If you want to analyze a flight of wines, there’s no more enjoyable way than throwing a tasting party.
I threw a tasting party last month and invited five friends to come over and help my husband and me discern the differences between 8 BC Zinfandels.
Comparing BC Zins with Californians is kind of a pet project of mine, started in 2013 when we tasted 4 BC zins with friends over dinner. Being a Sonoma County gal, I’ve been curious about BC Zinfandel since 2009 when I tasted the Inniskillin 2006 Discovery Series Zinfandel.
Every year, more and more single varietal zinfandels appear in BC, although some like Vigneti Zanatta, have disappeared.
This year, I found that BC has 9 – count ‘em – 9 single varietal zinfandels on the market, mostly in small quantities that make them unavailable in most stores.
For months, I emailed, phone, cajoled and pleaded with wineries to send me bottles for my zinfandel tasting. Only one didn’t come through, Quinta Ferrara, because they were sold out.
All of these wines are low production and at this writing, some of the 8 BC wines are gone and replaced by new vintages.
- Young & Wyse 2012 Zinfandel, Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley 13.7% $24
- Covert Farms 2012 Zinfandel Grand Reserve, Oliver, OKV 13.9% $42
- Black Sage Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel, Black Sage Bench, Oliver, OKV 14% $23
- Inniskillin 2011 Zinfandel, Discovery Series, (Bear Cub Vinyd?) Oliver, OKV 14% $23
- Mt Boucherie 2010 Zinfandel Family Reserve, Cawston, Similkameen Valley 14.2% $35
- Rustico 2011 Zinfandel Old Vine Bonanza!, Golden Mile Bench, Oliver, OKV 14.3% $35
- Desert Hills 2011 Zinfandel Three Boys Vineyard, Black Sage Bench, Oliver, OKV 14.7% $40
- Kettle Valley 2013 Zinfandel, Great Northern vineyard, Cawston, Similkameen Valley 16% $24
Organizing the tasting
Putting together a wine tasting is a fun and creative endeavor. Everyone has a different style, of course. Here’s how I did it.
Get the bottles
If you are a wine writer or blogger and truly intend to publish something, you can have the winery send you bottles free. They have a budget for comps and are normally happy to mail them. Smart wineries will send two bottles in case the first bottle is corked. Send an email or give them a call. Be home when the bottle arrives.
Once the bottle is open, the fresh bottle look is lost so get lots of shots of the whole flight as well as individuals. I called Big Rock Brewery who were kind enough to let me shoot bottles in their pub with window light, wood table tops and a brick background. Very wild west-looking. Still, I shot a bunch in our apartment, on the side board and on the brass table, just for variety.
I wanted to pair the wines with likely foods, but I didn’t want to cook a big “meal.” With zin, I knew we needed a variety of meats as well as grilled veggies.
And then the lightbulb went on: kebabs! So, I made souvlaki chicken, Argentine lamb, and bbq pork kebabs stuffed with peppers, onions and mushrooms! It was the perfect finger food.
Also, I wanted Mexican, which I think zinfandel cries out for. So in the cheese and starch category I made quesadillas – prepped in advanced and heated on a pizza stone at the last minute. And, salsa and avocado. Lots of salsa was needed to see which zins liked those spicy and piquant flavors.
For dessert, my friend Ariane brought a caramel cake and we had some dark chocolate cookies on hand, because zin loves chocolate.
No food pictures, sorry.
About an hour before the tasting, we poured about 4 ounces of each wine into a separate glass marked with the name of the wine. This served two purposes: to displace enough wine from the bottle to accelerate the breathing process, as well as to allow us to see the color of each wine for pictures. I was still taking pics of each wine as people were arriving.
With all our everyday glasses holding the picture pours, I had just enough Reidels, kept in a box for special occasions, to make all of our tasting pours consistent. Good glasses mean everything when it comes to bringing out the potential of a wine, so you gotta have them.
I knew no one would spit, but I also knew some people wouldn’t keep up. So I gave everyone a paper cup to put their name on into which they could simply dump their pours. In the end, we each had a nice, personalized blend of Okanagan/Similkameen zinfandel to ponder.
In California, zinfandel is so widely planted that you can get a California, a Sonoma County, a Dry Creek Valley, or a vineyard-designated zin. Canada doesn’t have counties, but if zinfandel was more widely planted, there could be Okanagan blends.
I created tasting sheets with the wines in order of tasting, in this case ascending order by alcohol level.
Two wines per page included relevant info – winery, vintage, designation, alcohol, price – plus prompts for color, aroma, palate, finish, overall and pairing. The sheets were used by half of us. The others just blurted out descriptors.
It’s important to keep focused while tasting because it’s easy when you’re not spitting to start yakking. Some people get serious while their spouses not so much. We discussed each wine before moving to the next which helped bring the circle together.
To focus on the wine, I wanted to taste first, eat later. I was concerned about the smell of the kebabs filling the apartment and making the wines smell smoky, so I cooked the kebabs in advance.
During the tasting we nibbled on french bread and cheese, which caused a few hunger attacks after 90 minutes of tasting. By the time we got to #7 of the 9 wines, I put quesadillas in the oven and it was hard not to taste dough in the wines.
My personal aim in this exercise was to figure out how BC zins competed with California, so I added a control bottle so everybody has a baseline zinfandel to start with.
First, I was going to pour the bottle of Cline Sonoma County 2012 I bought in the states, which I thought typical enough, until I saw the alcohol level – 16%! Yikes, that would make a terribly hot first impression.
I was tempted to go for one of the Ravenswood zins, but instead settled on Edmeades Mendocino County for it’s warmish 15% and 2012 vintage. The BCs ranged from 13.7% to 16%, so 15% was mid-way, as was the vintage.
Of course, everyone loved the Edmeades.
BC Zinfandels takeaway
All these BC Zins were excellent in their own way. There was not a dog among them.
The group favorite was the Black Sage, said to be “delicious” “jammy”, “juicy”, “satisfying” and “complex”.
The least favorite was the Inniskillin for a perceived simplicity, although I didn’t agree with the gang on that.
If you were a California zinfanatic you would think the BC Zins are a lot like Canada itself. Polite. Friendly. Nice.
Indeed, there was lot of sameness among these 8 wines, but overall, we found that BC Zins were cooler in alcohol and brighter with acidity than their California counterpart. Some showed characteristic notes of briar and jamminess, but the spice and pepper were certainly prevalent.
But where California Zins tend to punch you in the face, BC Zins are more likely to pat you on the back.
Bottom line being, BC Zinfandels are more friendly and laid back than Californians.
Again, check out my full reviews at the Natalie MacLean site.