’ Grand Reserve Shiraz is a gamey wine - not quite as rich as the SunRock Shiraz but still is generous on the palate, with lots of peppery notes and flavours and aromas that recall a good delicatessen counter. (88 points)
Another of the Vincor properties, Sumac Ridge, also took home two awards, including one for the 2002 Pinnacle (Red). The first vintage of Pinnacle, this super-premium red, was 1997. As the first $50 table wine offered by a British Columbia winery, Pinnacle made a statement that top quality Okanagan wines, like top quality wines anywhere, needed to be supported by higher prices than were then common. The point has been made; Sumac Ridge no longer is alone at the leading edge.
This wine begins with vanilla and cherry aromas. On the palate, the fruit flavours are generous, with black currants, plums and chocolate. The mouth-filling texture and the full body lead to a long, satisfying finish. (90 points)
Sumac Ridge also won an award for its 2004 Meritage (White). Meritage is the California-created term for wines blended with Bordeaux grape varieties. Sumac Ridge was the first Canadian winery to adopt the term, in 1995. Now it is used widely by wineries content to leave French appellation terms to France, while creating New World wine terms.
Sumac Ridge’s White Meritage ($19.99) – this vintage is a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sémillon - is one of the most consistently successful wines it produces. Several earlier vintages also have won excellence awards in the Lieutenant Governor’s comp