Vineyard visit: La Stella Winery, Osoyoos, B.C.

Earlier this month my father and I went on a three-day tour of vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Years ago it was maligned for its jug wine output, but with advancements in global warming and improved winemaking techniques, it’s starting to turn heads.

My father played the role of begrudging gracious designated driver and photographer during our trip, while I did all the talking and tasting. On a few occasions I think the vineyard staff thought he was some sort of security detail.

Anyway, the first place I visited was La Stella Winery in Osoyoos, a vineyard whose wines are not exactly the easiest to acquire if you do all your shopping in government liquor stores. Their distribution is mainly limited to VQA shops and restaurants.

So, La Stella. A Canadian winery making Italian-style wines from French/international grapes. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because what they’re making is actually very good – and the prices reflect that fact.

From the outside, La Stella was more impressive (and, ahem, commercial in appearance) than I had expected:

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Built in what looks like some sort of Italian-villa-meets-missionary-revival style of architecture, the winery actually matches the arid Osoyoos desert climate quite well. But let’s not be mistaken: this is not a part of the world where there was any Italian or Spanish influence on culture or architecture.

But none of this seems to matter in the New World of wine production, where history is manufactured and vineyards can make wine in any style they want. In this case, La Stella is a winery with an Italian bent. And not just any Italian bent, but one of a Tuscan variety – a *super* Tuscan variety. Which means you’ll find wines made mainly of merlot and cabernet sauvignon when you were probably hoping for sangiovese, nebbiolo or barbera. Oh well.

Now that we’re here, let’s look at a few more photos. Like all wineries claiming to be prestigious, La Stella has the obligatory stack of expensive oak barrels in its driveway:

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Meanwhile, the tasting room was, unsurprisingly, a carbon-copy of what you might find in Napa Valley or Sonoma County:

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Sadly, the prices on the chalkboard seemed to be out of Napa or Sonoma as well:

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That’s right, their bottles start at $21 and crank up to $100 for the top offering. It would have been nice to see a mix of whites and reds in the $20-$30 range, but instead their reds start at $35 and soar in price from there. But this is the New World, after all, and they have oak barrels, new vineyards and flashy tasting rooms to pay off…

But hey, their vineyard is beautiful and lies in a prime location overlooking the west shore of Lake Osoyoos:

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Now, to the wine. Well, despite my snarky comments so far, it was enjoyable.

The best value of their bunch in my opinion is their Fortissimo Selezione di Famiglia  2010, which sells for $35. A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and just a splash (8% of the blend) of sangiovese (at last, an Italian grape!), there is a lot going on in this bottle.

And it’s a good bottle, too. Aged in Slavonian and French oak, it has a distinctly Italian feel to it. It has a freshness, some firm tannins and the kind of acidity you would expect from a wine made in this style. It was genuinely enjoyable to drink, although I still bristle at its price.

It could be difficult to sell to the average wine consumer at this price, but genuine wine fans who want an Italian-style wine made in Canada with French grapes might think it’s worth the cash.

photoIf only I could convince them to carve their own path and drop the whole Italian ideal they’re trying to adhere to, then we’d be onto something…

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By The Bottle issue number two is out

20130611-222320.jpgAfter several months of hard work, we were able to bring the second issue of By The Bottle to iPad and iPhone users just a couple of weeks ago.

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, I implore you to give it a try. And if you are a Mandarin speaker, you’re in luck because our latest issue is bilingual. When viewed in portrait mode, it shows the English version. Turn your device to landscape mode and it is in Mandarin.

In the latest issue we have upped the ante a little by not only publishing informative articles from wine experts like Gus McLean, Ben Grosvenor and Joss Fowler (Gus writes about carmenere from Chile, Ben gives us the lowdown on what tannins are all about and Joss discusses why the world’s most expensive wines are worth the only), but we also have a how-to guide on wearing colourful trousers, the dos and don’ts of visiting a wine shop and so much more.

This magazine is about enjoying wine and having fun, and we hope we have achieved that. We have some lighthearted pieces that should bring a smile to your face, but we know how to be serious and informative as well.

Ever wondered if there is a discernible difference between the way wine tastes out of two different glasses? We have it covered. Ever been curious about New Zealand’s wine scene? Kat Wiggins gives us her first-person account. And have you ever wanted to know how to make an Old Fashioned or the best crumble? Look no further.

If you think we’re missing something, let us know. Is the content not up to snuff? Do you want to read about something specific? Your feedback will allow us to tailor the magazine to your needs.

Okay, that’s my spiel over. I will resume usual service shortly. Soon to come will be a blog about the wineries of the Okanagan Valley.

Father knows best: A Meritage without merit

20130604-074251.jpgIt had all the hallmarks of being a disappointment, but I just didn’t see the signs before it was too late.

While shopping in the unhelpful minefield that is the typical B.C. Liquor Store, I unwittingly walked out with a wine that, had I been of sane mind and acted with pragmatism in my buying strategy, would never have come home with me.

But lacking facts and relying on advice offered to me by store employee whom I now have determined knows no more about wine than I do internal medicine, I took the plunge and ignored those initial reservations that had bubbled in the back of my mind when I first spotted it on the shelf.

It wasn’t long before I realised I had made a terrible mistake. This was a wine that ticked all the wrong boxes.

Let’s take a look at what was wrong with this particular wine:

Virtually unknown winery? Check.

Arbitrary use of the word ‘reserve’? Check.

Silly name? Check.

Unforgivable critter label? Double check.

And so here I am, two days later, staring at a still-not-yet-finished bottle bearing memories of a couple nights before, which, it has to be said, consist mainly of my recoiling at its rough flavours and remorse over the money wasted.

The wine in question is Red Rooster Meritage Reserve 2010. I have no idea what makes it a reserve other than the fact it seems to have been reserved for fools like me, but that is only a guess.

For its price, at about $24 Canadian, it is a blasphemy, no more enjoyable than the wine my father selected, a $9.99 Californian Cabernet sporting a carefree pair of flip flops on its label. There was no question he liked his volume-produced plonk more than mine given his attitude toward wine is one of indifference as long as it doesn’t burn his throat as it does down the hatch. But the worrying indictment here is that I preferred his wine to mine as well.

For those keeping track of the score in the game of life and wine buying, it is: Father 1, Geordie 0.

This is one of those wines for which Miles in Sideways said “there better not be any fucking merlot” even if two-thirds of its contents are other grape varieties. It has a sharp smell of red fruits, but also a nose-burning chemical odour reminiscent of those cheap grape juices we were forced to drink at school when we were kids.

In the mouth I can only describe this wine as regretful. Thin, watery, all over the place but nowhere specific. They say it “overflows with aromas and flavours of red and black fruits balanced by vibrant acidity.” But if it were balanced I would not be staring at a partially consumed bottle that no one in this house wants to finish off — at least no one who is sober.