The 9th annual Best of B.C. Fall Wine rolls out in BC Liquor Stores this weekend. It's a significant event for B.C. wine lovers given how few local wineries release top wines in government stores. It's been more than a decade since the very best wines made in B.C. quietly disappeared from government stores. Local producers keep the vast majority of the proceeds from direct sales to consumers so it is very difficult to convince then to give up 60 per cent or more of what they make at the winery just to be in government stores.
Winery direct sales are what sustain B.C. wineries, but it's not a perfect model. When you are not sold in the busiest wine stores in the province it is difficult to grow your brand outside of the small circle of buyers already predisposed to purchasing your wine. Balancing that broad exposure with the cost is not for everyone but it appears to be working for some given the impressive list of wines in government stores this weekend. The release also breathes life into BC Liquor stores that clearly benefit from adding some top local labels to a somewhat underwhelming selection of BC wines in stores.
With mostly cheap and often overpriced commercial labels dominating the B.C. wine section unsuspecting consumers might wonder what's all the fuss with Okanagan wine. Case in point is the local selection of syrah. Syrah, or shiraz if you like, is a consistent performer at competitions where I judge and often is among judges' highest scores, yet a quick on-line survey of government inventories points to mostly bag-in-the-box offerings or second and third labels from large commercial producers using off-shore juice.
I'm expecting there will be a rush to buy the Laughing Stock Syrah 2010 ($34) despite the laughable one-bottle limit. David and Cynthia Enns have done an excellent job bringing this wine to fruition even though it is grown well south of their Naramata-based winery. The fruit is grown in Osoyoos and the wine is made by co-fermenting a small amount of viognier with the syrah in large casks and tanks. The viognier adds some floral mineral notes and tends to open up the syrah allowing it to fully express its potential in the bottle. Look for a rich, smooth, fresh palate with blackberry jam, menthol, ginger, pepper, sausage meat, vanilla, coffee, clove, curry flavours. The style is big and bold and will need a piece of lamb or two to five more years in bottle.
There is nothing shy about the Skaha Bench Painted Rock Syrah 2009 $40. This big spicy brooding black fruit scented syrah with a dollop of Okanagan sage has really come together in the bottle over the last six months and will likely improve through 2015. Both ripe and rich it exudes a New World syrah stance mixing liquorice, smoky, black tea and roasted meat characters flecked with plums and spicy oak. Tasted several times now and it gets better each time out. You can drink it now with a big piece of grilled lamb or put in the cellar for another five years.