Launched in 2008, the BC Iconic Reds tasting has now established itself as the premier annual tasting of the best red Meritage wines from British Columbia.
The recent 12th annual tasting featured 20 wines, merely a slice of the top reds that are available.
Consumers familiar with British Columbia reds could readily come up with another 20. That would make for a great but long, palate-tiring evening. As it is, the tasting lasted about three hours.
The Iconic Reds competition originated with the SIP Wines VQA store in Richmond. When that store closed four years ago, sponsorship was taken over by Sutton Place Wine Merchants.
The tasting emerged from brainstorming between the late John Levine and the owners of SIP Wines, Simon and Sandi Wosk. John had volunteered to advise the Wosks soon after they opened the store; and they welcomed his enthusiastic input.
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 that were taking place in the quality of the wines. The Iconic Reds competition was conceived to bring more attention to the growing number of superb wines.
This year, about 110 tasters converged at a ballroom at Vancouver’s Sutton Place Hotel to judge 20 of the Okanagan reds. The wines, which had been decanted in the afternoon, were served blind one at a time in a random order. The wines were not identified until the three-hour tasting was over.
At the end, the tasters voted for their top five picks, an arbitrary but sensible number to prevent overwhelming the computer tabulation. In fact, the points were tabulated for the top six.
I have listed the winners, followed by the others in alphabetical order. The tasting notes are from the wineries where notes are available. Otherwise, I have inserted other tasting notes.
These are 20 of the best reds from 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. Lake Breeze Tempest 2014 ($57.50). Winery notes: A classic Bordeaux blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Aged in new French oak for 15 months, this wine is full and rich.
2. Mt. Boucherie Summit 2016 ($54.99). This is 51% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 3% Syrah, aged 24 months in French oak (35% new). Winery notes: The 2016 Summit is a proprietary red blend with intense aromas and flavours of cassis, black and red fruits, fresh tobacco, cedar, and distinct minerality.
3. Intersection Axiom 2014 ($45). This is a blend of 33% each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Winery notes: The wine is full and robust with chocolate and cocoa notes from 12 months in oak, ripe roasted red pepper from the Cabernets, and dark fruit from the Alluvia Merlot. A wine with vivacious tannin and fantastic ageing potential, the Axiom can be enjoyed for many years to come. Ground coffee, dark chocolate, and cherry jam on the nose open up into star anise, roasted capsicum, and black pepper. Hints of mushroom and cedar on the palate point to the wine’s time in oak. Mouthfeel is rich and developed with well-structured tannin that will continue to age for more than a decade. The long finish lingers with tones of earthy plum preserves.
4. La Stella Espressivo 2016 ($49.99). Tasting note by Anthony Gismondi: “Like its sibling, Fortissimo, the Espressivo is a Tuscan-inspired red blend, identified by its dominant Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese, all sourced from the home vineyard on the Osoyoos west bench in the southern Okanagan. After 20 months in Slavonian and French oak barrels, puncheons, and botti, the 2016 Espressivo expresses very ripe, soft, plump fruit, with plush plum, blackberry jam, thorns and mild baking spices.”
5. Black Hills Nota Bene 2016 ($60). The blend is 43.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 14.5% Cabernet Franc; aged 16 months in barrel. Winery notes: This wine possesses intense aromas of raspberry, crushed violets and cassis on the nose. A second sniff presents gentle scents of leather, white pepper and subtle menthol. Flavours of raspberry and cocoa hit the palate and linger, revealing a full and elegant mouthfeel with notes of earth and cigar box in the background.”
6. Summerhill OM 2014 ($65). This is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 5% Malbec, aged 30 months in French and American oak barriques. Winery tasting note: “Unfined and unfiltered. Cellaring and decanting highly recommended.”
The remaining wines are listed alphabetically.
Black Sage Meritage 2015 ($60). Winery notes: There are plenty of cassis, blackberries, vanilla, dark chocolate and roasted coffee notes on the nose. The palate displays luscious blackberries, rich dark plums, smoky toasted notes and a lengthy finish of dark chocolate. The acidity is well balanced with the rich full tannins in this full-bodied wine.
CedarCreek Desert Ridge Meritage 2016 ($49.99). This is 43% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec, aged 18 months in French oak. Winery notes: Brambly dark fruit, cassis, toasted clove and sweet baking spices are abundant in this intensely fruitful wine. Full-bodied with structured tannins.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2015 ($44.90). This is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. It was aged 15 months in French oak barrels. Winery notes: Enjoyable in its youth, the balance and structure of this wine will ensure its ability to age for many years. The taster is enveloped in a dense aromatic profile of cassis, raspberry and blackberry, with hints of violet. On the palate the wine is layered with flavours of sun-ripened cherries, raspberry, cassis, mint and blackberry, with complex notes of graphite, sagebrush and pepper. Structure is provided by the soft but full tannins, and a stony mineral quality to the long finish.
Fort Berens Red Gold 2016 ($44.99). Winery notes: On the nose, Red Gold opens with notes plum, dark chocolate, and tobacco leaf. This age-worthy, full bodied red boasts flavours of black plum, blackberries, and raspberries. This vintage of Red Gold is a blend of five different vineyards. More than a quarter of the wine was made from estate Cabernet Franc, which was dried after harvest in a passimento style increasing the grape’s sugar and flavour concentration. The blend ratio is 38% Cabernet Franc, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% merlot and is a culmination of the finest select barrels in our cellar.
Hester Creek The Judge 2016 ($43.99). This is 37% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 24 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). Winery notes: From an outstanding season, our winemaker has selected the best barrels in our cellar for a Merlot dominant Bordeaux style wine. Beautifully balanced, this vintage has concentrated sage, sandalwood, malt and Italian plum aromas. Plush flavours of ripe dark cherry, black currant, mocha, anise and a hint of spearmint greet the palate. A long savoury finish follows with well integrated, finely woven tannins.
Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2015 ($38). This a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with a total of 5% Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 20 months in French oak. Author’s notes: “This is a rich, bold red with aromas and flavours of plum, cherry and other dark fruits.”
Lariana Cellars Sixteen 2016 ($44.90). This is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 9% Carménère. Winery notes: In the glass, wafting with aromas of black crunchy fruits and sweet spice layered with cassis. Lip smacking flavours of dark plums wrapped in mocha notes with deep umami undertones follow. All this voluptuous fruitiness is supported by fine structure with suede-like texture delivering sweeping grip at the end.
Laughing Stock Portfolio 2016 ($49.99). This is 51% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot, aged 20 months in French oak (33% new). Winery notes: Baked plum, red fruits and baking spice rise up from the glass like the TSX in a bull market. On the palette this wine is lively and powerful with fresh tobacco leaves, vanilla brioche, and cherry on the finish. This elegant blend has round tannins and a long finish with lots of aging potential.
Noble Ridge Reserve Meritage 2016 ($34.99). This is 59% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% each Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It was aged 15 months in French and American oak (40% new). Winery notes: Aromas of cranberry and cassis are complimented by hints of spice and savoury earthiness.
One Faith Certitude 2016 ($49.99). This is 45% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 1% each of Petit Verdot and Malbec, aged 16 months in new French oak. Author’s notes: “This begins with a dramatic cassis aroma that simply bounds from the glass. The palate is rich in fruit flavours – black cherry, black currant and blackberry. The tannins are long and supple.”
Painted Rock Red Icon 2016 ($54.99). This is 45% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). Winery 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.
Poplar Grove The Legacy 2015 ($52). This is 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 21 months in French barriques and a further two years in bottle before release. Winery notes: Rich intensity begins with deep garnet hues in the glass. Bold aromas of cassis and black cherry arrive first with a strong and sultry backbone of dark chocolate. Our Legacy’s prominent and considerably big mouthfeel is a culmination of plums, vanilla and blackberries.
Road 13 Fifth Element Red 2017 ($46.99). The blend is 52.2% Merlot, 42.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. The lots were aged separately in French oak (25% new) before being blended. Winery notes: This impressive wine opens with powerful notes of black cherry, black currant, roast beef, sage and wild game interwoven with lashings of pepper, tobacco, vanilla and cream. The tremendous aromatic complexity carries onto the palate, which is supremely rich and supple, with abundant silky tannins.
Siren's Call Harmonious 2015 ($35). Author’s notes: “This wine is anchored around 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah in the blend. Dense and layered, the wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and spice.”
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