The 3rd Judgment of BC, held last August 13, featured British Columbia’s two most planted varieties, Pinot Gris and Merlot.
The two flights of wines, tasted blind, each contained six BC wines and six imported labels. The annual event is hosted by the BC Wine Institute, well organized by DJ Kearney a knowledgeable wine judge-instructor and Director of Wine at New District.ca. The wines were tasted by a panel of 23 composed of international and national wine judges noted below.
PINOT GRIS FINAL GROUP RANKING:
1. Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2016 | Marlborough, New Zealand | 13% | $19.49
2. Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Turckheim 2014 | Alsace, France | 13% | $41.00
3. 50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2016 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 13.5% | $19.90
4. King Estates Pinot Gris 2015 Willamette Valley, Oregon | 13.5% | $26.49
5. Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2015 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 13.4% | $16.99
6. Arrowleaf Cellars Pinot Gris 2016 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 13.9% | $20.99
7. Pfaff Steinert Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2012 | Alsace, France | 13.5% | $30.99
8. Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Vigneti del Dolomiti IGT 2015 | Italy | 12.5% | $25.99
9. Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Gris 2016 | Vancouver Island, BC | 13.5% | $22.00
10. Haywire Switchback 2015 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 13.6% | $26.99
11. Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2016 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 13.1% | $16.99
12. Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio Valdadige DOC 2016 | Italy | 12.5% | $19.99
MERLOT FINAL GROUP RANKING:
1. CheckMate Winery Black Rook Merlot 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 14.4% | $85.00
2. Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot 2013 |Napa Valley, California | 14.5% | $63.99
3. La Stella Maestoso 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 14.6% | $90.00
4. Sterling Merlot 2013 | Napa Valley, California | 14.2% | $29.99
5. Château Haut Carles 2010 | Fronsac, Bordeaux, France | 15% | $64.99
6. McIntyre Heritage Reserve Merlot Ardua 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 15.5% | $80.00
7. Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard 2012 | Colchagua, Chile | 14.5% | $33.99
8. Burrowing Owl Merlot 2014 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 14.8% | $30.00
9. Intersection Merlot Silica 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | 14.8% | $29.00
10. Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot 2015 | Washington State | 13.5% | $19.99
11. Château de Ferrand 2011 | Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France | 14% | $51.99
12. Culmina Merlot 2014 | Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC | 14% | $35.00
Dr. Michael Apstein
Richard Hemming MW
Susan McCraith MW
Sebastien Le Goff
Terry David Mulligan
Rhys Pender MW
Barb Philip MW
The purpose of the Judgment of BC tasting is to provoke conversation, to ask questions that demand answers, and further the narrative and exploration of BC's potential. "It's not about British Columbia wines winning or losing, but rather tasting our wines and trying to understand their distinctiveness and strengths against a global competitive set," explains Kearney. "It's a courageous exercise that developing industries like ours can benefit from and take pride in. Benchmarking allows us to evaluate our progress, and adds to our collective knowledge."
This scribe agrees with this purpose. However, having been privileged to be a judge at all three Judgment of BC tastings it might be provocative to make some comments and put them all in a personal perspective.
From post tasting discussions there did not seem to be a unanimous consensus on the best wines in both flights. In the Pinot Gris flight the Zind Humbrecht (served 12th in the tasting order) showed more spicy aromatics with unique riper quince from gravelly soil and IMHO was clearly the best quality. Hopefully the rumours of Olivier Humbrecht’s interest of participating in BC vineyards will come to fruition in the future. The BC examples were slightly boring and all over the map. Pinot Gris is a lightning rod for fervent conversation here in BC: “there are so many styles, and differing levels of respect and ambition given this grape," notes curator DJ Kearney. "Savoury and bone dry, softly sweet and ripe, or slightly oaked, Pinot Gris spans the style spectrum in BC, always posing a polarizing conundrum for judges. The fact that Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2016 ranked first might suggest that the crisp, zingy, fruit-forward style is most admired. 50th Parallel's complex and layered wine, showing a kiss of oak finished in 3rd place as the top BC wine in the flight of 12. I'm sure the Pinot Gris debate will continue."
Some of us felt that perhaps the BC winemakers are leaving the grapes too long on the vine and missing out on the zippy vibrancy capable from this varietal similar to what can be beautifully delivered by the best Italian Pinot Grigio. Alternatively, maybe leave them longer on the vine to make a late harvest Alsace-like style. Certainly, ripening just in between is not working for critical wine judges.
It was encouraging to see quality winery Checkmate win the Merlot flight with their 2013 Black Rook but it sells outside most consumer’s grasp at $85. I was also pleased by the 3rd place finish by the always respected La Stella with its 2012 Maestoso at $90. In fact, you should note that the three most expensive wines were all from BC against cheaper international competitors. The Bordeaux Fronsac from the great 2010 vintage showed well but the other one a St. Emilion from a weaker 2011 didn’t. Believe me we are not approaching the Chateau Petrus heights or even near the level of Pomerol territory yet. There seemed to be a general view that the two California wines displayed more agreeable smoother tannins than BC is obtaining. Still for me all 12 of the variety examples seemed to lack that special, delicious, round, early approachability and intensely plummy flavours you search for from this variety.
For comparison purposes let’s look back at the first two tastings. On August 25, 2015 during the visit of Steven Spurrier to BC we held the 1st Judgment of BC at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel featuring Chardonnay & Syrah. The BC whites disappointed in the final results with nothing in the first 5 slots but the excellent 2012 Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay in 6th place was impressive. There are many more better Chardonnays from BC being produced today such as the exciting 2016 Checkmate selections presently in the cellar which are indeed world class. BC Syrah showed well with the winning 2013 CC Jentsch in first place plus also 4, 5, 7 and 8 spots as tough competitors. There was a consensus among the judges tasting that Syrah in BC is already world class. Much more detail at BC Bottle Shock.
On June 21, 2016 during the visit of Dr. Jamie Goode the 2nd Judgment of BC was held in Summerland with 2 consumer popular varieties and favourites of mine: Riesling and Pinot Noir. Lower alcohol German Mosel Kabinett received gold but BC took down silver and bronze. Some of the Riesling from BC were too young to show their best like Synchromesh Storm Haven 2015, Culmina Decora 2015 and even higher acid drier style Tantalus Old Vines 2013. All three would show more open petrol complexity if the tasting was repeated say next year. Outstanding Riesling from Ontario is a given but world class examples are in BC too. Pinot Noir was a difficult one with all three medals going to imports but BC a solid 4, 5, 6, and 7. Again there was more consensus among the judges that pinot noir with residual sugar was not their cup of tea and everyone ranked the big selling 2014 Meomi in 12th place. This variety in BC is improving rapidly helped by climate change, older vines with appropriate clonal selection, and winemaker know-how.
This was clearly shown by the 34 wineries participating in the 4th BC Pinot Noir Festival at Linden Gardens in Kaleden on August 19, 2017. Some really amazing distinctive pinots there. Why even the cooler climate Vancouver Island wineries led by Averill Creek 2014 Reserve & Unsworth 2014 in magnum and their fruit-bomb 2015 now are getting a beautiful concentration of ripe phenolic compounds in the skins of their pinot noir grapes. Exciting! Full details of the 2nd Judgment of BC is in my report here.
In summary, it is my view that rapid progress is being made with all six varieties shown at the first three Judgment of BC events. However, after benchmarking the two most planted varieties of Pinot Gris and Merlot, I humbly suggest that despite selling well in the marketplace the pair are still not our best most complex varieties. I vote for Syrah, Pinot Noir & Riesling all already at or very nearly world class quality. Chardonnay is catching up fast. Can’t wait for the 4th Judgment of BC next year where I submit the rapidly improving BC Sparkling category could compete well against Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, English sparkling and the other bubbles from around the world. Stay posted!