Canadian Pinot Noir Eh!? Alderlea v Quill v DeVine Vancouver Island BC

By choice or by fate, I cannot escape Pinot Noir. I was born in Oregon and returned to its wine industry.  Our traipse through the extreme wines of Vancouver Island have gone from bad to worse to decent, usually faltering with noble grapes like Chardonnay (here), Gamay (here), but succeeding with weird hybrids like Savignette (read here). Can this warm pocket in the Northernmost fringes of winemaking pull off the queen of grapes: Pinot Noir?

Let us try three.

De Vine Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Vancouver Island CA 2017 $28.00

DeVine Pinot Noir 2017 Vancouver Isalnd CA

We will recap our visit to De Vine Vineyards in a future post. Their attempt to tame Pinot Noir is interesting. To get any color or fruit, they put the wine through carbonic maceration, aka Beaujolais nouveau-style, closed tank, forced fermentation and then, oddly age it for six months in French barrels. The result?

The APPEARANCE looks a clear medium purple with cranberry highlights.

Medium AROMAS of pepper, tart strawberry, red cherry, dried white mushrooms.

The PALATE seems off dry, with high acidity, light doughy tannins, a light body, soft texture, and just enough alcohol to be wine: 12.2%

FLAVORS taste bright and quick with tart red fruits like strawberry, cranberry, followed by a light dry wood and vanilla, finishing shortly thereafter.

Alderlea, Pinot Noir, Vancouver Island BC 2015 $25.00

alderlea vineyards2015

One of the last vintages by the Dosmans: who toiled twenty five years to turn Vancouver Island into wine country inCowichan Valley.

The APPEARANCE looks clear, ruby red, with a wide clear meniscus.

The AROMAS smell of medium, if a bit wild, grapefruit twang, tart red cherry, pomegranate, brett leather, light tobacco ash, white pepper.

The PALATE is dry, lean, light, and tightly cut with acidity, light tannins, a mild 12.8% abv.

Medium plus FLAVORS show a contrast between mulled wine, pomegranate, tart zip and wild musk that cary a medium plus length.

Blue Grouse, Quill, Pinot Noir, Vancouver Island VQA CA 2016

Quill 2016 Pinot Noir

65 acres, 8.5 planted but soon to be 15 (wow) in the Cowichan Valley. BUT! And this is a big but. Quill is 50% Vancouver Island Pinot Noir 50% Okanagan: the Okanagan being Canada’s hottest, sunniest, warmest continental climate nearly on par with the Columbia Valley.

The APPEARANCE looks a medium intense ruby with a purple core.

Medium intense AROMAS pop and mellow with orange juice, herbs like fennel, pepper, rhubarb and red cranberry, and a touch of Brett.

The PALATE is dry with medium, yes, only medium acidity (your dentist will thank you), medium grape skin tannins, a medium body, and a soft cheese texture.

Medium intense FLAVORS run from red cherry with a dash of orange juice to rhubarb, young brie, and that earth and licorice herbaciousness, like fennel, that carries a medium plus length.

So, who makes the better Pinot Noir? De Vine, Alderlea, or Blue Grouse?

De Vine’s nouveau Pinot tastes pleasant and inoffensive enough (3 of 5 score), but memorable? Nah.

Left open, our various other bottles from here never calmed after a day. But Alderlea’s Pinot finally turned its sprint into a mellower marathon. The structure and leanness remain, but the edge is gone. Dried local cheddars work well, kalamata olives calm Alderlea’s Pinot down, mellowing it into a simple, black cherry juice, game hen, herbed chicken, balsamic laced items would work. Day 2 Alderlea’s Pinot is very good (4 of 5). My advice: decant or let it sleep the night open.

Meanwhile, Blue Grouse’s Quill drank quite well (4 of 5) out of the gate. It came off more supple, tame, and pleasant. Alderlea’s wine might technically be more complex, intense, and ageable. But for the moment, Blue Grouse, thanks to the boost of warm Okanagan fruit comes off more agreeable.

So, choose your poison: a quaffable missive; history, terroir, and challenge; or blurry but pleasant ease.

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Sauvignette Eh!? Wine Review of Unsworth Vineyard Vancouver Island BC

Ok! Vancouver Island wines have given us challenging results. Maybe, the standard grapes Chardonnay (review here), Gamay (here), even Sparkling pinot (here) provide little more than acidity, edge, reflecting regional limits. Maybe a more climate-friendly hybrid grape might work.


Sounds French-ish, so good right? Sauvignette grapes (aka Epicure) came from a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and a mix other hybrids, Resistenzpartner possibly. This mutt of a grape is all the stronger thanks to its mixed heritage, handling the harshest climates.

Unsworth Vineyards grows it on fertile clay soils on gravel in the Cowichan Valley. Neutral barrels ferment it through a full malolactic fermentation, extended for five more months on the lees: a good recipe for complexity.

Let’s try it:

Unsworth Sauvignette Vancouver Island 2016

Unsworth Vineyards, Sauvignette, Vancouver Island CA 2016 $21.00

The color looks a clear light straw with medium legs.

Medium plus AROMAS glow with kiwi, honey, beeswax, lightly toasted almond, and lime.

The PALATE feels dry, acidities cut high like a jagged knife, but finally, thanks to this odd grape choice (and methods), the alcohol is warm, texture viscous, due to the medium plus at 13.9% abv.

Medium plus intense FLAVORS carry afinity to pineapple juice, green apple, and light vanilla powder and almond.

Unsworth’s Sauvignette is bright yet well oaked. It comes off a bit punchy and virile, but such intensity is appreciated in this land of light and limpid. Pair with garlic and cream dishes, lemony white fish, aged goat cheeses like manchego cheese. It is very good (4 of 5), worth $21, both thanks to the material and methods.

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Canadian Bubbly Eh? Averill Creek Vancouver Island Sparkling Wine Review #3

OK! Ok! So our venture into wines from Vancouver Island VQA’s has drawn up bracingly tart Chardonnay (read here) and wild Gamay (read here). They have been real, reflective, but not great.

Maybe cool climate Burgundy and Beaujolais are not harsh enough models. Let us look to Champagne, to bubbly, to where fizz makes high acid wine magical.

The winery Averill Creek is pretty big for the island: 30 planted acres. Since 2001, they do everything right, Guyot planting, warm, south facing vineyards, 2.5 tons per acre, gravity flow winery. They make a bubbly of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. To get the fizz, the Charmat (aka Prosecco) method keeps things young, fresh, and clean.

Averill Creek, Charme de L’ile, Vancouver Island, CA NV $23CA

Averill Creek Sparkling Wine

Averill’s Charme de L’ile looks right: pale clear straw color, full of vibrant rapid medium sized bubbles. It smells promising and prosecco-like enough: clean lemon rind, grapefruit, and pale honey aromas abound. But the acidity sears off enamel and any saliva left hiding between tastebuds. A rapid, steely fizz does not help, instead it chews through any fat or protein we throw at it. Our armament of local cheeses and chips disappears decimated by all the acidity.

Averill Creek’s bubbly, albeit bracing, is still a valiant effort and good (3 of 5). I imagine some time on the lees via the traditional method, or a partial malolactic ferment might make it more amiable. Still, with a few breaks between glasses, this can be enjoyed.

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Canadian Gamay Noir Eh? 40 Knots Winery At World’s End Vancouver Island BC

Last post (read here), we gave Vancouver Island VQA a stab at Chardonnay, and they squeaked by with a passable but tart and wild one. Time for to raise the bar with a red grape: Gamay Noir. This grape can handle the cold, short seasons of Beaujolais. Why not the Northern edge of civilization:

40 Knots Winery Drive

We might be staying in Victoria, but since our toddler won’t handle the 2 hour 40 minute drive without making our ears bleed with her elephant song on repeat, I buy a bottle of 40 Knots Gamay for $25.00.

Now, 40 Knots claims 24 stunning acres, which make it the largest winery in the Comox Valley and one of the largest on Vancouver Island. Yes, 24 acres makes you massive up here. Context. They only made 225 cases of Gamay in 2017. But that scale allows them to farm organic and carry a gold Green Tourism certification.

But how is their wine.

40 Knots Gamay Noir

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, bright cranberry ruby.

Mild AROMAS range from cherry snow cone syrup, cranberry, flint, steel, to peppercorn.

The PALATE feels somehow dry, even at 10.3% alcohol (news flash: grapes do not get very ripe this north). The body is light, lean, and ringing with high acidity. Good bye enamel!

Flavors twang with acidity, green cranberry (yes, trust me), strawberry pith, grass, pepper, and a dash of dry vanilla from French barrels.

Blind, you might think 40 Knots Gamay is a white wine. Actually, a white wine drinker might be willing to come to the darker side. Yet, it still tastes and looks like Gamay. Think cool vintage, village Beaujolais and you might be on the right track. I hesitate to give it a good rating (3 of 5), yet 40 Knots Gamay speaks the tongue of its terrior: cold, marginal, trying. But charge $25 for this experiment, really?

40 Knots recommends drinking this on its own lightly chilled. But sticking with terroir, local Spoke potato flour salt and pepper chips tame it a bit.

Spokes Chips

A salty soft pretzel works well with it. From our armory of local cheese Natural Pastures’ Aged Farmhouse: creamy, nutty, honeyed, floral and a bit peppery worked best. But honestly anything mild, cold cut turkey sandwiches, goat cheese, and so on should save it.

We save the bottle for the next day. But even my love for high toned, tart wine cannot handle all this acidity. It is a miracle that 40 Knots can pull off a Gamay at all. Just know what you are getting into.

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Canadian Chardonnay Eh!? Vancouver Island Wine Tour #1

Check here over the next few weeks, I am tasting through Vancouver Island’s wines, ciders, and beers to see who rises to the top.

Wife, kid, and I (sounds like a musical) have driven a day to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. And yes, they grow enough grapes here to claim a Vancouver Island appellation or VQA. Sure, vines only started in 1992, today boasting 432 planted acres and 32 wineries (even Oregon’s tiny Willamette Valley claims 19,000 acres and over 500 wineries). But what that youth and extremely small scale means, however, is focus: most wineries are estate only, often organic, and handled by families from vineyard to bottle.

Vancouver Island needs that focus, because this climate is far removed from many a grape’s Mediterranean origin.

BC VQA Winery

Vancouver Island VQA in purple (

Although extremely North for grape growing, Vancouver Island, surprisingly, has Canada’s mildest climate. The island’s mountains shield the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley from the Pacific’s worst weather, granting merely 900 to 1,200 growing degree days (less than Denmark).

Let us test the Island on the straw gold standard of cool climate white wine: Chardonnay.

Luckily, I find a bottle from Chateau Wolff Estate: one of the first and few wineries to plant Chardonnay here. The Riga family sold their restaurant to buy Wolff up in the region’s northernmost Nanaimo. Like Chablis and Burgundy in general, Chardonnay keeps so much acidity that 100% Malolactic Fermentation and six months in French barrels will only tame it.

Chateau Wolff Estate, Chardonnay, Vancouver Island 2016

Chateau Wolff Estate Chardonnay 2016

Slight haze, medium minus straw color

Lemon water leads the medium intense AROMAS of brie and white mushroom, white pepper musk, wax, and honeysuckle aromas.

The PALATE is lean and dry, with medium plus acidity, a medium body, and a light 11.5% alcohol all reflect the limits of ripening Chardonnay this far North.

The wine tastes like an odd, somewhat tired Chablis. Around a core of lemon water, flavors run from flinty, salty, waxy, to grassy and a bit feral.  The medium finish tastes a bit odd, plastic and again of citrus and mushroom.

Wolff’s 2016 Chardonnay is a twangy, odd, if a bit hollow, but still quite good (3 of 5 rating). For $22 it represents a good value for its rarity. I cannot imagine how 44 cases is profitable.

But it needs something. In desperation, we turn to local food.

Wolff Chardonnay and Brie Cheese

The plush, smooth and coating “Island Brie” by Little Qualicum Cheeseworks from Morningstar Farm matches it well (great cheese). The mushroom qualities cancel each other out, emphasizing the citrus of Wolff’s Chardonnay while taming its acidity.

Wolff’s Chardonnay needs food to rise to a 4 rating, but has enough Chablis-like verve to get there.

Not a bad start.


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