Notebook: BC Pinot Noir

Highlights from recent tastings

The Naramata Ranch vineyard, part of the Von Mandl Estates, which owns Martin's Lane Winery

I recently looked at the strides made with pinot noir across British Columbia and how some members of the industry were suggesting its potential as a — possibly, THE — signature grape variety.

The opening of the article reads: With more than 80 grape varieties planted and less than 25 years since its wine industry kicked into high gear, it’s too soon to anoint a signature grape for British Columbia’s wine regions. But early signs point to pinot noir as the frontrunner for red wine varieties.

Syrah and malbec from the Okanagan are attracting critical praise from local and international writers. Cabernet franc, merlot and blends of different cultivated varieties can also be strong suitors, but as the only red-wine grape planted in every growing region in the province, pinot noir is the best vehicle to display the diversity of styles and expressions British Columbia is capable of.

Following publication, some were quick to point out that with more than 80 varieties, diversity is the status quo for the industry. That's true, but it's worth mentioning that merlot, pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot noir (in order of production levels) are responsible for nearly 50 percent of the province’s total production.

Also, pinot noir is only red variety planted in every wine growing region in the province: Northern Okanagan (speaking of the demarcated wine region here, not the geographical landmass), Similkameen, Kootnenays, Lillooet, Creston, Vancouver and Gulf islands. As an early ripening variety, it's suitable for cooler, marginal sites in the north.

Some stats:
Oldest plantings 1975, some 1980s era
Majority of the vineyards are less than 20 years-old, many have been producing grapes for just over 10 years.

BC Pinot Noir Celebration launched in 2013 with 13 wineries participating. Last year’s meeting saw 36 come together for a day of educational seminars and tastings. Currently there are 280 licensed grape wine wineries in British Columbia (total 370 licensed wineries)

Here are highlights from recent tastings of pinot noirs from British Columbia, mostly Okanagan producers with a stylish example from Vancouver Island to start. Draft notes transcribed from my notebook.

40 Knots Pinot Noir 115 Amphora 2017
Comox Valley, British Columbia
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $42.90

Produced with whole clusters in a terracotta amphora, extended maceration. After pressing, the wine was returned to the amphora for nine months and then finished in neutral oak barrels. 11.2% abv

Nice texture and balance, cherry, berry and spice notes. Appealing and enjoyable, with bright balanced acidity. Drink now to 2024 (make the most of that fruit!).

CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir 2017 
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $54.99

Block 2 sits on the lower slopes of the CedarCreek Home Block vineyard on Lakeshore Road in Kelowna. 27-year-old vines.

Ripe fruit core with spice and some grip. Will show better after a long decant or year or more in the cellar. Drink now to 2027.

CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2017
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $54.99

From the upper slopes of the CedarCreek Home Block Vineyard, 22-year-old vines produce smaller berries, darker colour, and increased aging potential.

More purity and elegance than Block 2, while still offering structure and impressive core. Red fruit, some savoury and earthy notes, attractive now and promises to develop. Drink now to 2027.

Liquidity Pinot Noir Reserve 2017 
Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $56

Clones 667 and 828, with 1994 planted of clone 115. 204 cases

Ripe and bright, concentrated and smooth texture. Some floral and cola notes. Nice balanced and polished expression. Drink now to 2025 (don’t miss that lovely fruit )

Martin’s Lane Winery Simes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $100

The combination of fruit from a cooler site in Kelowna and a warm growing season makes for one of the most upfront and accessible releases from this ambitious Okanagan winery. Winemaker Shane Munn was recruited from his native New Zealand to take the reins at this nothing spared property that’s dedicated to producing the best possible pinot noir (and riesling) from specific vineyard in the region.

Meyer Pinot Noir 2018
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 90 PRICE $22.71

Produced from six different vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. 2,600 cases

Expressive fruit with some earthy elements, enjoyable, everyday style. Good value. Now to 2024.

Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir McLean Creek Road Vineyard 2018
Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley 
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $34.87

McLean Creek Road Vineyard is Meyer’s home estate in Okanagan Falls. 1,000 cases

Ripe and supple, spice and underbrush accents. Serious and structured, iron castings mineral element, persistence. Interesting, age-worthy and enjoyable. Now to 2028

Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Old Block McLean Creek Vineyard 2018
Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley 
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $43.57

Planted in 1994, the “Old Block” is part of the largest block of pinot at the home estate on McLean Creek Road. 363 cases.

A step up over the McLean Creek bottling, showing bold oak-derived aromas on the nose. Oak notes less obvious on the supple and velvety palate. Polished bright dark fruit and sweet spice, really enjoyable and long. Structure and intensity to develop in bottle, approachable now but one to watch. Now to 2028.

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 2018 
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $27.99

From estate vineyards including sites in Naramata, East Kelowna and West Kelowna 

Bright and ripe core of fruit with serious savoury character, enjoyable but needs time to unwind and look its best, better 2021 to 2026.

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Terroir Collection Pinot Noir Simes Vineyard 2018 
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $50

Single vineyard from East Kelowna, single clone 667.

Fresh and intense style of pinot, with cedar and spice notes adding weight to the crunchy red berry fruit. Refreshing acidity is really enjoyable. Drink now to 2028.

Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Terroir Collection Pinot Noir DeHart Vineyard 2018 
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $50

Single vineyard from a hillside site adjacent to DeHart road in East Kelowna, clone 777

Attractive fragrance and complexity here, with cherry and savoury aromas and flavours. Structure and intensity to hold. Drink now to 2028

Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir 2017 
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $34.99

Earthy underbrush, attractive creamy cherry on palate. Really ripe and enjoyable, but so generous and round that it risks losing its pinot character. Drink now to 2027.

Quails' Gate Winery Pinot Noir Richard's Block 2018
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $54.99

Named for Richard “Dick” Stewart, the founder of Quails’ Gate winery who passed away earlier this month, Richard’s Block is a tribute to the man who helped introduce pinot noir to British Columbia. Some of the early 1975 plantings are used to produce this pinot that boasts winning complexity in the form of spicy and earthy notes. 

Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2017
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $35.10

Organic and 12.6% alcohol. Vines planted in 2008 on the family estate

Expressive core of fruit, with nice earthy complexity and balance. Showing signs of maturity, the texture is mellow and complete.  Vegan-friendly. Drink now to 2024.

SpearHead Winery Pinot Noir Saddle Block 2018
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $35

Fruit sourced exclusively from the Saddle Block on the home estate in South East Kelowna. Mix of Dijon clones. 13 months in French oak

Approachable, bright red fruit. Acidity is vibrant and tart, needs time to unwind a bit for best enjoyment. Bottled unfiltered. 450 cases. Drink now to 2025

SpearHead Winery Pinot Noir Coyote Vineyard 2018
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $35

Fruit sourced exclusively from the West Kelowna Coyote Vineyard. Single clone 115, 13 months in French oak.

Very spicy and intense, eccentric style, exotic peppercorns and espresso roast / mocha. Showing lots of secondary notes, with tart ruby grapefruit-like acidity. Needs time, but worry there’s not enough fruit for the long haul. Bottled unfiltered. 250 cases. Drink now to 2023.

SpearHead Winery Pinot Noir Golden Retreat Vineyard 2018
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $35

Golden Retreat Vineyard in Summerland. Vines planted in 2008 and 2009, mix of Dijon clones, 13 months in French oak

Juicy and enjoyable style with dark fruit and savoury notes, tart acidity adds to the food-friendly character. Bottled unfiltered. 440 cases. Drink now to 2026.

Tantalus Maija Pinot Noir 2018
Okanagan Valley
SCORE 89 PRICE: $21.74

Blend of estate fruit with fruit from a nearby grower

The evolution of the Juveniles label, Maija is named for owner Eric Savics' daughter. The focus continues to be on fruit and immediacy, but there’s no mistaking the estate style. The mix of dark fruit is nicely accented by spice and cedary notes. Some grip on the finish makes this more substantial than the price suggests. Drink now to 2025.

Tantalus Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018 (Canada)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $30.44

Having cemented its reputation as one of the country’s top riesling producers, Tantalus has been making waves in pinot circles with consistently honest and impressive releases. The Kelowna winery’s three pinots from 2018, including an entry-level release made from young vines and a suitably impressive small batch reserve bottling, are marked by surprisingly rich cores of fruit and long finishes. This flagship bottle sits confidently in between the two, with concentrated dark fruit and bold complexity. This needs time to really show its potential. Drink 2021 to 2030. 

Tantalus Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 
Okanagan Valley 
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $60.87

Based on a small mid-slope block of Dijon Clone 667, with some of oldest plantings of Clone 115 and a young parcel of our Clone 37 fruit making the final blend

Terrific intensity, structure and fruit here. Dry, serious style. Age-worthy. The sage and floral notes add charm and sense of place. Drink now to 2030. 110 cases.

Tightrope Winery Pinot Noir 2017
Okanagan Valley
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $30.35

Ripe and plummy style with tobacco and spice aromas. Crowd-pleasing smooth and supple character, polished fruit (some warmth) and attractive oak (maybe too much for purists). Drink now to 2024.

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