Creston’s original winery offers a good variety of wines at prices designed to be competitive on store shelves. It’s model that has worked well for owners Al and Marleen Hoag and winemaker Mark Rattray, who visits from his home in New Zealand for the Creston Valley harvest and winemaking season.
Last week we enjoyed our first bottle of Devil’s Chair, a blend of Marechal Foch and Pinot Noir grapes. It’s not a common blend and I was curious about its qualities. For starters, Marechal Foch isn’t a wine I normally turn to when I am choosing a wine. Full-bodied and soft in tannins, Foch has loads of flavour and is pleasingly dark, but I don’t find it particularly interesting. But I love well-made Pinot Noirs, with their silky mouth feel, subtle and usually complex flavours, and tannins that make it a great match for many foods.
Would the Foch in Devil’s Chair overpower the Pinot, I wondered? Or would the best characteristics of each combine to make an exciting blend?
We planned a quick, simple dinner to go with the wine. We are big fans of paninis, so I purchased a package of panini bread. On one piece of the bread I spread my favourite seedy mustard, then put a layer of wasabi-flavoured cheese slices on top. (We were introduced to this cheese by our office gourmand several months ago and it has become a favourite for its intense flavours.) Thin slices of pepperoni and pieces of artichoke were added in layers. The sandwich went into my George Foreman grill (the cheapest, simplest model, which is perfect for paninis or any type of grilled sandwich in addition to its many other uses) for a few minutes.
Once the bread was browned and the cheese started to melt we were ready to eat. A simple side salad took its place on our plates. I rarely worry about letting wine breathe any more—for the last couple of years I’ve routinely used a filter/aerator, a long, slim gadget that fits snuggly into the bottle and introduces lots of air into each pour. Into our glasses went the dark and subtly aromatic red.
To my pleasant surprise, the Devil’s Chair is an excellent blend. It has enough tannins to make it go well with food (really soft wines don’t do much for food), the overt flavours of the Foch were scaled back by the more subtle Pinot Noir and the mouth feel is extremely pleasant. We thoroughly enjoyed our wine and meal.
To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought of blending the two varieties. But both Pinot Noir and Marechal Foch are doing very well in Creston vineyards, and growers are not stuck with simply releasing single variety wines. Winemaker Mark Rattray is a skilled blender and the result of this particular combination is a winner.
Of course Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard has built its reputation with an outstanding selection of white wines. The Gewurztraminer is a multiple award winner and the spice and tropical fruit make it a great accompaniment to Asian foods, especially. Talk to regular Skimmerhorn customers, though, and chances are you will hear raves about Ortega. This white wine grape produces a luscious wine with citrus and pineapple flavours and it is easy drinking, indeed.
Another favourite of white wine drinkers is Autumn Tryst, a pleasing blend of Siegerebbe, Ortega and Gewurztraminer grapes that results in a off-dry sipper with a number of fruit flavours. Rounding out the white wine offerings is Pinot Gris, which is perhaps British Columbia’s most consistently good white wine. The Skimmerhorn version is made to evoke the Italian Pinot Gris style.
Since Skimmerhorn first opened, we’ve been fans of the Pinot Rose, a deep pink wine with strawberry and raspberry flavours complimented by a grapefruit finish. It’s another great summer treat.
And, finally, Creston has a long-talked about fruit wine. Cherry Twist is made from local cherries. It also has some sweetness, a great appeal for those who just aren’t crazy about the recent trend toward really dry wines.
As I write and think about Skimmerhorn, I am picturing some very pleasant lunch hours on the winery’s bistro deck, enjoying a superb meal, a glass of wine to match, the spectacular view and warm, sunny weather. Is summer almost here?
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.