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A mini rant about lack of cross-border Canadian wine shopping: Reviews for B.C.’s McWatters, JoieFarm, Blue Grouse, Evolve

B.C. wine

By Rick VanSickle

The simple act of buying Canadian wine out of province remains — to this day — an elusive endeavor.

It’s a bloody shame that provinces such as Ontario, where the LCBO plays such an influential role on the government, remain pig-headed and petty enough that they fear the loss of revenue outweighs the rights of citizens to purchase wine out of province in their own country.

It’s like some dystopian society where protectionism somehow became the rule of the land — a Trump-like (there, I said it!) world with giant fences surrounding the perimeter of our once loosely defined borders. Why? For a few bucks the LCBO will lose (not even lose, really … just won’t get) if they agreed to what the federal government has already deemed the right thing to do — open the borders to our own Canadian wines?

Canadian wine

It’s not like the LCBO/Vintages is doing us any favours when it comes to wines for sale from other parts of Canada outside of Ontario. And, let’s be honest here, outside Niagara, really. The LCBO does a pathetic job sourcing and stocking wines from B.C., Nova Scotia, Quebec and even Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. It’s because the monopoly-minded LCBO can’t make it work. They need volume and appeal for the greatest number of people at the lowest price possible.

Which is fine, that’s the way it has always been and that’s the way it will be until we fully and completely dismantle the dinosaur that is the LCBO (which is happening slowly, but surely).

They just have no time those of us who appreciate Canadian wine — all Canadian wine, beyond the borders of Ontario. They refuse to bow to pressure to open up the border for the free flow of wine from province to province.

And that’s where we are today; mired in a quagmire of pigheadedness that is so ingrained into the bureaucracy of the LCBO that it’s doubtful it will ever change as it is presently structured.

Which is why, when a great B.C. wine sneaks across the border and hits Vintages shelves, we should embrace its presence.

Okanagan wine

Without fanfare, which is strange when you consider the wine comes directly from one of our country’s founding pioneers (Mr. B.C. Wine himself, Harry McWatters, above) of the modern Canadian wine industry, the McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2014 from the Okanagan Valley arrived on Vintages shelves about a month ago.

It landed without notice, not even a mention in the twice-monthly Vintages circular, an oversight that no one can explain.

A quick search of the wine on the LCBO website shows a large collection of the wine throughout the province and, I’m told, is all that is left of this wine that sold out long ago in B.C. after it was named one of three B.C. wines to win a gold at this year’s Chardonnay-du-Monde competition of the world’s best Chardonnay (the other two were Summerhill’s Chardonnay Icewine and See Ya Later Ranch Chardonnay).

It leads off this B.C. wine report that also includes new releases from Evolve Cellars (another McWatters property), Blue Grouse Estate Winery from Vancouver Island and a couple of bubblies from JoieFarm on the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley.

Note: Reviews are by Rick VanSickle and Michael Lowe (ML).

McWatters Collection

Canadian chardonnayMcWatters Collection Chardonnay 2014, Okanagan ($31 at Vintages in Ontario, 92 points) — The fruit is from the Sundial Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench in the deep south of the sun-kissed Okanagan Valley. This is a prime example of a voluptuous and rich Chardonnay with a nose of buttered toast, grilled pineapple, soft vanilla, elegant spice notes, tropical fruits and citrus around the edges. It’s rich and buttery on the palate with concentrated pineapple, poached pear, an array of oak spices and a lingering blast of citrus on the finish to keep it fresh and lively. Classic Chardonnay made in a ripe and creamy style with elegance and grace.


JoieFarm Plein de Vie Brut 2016, Okanagan ($19, 88 points) — This Plein de Vie rosé sparkler was first made in celebration of the opening the JoieFarm tasting room in 2015. It was made as a simple pleasure for friends and family and the tradition continues with that in mind. It’s a blend of 45% Pinot Meunier, 36% Chardonnay and the rest Pinot Noir and has a vibrant/savoury nose of wild raspberry, fresh strawberry, herbs and cranberry. It has a lively mousse and dry/refreshing entry on the palate with delicious red fruits and herbs through the medium length finish.

JoieFarm Quotidien Brut 2016 ($25, 90 points) — A blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Riesling that rested on its fine lees for a winter. It was then blended with the addition of wine from the estate’s Riesling solera that was slowly and gently oxidizing in bottle, with no additional sulphur added. It has a lovely toasty, expressive nose of lemon, grapefruit, grilled pineapple, creamy pear and biscuit. It’s simply delicious on the palate with a range of zesty citrus, peaches and cream and a leesy/tangy finish that shows just a touch of sweetness.

Evolve Cellars

Evolve Cellars Pink Effervescence NV, Okanagan ($20, 87 points) — This fun pink fizz is nearly 100% Pinot Blanc and shows a pale salmon colour in the glass with a vigorous mousse. Look for ripe red berries, apple and a touch of peach on the nose. It’s a fruity wonder on the palate chock full of orchard fruits, underlying red berries and a pinch of sweetness.

Evolve Cellars Pinot Blanc 2016, Okanagan ($16, 87 points) — A nose of melon, pear, apple and fuzzy peach. Pure orchard goodness on the palate made in a round, ripe style for every day drinking.

Evolve Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Okanagan ($16, 88 points) — A nose of zesty lime, citrus, guava, melon and nectarine. Takes on a more tropical feel on the palate with added pear and melon in a ripe style.

Evolve Cellars Pinot Gris 2016, Okanagan ($16, 88 points) — A ripe and juicy nose of peaches, apples, citrus and tangerine. The palate reveals a ripe mélange of orchard fruits that are vibrant and juicy through the finish.

Evolve Cellars Rosé 2016 ($17, 89 points) — An attractive pale salmon colour in the glass with an expressive nose of cranberry, strawberry, watermelon and subtle herbs. The palate shows flavours of ripe cherries, strawberries, watermelon slices and a touch of sweetness on the finish. Gulping wine!

Blue Grouse Estate Winery

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Gris 2016, Cowichan Valley ($22, 89 points) — About 20% of this Vancouver Island Gris, among the oldest Gris planted in B.C., finished fermentation in new French oak barrels. It has gorgeous aromas of melon, peach, honeysuckle, citrus and integrated cream and spice notes. It’s a ripe and round rendition of Pinot Gris on the palate with a creamy/spicy profile that highlights a range of orchard fruits and hints of tropical fruits. It’s generous yet balanced by good acidity through the finish.

Blue Grouse Quill Pinot Gris 2016, Cowichan Valley ($17, 88 points) — Stone fruit, pear and apple are exhibited on the nose with nuances of toasted oak. Sweet fruit leads the way on the palate, but there’s some depth here, notable complexity, and a mouth-watering citrus acidity to support the ripe fruit — good length on the finish, too. This wine will match nicely with creamy sauces, rich, soft cheeses or seafood — a versatile food partner. (ML)

Blue Grouse Quill White 2015, Cowichan Valley ($18, 89 points) — This blend consists of an almost even percentage of Schönburger and Pinot Gris with a bit of Müller-Thurgau added for good measure. The nose shows lifted floral notes of jasmine with peach and apple. Ripe peaches and tart green apple present on the palate with zesty acidity balancing the whole. A very enjoyable wine that drinks nicely on its own or will pair with light chicken or fish dishes and creamy cheeses. (ML)

Blue Grouse Quill Rosé 2016, Cowichan Valley ($20, 88 points) — All estate Pinot Noir and Gamay with a lovely salmon colour in the glass and a nose of cranberry, red currants, rhubarb, cherry and strawberry. It’s tasty on the palate with zesty red fruits, herbs and a savoury note on the finish.

Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Noir 2015, Cowichan Valley 2015 ($27, 88 points) — Black cherry notes hover over a bed of forest floor earthiness with traces of clove, graphite, smoke and gun-flint. The palate is youthful with tannin restraining the cherry core when first opened. With decanting the fruit shows better with vanilla notes emerging mid-palate through the finish. (ML)

Blue Grouse Quill Pinot Noir 2015, Cowichan Valley ($22, 88 points) — The nose on this delightful, subtle Pinot Noir shows wild raspberries, elderberries, cherries, forest floor and light oak spices. On the palate there are earthy notes to go with red fruits, spice and smooth tannins all propped up by bright acidity through the finish.