New arrival from Similkameen's Vanessa Vineyard lives up to expectations

One of the most anticipated B.C. new arrivals of the year, Similkameen's Vanessa Vineyard, lives up to expectations.

It's good to see yet one more example of the quality that's driving the true potential of the Similkameen Valley in its own right.

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The project is very much terroir driven, which means that these wines are grown on some of the rockiest terrain you'll find anywhere, even for Similkameen. The soils are ideal, unforgivingly barren, windswept and well drained, and the rocks (which have great heat retention) are immense.

All those factors help to explain why the wines just released are impressive, even in their relative infancy.

The project (a partnership between Vancouver businessmen Suki Sekhon and John Welson) was planted in 2006. The west-south-west facing, 75-acre vineyard (which is on the sloping, north side of Highway 3 not far from Seven Stones) turned out to be a serious challenge to plant. In fact, the rock crusher brought in to help prepare the land wore out its teeth in no time flat.

There were signs early on that Vanessa might be something special. If the name sounds familiar, the grapes have been going into Sandhill Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet-Merlot, made by Howard Soon. The Peller master winemaker has always been excited about the vineyard's possibilities and consulted on these new wines.

These are impressive inaugural releases with the promise of much more to come as the vines continue to mature. Vanessa Vineyard Meritage 2012 (Similkameen Valley) Vibrant black fruit with definite cassis on the nose, followed by a plush, though not extracted, well-structured palate of blackberry and anise, with well-integrated tannins, a pronounced mineral streak and a lengthy, spicy finish (50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 27 per cent Merlot and 23 per cent Cabernet Franc.). Aged six months pre-blend and 12 months post blend in French and American 60 per cent new oak (91 points, $36).

Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2012 (Similkameen Valley) The heat units and lengthy exposure suggest this should indeed be a good site for Syrah. Aromas of damson, mocha and cedar-y notes, followed by a generous palate of black fruit, chocolate and pepper notes, and some smokiness before a lengthy, spicy end, 94 per cent Syrah, six per cent Viognier (91 points, $39). Look for the wines to be in the market in the next couple of weeks. To order call: 604-689-3800 or email marketing@vanessavineyard.com.

The wine world is here for next week's Vancouver International Wine Festival featuring Savour Australia. While many events are sold out, there are still some great tasting opportunities. Insiders know the best evening to attend the International Tasting is on Thursday (7-10 p.m.), which is usually by far the least crowded. Some tickets remain.

For Oz fans: you can taste some "Geological Gems" with a panel of luminaries like Bruce Tyrrell and Brian Lynn (Majella), moderated by Mark Davidson (Friday, Feb. 27); or check out the Savour Australia Lounge Party, with 20 top Aussie wineries and a host of personalities pouring Shiraz and plenty more, with Down Under-inspired bites (like Kangaroo sliders, alligator meatballs and mini pies) courtesy of the Dirty Apron. Not to mention some cool lounge tunes.

There's more: check vanwinefest.ca.

Belly's Best Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne 2013 (Nagambie Lakes) Yes, I know it's supposed to be all about Shiraz this week, but why not give this wicked long-running Aussie white a whirl? (Especially if you like Viognier.) Think citrus and stonefruit, with a splash of honey and mineral wrapped up in juicy acidity. Pair with rich seafood such as scallops, acorn squash or chicken Cordon Bleu. Great value at $19.99 BCLS.

Tim Pawsey writes about wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: info@hiredbelly.com.

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