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B.C. Wine Report features wines from Modest, Play, Mt. Boucherie and Fort Berens

By Rick VanSickle and Michael Lowe

In this big B.C. Wine Report, we taste through new wine releases from Mt. Boucherie, Modest Wines, Play Estate Winery and Fort Berens.

Modest Wines

When Mt. Boucherie opened its new restaurant, the Modest Butcher Kitchen at its showcase winery in West Kelowna last year, it seemed appropriate to offer a line of wines that paired perfectly with the dishes served there. And thus was born the Modest Wines portfolio, a subset from the Mt. Boucherie winemaking team.

With quirky names and funky labels to go with them, the collection of wines has been made in the “spirit of experimentation and risk taking while also paying homage to some of the classic regions of the wine world.”

Modest Wines kicks off our B.C. Wine Report with reviews by Michael Lowe and I (Mike’s reviews are noted with his initials):

Modest Wines By Jove Sangiovese 2019 ($30, 91 points) — This is only one of “two or three” Sangioveses made in the Okanagan with the fruit for this wine coming from the Ferreira Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. It’s oak aged in a combination of Hungarian, French and American barrels and is blended with a pinch of Merlot. The nose shows fresh crushed raspberries, plums, black cherries, herbs, savoury notes, subtle cassis and spice. It has lovely purity on the palate with notes of wild raspberries, bramble, forest berries, cherries, herbs, earthiness and savoury accents through a bright finish.

Modest Wines Little Green Red Petit Verdot 2018 ($30, 90 points) – A bit of a surprise here, but in a good way. On the nose it shows the ripeness of the fruit with cassis at the fore supported by notes of fresh-cut herbs, menthol, earth and licorice. On the palate it’s loaded with blackberry, with some earth and wood notes in the middle. Acidity is high, but is in check with other elements. Subsequently, this wine can stand up to a variety of foods. Fatty, roasted meats, rich sauces, or hard, aged cheeses – bring it on. I paired it with pasta with Bolognese sauce and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano – delicious. (ML)

Modest Wines La Graves Robber 2020 ($27, 92 points) — “A homage to one of the underappreciated joys of the white wine drinking world — Sauvignon/Semillons grown in the gravelly, grey soils of Graves,” according to notes from the winery. “It’s an 80/20 blend aged in French oak puncheons that showcases verve, weight, gravitas, and both Naramata and Okanagan Falls.” Such an elegant nose of pure grapefruit, pear, salinity, crushed seashells, herbs and well integrated spice notes. It’s gorgeous on the palate with fresh, lively grapefruit and lemon zest then creamy notes of honeydew melon, fresh herbs and a balanced approach to the spice on the zingy finish.

Modest Wines The Elder Vicar 2019 ($22, 89 points) — Named as a homage to the father of B.C. wine, noble blends of Alsace, and double entendres, this is a co-fermented, skin contact, field blend of Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer with a bit of skin contact going on. It shows a light golden colour in the glass with an interesting nose of mulled apples, fuzzy peach, apricots, lychee nut and marmalade. It has a spicy Gewurz bite on the palate with more lychee, apricot tart, peach cobbler, a slightly reductive note and thoroughly juicy, round and … well, a bit different in a very cool way.

Modest Wines The Eye Of The Partridge 2020 ($25, 90 points) — I’ll let the marketing team at Mt. Boucherie explain where the name of this Pinot Noir style rosé is derived: “Oeil-de-perdrix means “eye of the partridge” in French. The wine has this name because its colour supposedly resembles the eyes of this game bird, freshly killed. A sort of gruesome, yet somewhat romantic, moniker for this unique wine. It was originally used during the Middle Ages in France for the pink wines of Champagne, and is now referenced in many places as the ideal colour for rosé.” Another interesting fact: the Pinot Noir was soaked on the skins for 8 hours, 5 minutes and 24 seconds. Truth (I think). It has a vivid nose of fresh picked raspberries, field strawberries and herbs. Just a hint of sweetness on the palate with a lovely basket of red berries, subtle herbs, citrus and mineral notes with a crisp, fresh finish.

Modest Wines No. 4 Orange 2020 ($27, 89 points) — This is 100% Old Vine Similkameen farmed Pinot Gris that was wild fermented and left on the skins for 121 days. It has a glowing salmon colour in the glass and an expressive nose of red berries, subtle peachy-mature apple notes and underlying funk. It’s austere on the palate with some grippy tannins and showing red berries, nectarine and rhubarb with a reductive note on a tangy, full-throttle acid finish. Zippy and spicy and, truth be told, messes with mind.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery

Mt. Boucherie Merlot 2018 ($25, 89 points) — This Merlot was farmed from multiple sites in the South Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys and aged in 25% new French oak and 75% neutral French and American oak for nearly 6 months. It has a meaty nose of brambly raspberries, mocha, plums, spice and cedar notes. It has a smoky/savoury edge on the palate with firm tannic structure and red berries, earth and spice with a tangy, juicy finish. A nicely structured wine at this price point that can be cellared 5+ years.

Mt. Boucherie Pinot Gris 2020 ($22, 90 points) — This 100% Pinot Gris was planted in 1997 at the estate’s Lazy River Vineyard in South Cawston in the Similkameen Valley. It is partially fermented on the skins to dryness. It shows an attractive onion skin colour in the glass with a nose of peach tart, golden apple, poached pear and spice. It’s rich and round on the palate with a mélange of stone fruits, honey, juicy acidity and a spiced finish. Delicious!

Mt. Boucherie Rosé 2020 ($23, 90 points) – I just love bone-dry rosé, and this is one is an excellent example. Look for aromas of wild strawberry and watermelon with wet stone mineral notes. The palate shows off the aforementioned fruit with a good seam of citrusy acidity for balance. An easy-drinking and very food-friendly wine for this time of year. Pair with roasted chicken with rosemary or spinach salad with watermelon and feta cheese. (ML)

Mt. Boucherie Pinot Noir 2019 ($25, 90 points) – A medium-bodied Pinot showing black cherry, damp earth, dried flowers and herbs on the nose. The palate leads with cherries, followed with earthy mushroom and spices on the medium-long finish. Will pair well with roasted game birds, grilled salmon, or mushroom risotto. (ML)

Mt. Boucherie Reserve Syrah 2018 ($45, 92 points) – Just a beautiful Syrah with gusto. Blackberry, wild blueberry, white pepper, earthiness and a cured meat note on the nose. Very ripe and juicy on the palate showcasing the cherry and dark berry core, with a long, elegant finish. (ML)

Mt. Boucherie Summit 2018 ($60, 93 points) — This is “the pinnacle of everything we do at the estate,” says head winemaker Jeff Hundertmark, and, in my opinion, stands among the top big reds made in B.C. It’s a blend of 52% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 17% Syrah with a couple of drops of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s aged in 100% French oak (35% new) for 24 months. The fruit is sourced from premium blocks in the estate’s vineyard in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. It has a thrilling and generous nose of black cherries, black currants, blueberries, raspberry bush, cigar box cedar and elegant spices and mocha notes. It’s rich and powerful on the palate with a firm bed of ripe tannins to go with cassis, blackberries and blueberries with compoted red berries, smoky cedar, earth and rich spice notes in behind. It all benefits from a lifted and super long finish. This has the stuffing to cellar 10 years and beyond. A beauty.

Play Estate Winery

The Pechet family has opened their doors to guests in cities across Canada since 1944, from hotels and dinner theatres to vacation destinations. Their third generation brought Stagewest Hospitality into the world of wine.

Play Estate Winery launched in 2013, a deeply personal project for the Pechets. With the addition of winemaker Stephanie Bryers in 2019, the team turned our focus to single varietal wines of excellence and more recently, a bit of rebranding.

The goal at Play is to “craft fresh and elegant wines, uncovering natural layers of complexity that shine a light on what makes these lands unique.”

Play Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($25, 90 points)Sauvignon Blanc is one of Play’s flagship wines and winemaker Bryers wanted to “craft this one in a style I enjoy so much. High acid and fruit forward, reminiscent of a New Zealand style while incorporating French barrel aging and batonnage to provide a rounded, fuller mouthfeel.” This wine was 50% wild fermented and 30% of the fruit was barrel fermented. The nose show perfumed pear, grapefruit, wild herbs, guava and subtle spice notes. It’s fresh and vibrant on the palate with a grapefruit/citrus entry followed by new pear, sage and subtle tropical fruits and spice that all lead to a lifted, zippy finish.

Play Spotlight Semillon 2019 ($19, 89 points) — All the fruit was whole bunch pressed, with 56% barrel aged in a split of 20% French oak for 8 months with the remainder in stainless steel barrels all undergoing batonnage regularly for 6 months. It has an attractive nose of melon, apple, honey, pear skin and citrus. It’s fresh on the palate with notes of lemon, green apple, subtle herbal notes and a dry feel through the lifted finish.

Play Viognier 2020 ($24, 90 points) — This lovely Vio has an expressive nose of apricot, spiced apple, pear and tropical fruit notes. It’s juicy and complex on the palate with tart citrus notes, apricot, apple skin, lime zest and a bright finish. Very nice wine at this price point.

Play Cabernet Franc 2019 ($33, 92 points) — This delightful Cab Franc was barrel aged for 16 months and has an enticing nose of rich raspberries, kirsch, plums and elegant spice notes. It’s fairly big and juicy on the palate with dense red berries, toasted vanilla, cedar plank, spice and finesse through the finish. Wait on this, you will be richly rewarded.

Play Spotlight Malbec 2019 ($23, 91 points) – Bold, ripe and savoury are just a few of the keywords to describe this beautiful wine. The dark fruit character is evident in the deep garnet colour in the glass. Aromas of black plums, fresh herbs and blackberry abound, backed up with lovely woody, barrel notes. The dark fruit is ripe, lush and juicy on the palate balanced by firm tannins. Pair with roasted or grilled lamb or beef. (ML)

Play Merlot 2019 ($29, 91 points) – A broad-shouldered, rich Merlot here. There’s plenty of ripe black cherry, mulberry, baking spices and leather both on the nose and the palate. Flavours and tannins are well integrated through the mid-palate, while the finish shows a tart, choke cherry note, which lingers on with hints of vanilla. The ripe, plush fruit tames the 14.5% abv. Excellent structure and length. (ML)

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens Estate Winery is a culmination of the dreams, vision and pioneering spirit of several entrepreneurs. The winery is owned by a team of eight individuals who share a common belief in the winemaking potential of British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon and a shared vision to make Fort Berens into one of Canada’s leading producers of fine wine.

Founding partners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek initiated the venture in 2005 with a search for suitable land and a dream that was to become Fort Berens. The pair emigrated from Holland and settled in Lillooetv with their young family in 2009 to establish Lillooet’s first commercial vineyard.

Soon after planting the vineyard, Rolf and Heleen welcomed retired executive, Hugh Agro, corporate director, Sean Harvey, investment banker, Jason Neal, and mining executive John McConnell into the business. These four new partners helped to purchase the estate’s 65-acre property, build a commercial scale winery and retail operation and execute on developing Fort Berens into the business that it is today. Investment banker, Dan Barnholden and mining executive Patrick Downey, later joined as the seventh and eighth partners. Raymond Rae, an executive and leader in the building automation industry, joined the team in 2018.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2020 ($20, 89 points) – This expression of Pinot Gris is made from free-run juice with minimal skin contact resulting in a very pale straw colour. A fairly high alcohol level at 13.4% that does not detract from the delicate character of the wine. The nose shows fresh pear and citrus with some tropical underlying hints and floral notes. On the palate there’s a burst of citrus followed by ripe pear before finishing with mineral notes, while vibrant acidity balances the whole. It proved a nice match with grilled octopus and will match with most seafood or creamy sauces. (ML)

Fort Berens Riesling 2020 ($20, 88 points) — This is the slightly sweeter version of the two Rieslings in the Fort Berens portfolio and sourced from three vineyards in Vernon, Kelowna and Lillooet. The nose shows fresh pear and apple with lemon/grapefruit accents. There is a fairly brisk tug of sweet and tart fruit on the palate with flavours of pear, lime and grapefruit with a zesty, balancing acid on the finish.

Fort Berens Dry Riesling 2020 ($22, 89 points) — This has an expressive nose of lime, green apple, grapefruit and lemon peel. It’s quite yummy on the palate with a lovely mélange of zesty citrus, apple, a touch of apricot and a refreshingly dry, zippy finish.

Fort Berens Grüner Veltliner 2020 ($22, 90 points) — This is the premier vintage of Grüner (an Austrian grape) from Fort Berens. The Lillooet estate has been growing this grape since 2011, but the grapes for this debut were sourced from the Okanagan Valley. Co-founder Rolf de Bruin said “we wanted to experiment with this variety as we look ahead to producing our first estate vintage Grüner Veltliner in 2021 or 2022.” It’s a pretty good first effort with a fragrant saline/mineral nose of fresh peach, crisp apple, apricot, pear and lemon/lime peel. It’s made in a crisp and dry style on the palate with range of citrus, river rock, bright apple/pear notes and backed up by mouth-watering acidity. Lovely rendition of this wonderful grape.

Fort Berens Rosé 2020 ($20, 89 points) –Composed primarily of Pinot Noir, with Cabernet Franc and a small percentage of Merlot, the wine shows what you’d expect – subtle red berry and white cherry with a core of fresh-cut melon. It’s crisp and dry with good acidity and soft fruit notes on the finish. (ML)