I’m still sifting through the results (***See below for the full list) from this past week’s Judgment of BC tasting, led by D.J. Kearney, with Steven Spurrier, Consultant Editor to Decanter Magazine, organised by Wines of British Columbia.
It was one of the best tastings in which I’ve participated. That’s not to say that it wasn’t challenging.
When the results were announced the optics weren’t that great for the home team, at least not in Chardonnay:
BC was effectively ‘shut out’ of the top five positions, although Blue Mountain Chardonnay Reserve 2013 (Okanagan, BC $30) popped up in sixth place.
Like everyone else, I suspect, I’m always intrigued to compare my scores with the results and the panel at large.
At one point, when discussing the flight, Steven Spurrier used the term “homogenous,” which I found reassuring, as there seemed to be a recurring stylistic theme with quite a few of these wines. Or, as he noted, Chardonnay doesn’t necessarily reflect the terroir that well.
“I’m disappointed that BC did not do better in Chardonnay,” commented Mr. Spurrier, who said during his five day visit to BC that he’d “loved the wines.”
A Template for Unknown Regions
The idea behind the tasting remains the same as the original “Judgment of Paris”, says Spurrier: “to create a template for unknown wines to go up against a benchmark.” He singled out Viña Errázuriz for its successful 2004 Berlin tasting.
To that end, the wines that eclipsed the BC Chardonnays were necessarily significant, including a Premier Cru Chablis (Jean Marc Brocard Montmains 2012, 4th place) and a Premier Cru Mersault (Bouchard Pere et Fils Genevrières 2011, 5th place). However, interestingly, it was a clutch of wines from notable (and very affordable) New World regions that stole the Chardonnay show.
First Place: Soumah River Single Vineyard Chardonnah (Yarra Valley, Australia, $27); Second: Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill 2012, Auckland, New Zealand, $35. Third: Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014 (Hemel-en-Aarde, S.Africa, $40).
[My top four: Premier Cru Chablis (Jean Marc Brocard Montmains 2012; Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014 (Hemel-en-Aarde, S.Africa, Blue Mountain Reserve 2013 (Okanagan Valley, BC); Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill 2012]
Red to the Rescue
The red flight was more rewarding for BC, with Okanagan wines capturing three of the top five spots.
CC Jentsch Syrah 2013 (Okanagan, BC, $30) prevailed over second place Langmeil Shiraz Orphan Bank 2012 (Barossa, Australia, $68) and third place Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 60 2013, Rhone Valley, France $66.) Significantly, from Canada’s oldest planting of the variety (1990-91), Nichol Syrah 2012 picked up fourth spot, followed by Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2013 ($50) in fifth.
[My reds placement: 1. Langmeil 2. Nichol, 3. CC Jentsch, 4. Vincent Cornas Granit]
The reds yielded “a really good flight: not a dud wine in there: wonderful fruit and wonderful expressions of Syrah,” offered Spurrier, who also said: “Syrah is very expressive and the vineyard comes through. It’s harder to get the vineyard in Chardonnay. And almost impossible not to with Syrah!”
A couple of things in particular struck me about the competition and the results.
• The choice of these two varieties made absolute sense. After all, how could you not pick Chardonnay, especially for the first time around, with so much from which to choose? That said, I think BC makes some very good aromatics that really do stand up to the best in the world. And Syrah has very much been emerging as BC’s strongest red suit. We’ll see what the next judgement brings … Maybe Riesling and Pinot Noir?
• The wines chosen to compete with BC truly were benchmark wines, that validated the idea behind the event; My sense, overall, is that BC continues to deliver very good value for money in its mid range wines.
• As part of the judging, we were asked to identify whether the wine was from BC or “International”. Umm. Not one of my strong suits, especially in Chardonnay, though better in Syrah…
I found this part of the process played with my head too much, as I really didn’t want to think about whether the wine was from BC as it might prejudice its rank in some way. Not that it did. But I did find it distracting.
• How wonderfully ironic that BC should find its strongest showing in red wines. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago (15 years?) that most people turned up their nose at the mere mention of BC reds.
BC: Think ‘Old World’, says Spurrier
In reviewing his time here, Mr. Spurrier said that the chance to discover the Okanagan first hand had proved “absolutely extraordinary,” with a “kaleidescopic range of wines.“
“People have asked me, ‘What should BC do as an emerging wine region?’, he said.
“You’re not an emerging wine region but a deserving wine region,” he said, noting that BC has been growing grapes for “a very long time.”
“There’s nothing ‘New World’ about what’s going on in BC because ‘New World’ is varietal first, vineyard second: If I’ve seen anything anywhere in the world (apart from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal) which is more vineyard first, varietal second, it’s BC.”
However, Spurrier reserved the biggest compliment for his closing comments, after dinner:
“My final message to British Columbia,” said Spurrier, “Is that I think you undervalue yourselves: your wines are sensational.”
The full list of results is as follows:
1. Soumah Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2013 | Yarra Valley, Victoria | $27
2. Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill 2012 | Auckland, New Zealand | $35
3. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014 | Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa | $40
4. Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2012 | France | $45
5. Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières 2011 | France | $86
6. Blue Mountain Chardonnay Reserve 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30
7. Tantalus Chardonnay 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $24
8. Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Reserve 2013 | Carneros, California | $44
9. Mission Hill Chardonnay Perpetua 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $50 (tie)
9. Quails’ Gate Chardonnay Rosemary’s Block 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30 (tie)
10. Meyer Family Chardonnay Micro Cuvée 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC |$65
11. Haywire Chardonnay Canyonview 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $25
1. C.C. Jentsch Syrah 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30
2. Langmeil Shiraz Orphan Bank 2012 | Barossa, South Australia | $68
3. Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 60 2013 | France | $66
4. Nichol Syrah 2012 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $40
5. Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $50
6. Ojai Syrah 2011 | Santa Barbara, California | $30
7. Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Sunrock Shiraz 2011 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $30
8. Orofino Syrah Scout Vineyard 2012 | Similkameen Valley, BC | $29
9. J.L. Chave Selections Crozes-Hermitage Silène 2012 | France | $40
10. Tyrell’s Shiraz Vat 9 2011 | Hunter Valley, New South Wales | $49
11. Laughing Stock Syrah 2013 | Okanagan Valley, BC | $38
12. K Vintners Syrah The Beautiful 2012 | Walla Walla, Washington | $70\
In addition to the wines, Mr. Spurrier also said he had been very impressed with the cuisine. The wrap-up dinner, at l’Abattoir, no doubt proved no exception.