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Andrés Wines has a VQA empire in British Columbia and soon, a new name 

By John Schreiner

August 21, 2006

Founded in British Columbia in 1961, Andrés Wines now is a national wine company and is Canada’s largest domestically-owned wine producer now that Vincor is American-owned.

Next month, the company will ask its shareholders to approve a name change to Andrew Peller Ltd. He was the founder of the company now run by his grandson. He named it Andrés 45 years ago for two reasons: it was close to his given name of Andras in its Hungarian original; and he thought the name’s French sommelier ring was good marketing.

Today, Canadians are just as impressed with their own wines as they are with French wines. Andrés does not have much application today as an image builder and may, in fact, have a few negatives attached to it. The name change makes sense, especially since the company has used Peller Estates since 1994 for its more premium wines.

Over the years, British Columbia had fallen off the radar screen for the company’s Ontario-based managers. But that changed dramatically last year when the company three Okanagan producers: Calona Vineyards, Sandhill Wines and Red Rooster.

During the past month or two, I have worked my way through many of the VQA wines from the Andrés stable. The results show that Andrés made smart buys. Calona’s wines generally represent good quality for the money while Sandhill’s wines, only a few dollars more, generally are high scoring wines. Red Rooster has not quite gotten over the erratic results its wines showed under previous ownership, although the 2005 wines show improvement. As for the Peller wines, the brand’s middling performance is being addressed by the Calona/Sandhill winemaking team that Andrés retained after buying the wineries.

The wines:

Calona Chardonnay Artist Series 2005 ($13.49):  The British Columbia artist who did the label for this wine, Danish-born Ann Thinghuus, painted a classic coastal sunset. As the winery says in its notes, the painting “is a rich, ripe, juicy swirl of colour and movement that evokes the very essence of the flavours in our Chardonnay.” Okay, the copy is a bit purple but this is a wine one would like to drink while watching the sun set; and one can certainly afford to do so. This is a delicious, fruit-forward wine with just a minimal amount of oak-aging and lees-stirring. It has aromas of citrus and apples, with flavours of pears, green apples and lime. The acidity is just right: the wine has life and it wakes up the juices in the mouth without being overly tart. The finish is quite refreshing. 87

Calona Gewürztraminer Artist Series 2005 ($13.49) This wine represents the popular, easy-drinking styling with this grape. It begins with dramatic aromas of spice and rose petals and flavours of lichee and mango. The wine is finished with what the winery says is a “small amount of residual sugar.” The result is a balance that makes the wine a useful aperitif but a challenge as a food wine. But given that many consumers talk dry but drink sweet, the style is just right for the wine’s target market. 84

Calona Merlot Artist Series 2004 ($13.49) This is an immensely fruity wine with an adolescent youthfulness, as though the winery set out to make a Beaujolais-style Merlot. The aromas include blackberries, blueberries and even creamed corn. The flavours show blueberries and black currants, set on a firm structure. 85

Calona Pinot Blanc Artist Series 2005 ($13.49) :The whimsical beach cottage on the label of this wine is from a painting by Nanaimo artist Brittani Faulkes. Calona’s copywriter suggests that the art is like the Pinot Blanc: “playful and crisp.” Crisp, yes, but playful does not come to mind for a Pinot Blanc approaching the character of the winery’s Chardonnay. The wine began by pressing whole clusters, a gentle approach amply rewarded in the fruit flavours that have been captured. There seems to be is a bit lees stirring here that broadens the palate and adds complexity to a varietal than can be neutral. 87

Calona Pinot Gris Artist Series 2005 ($13.49): Calona Vineyards has retained the style of its legendary award-winning Pinot Gris ever since the 1999 vintage was best of class at Los Angeles County Fair. This vintage – and 2005 was the best white vintage of the decade -  is a charmer, with aromas of melons, flavours of pears and cantaloupe and peaches and with a refreshing finish. 87.

Calona Sovereign Opal Artist Series 2005 ($12.99): In the Okanagan’s superb 2005  vintage, Calona was able to make the classic Sovereign Opal: floral aromas of rose petal, along with spice and dill notes. On the palate, the wine tastes of peaches and apples touched up with exotic spices. The core of Muscat spiciness  provides a nice backbone and ties up the wine’s pleasingly off-dry finish. 86

Calona Cabernet Merlot Artist Series 2004 ($13.99) Dark in colour, the wine has aromas of vanilla and red berries. The flavours include currants, plums and chocolate. The long ripe tannins and the plumpness of the Merlot in the blend provide a rich middle palate. 85 points.

Peller Estates Heritage Series Cabernet Franc 2004 ($12.99) The wine begins with aromas of berries, spice and mint. The earthy, rustic flavours show plenty of red currants, with the classic minty greenness that Cabernet Franc can show. The tannins are firm. The wine shows best with a barbecued steak. 85

Peller Estates Heritage Series Chardonnay 2004 ($11.99) Light gold on colour, the wine has aromas of citrus, butter and corn. It is full on the palate, with a note of oak, and with a slightly alcoholic warmth on the finish. 83

Peller Estates Heritage Series Pinot Grigio 2005 ($11.99)  The value-priced wine, fermented only in stainless steel, is described by the winery as “light-bodied” – but the wine in my glass had a generous texture, expressing good fruit flavours of pears and bananas, with a fresh, fruity finish. One might argue that, with 14% alcohol, it should be labelled Pinot Gris, since the typical Pinot Grigio from Italy is lighter and lower in alcohol. 87

Peller Estates Private Reserve Pinot Grigio 2005 ($17.99) This wine had the modified Chardonnay treatment. Traditionally, Peller has barrel-aged this wine for six months on oak. In the 2005 vintage, time in barrel was reduced to just one month. Even that limited time in barrel imparted notes of caramel and vanilla to the flavour and slight bitter note to the finish. Happily, there is a lot of fruit – flavours of apple and citrus. The winery is considering no oak aging at all for 2006. Again, the alcohol is 14% -- too high when a wine is called Pinot Grigio. 85.

Red Rooster Pinot Gris 2005 ($16.90)  This is a bold, ripe wine with appealing aromas of pineapple and flavours of ripe pears and guava. The texture is full, giving a richness to the dry finish. 87

Red Rooster Riesling 2005 ($14.90) This wine is surprising because Red Rooster is not known for Riesling. Yet here is a delicious wine with aromas of apples and apricots, leading on to flavours of citrus and peach, with lime flavours on the finish. A touch of residual sugar ensures a popular appeal. 85.

Red Rooster Meritage 2004 ($29.90) Dark in colour, with aromas of berries, spice and plenty of oak. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants (sic), blackberries, minerals and liquorice. The texture is firm and concentrated, suggesting that this wine will reward a few more years in the cellar. 87

Red Rooster Merlot 2004 ($19.90) This dark wine has aromas of spice, cedar, berries and oak. On first pass, the oak seems a bit bold; with breathing, it begins to integrate well with the fruit, suggesting this wine will benefit from some cellaring. The wine tastes of plums and red currants, with a concentrated, chewy texture. The wine has a wild, rustic appeal to it, the sort of wine one would enjoy with pepperoni pizza. 86

Red Rooster Blanc de Noir 2005 ($14.90) This wine is made entirely with juice of Pinot Noir. The wine has a lovely bronze blush colour and an appealing fruit aroma. On the palate, there are gobs of flavour: strawberries, peaches, pink grapefruit. The wine has an off-dry finish. A pity  because it could easily have been dried out. Still, this is a very popular and appealing style. 86

Sandhill Pinot Gris 2005 King Vineyard ($16.99) This is a crisp, tangy white wine, with aromas of pears and melons and flavours of green apples and honey dew melons. The “mouth-watering” acidity – to quote the back label – gives the wine a lean, crisp, even tart finish.  Definitely a food wine. 86

Sandhill Gewürztraminer 2005 Seven Mountain Vineyard Sandhill winemaker Howard Soon produced an intense, almost austere interpretation of the variety, with whole cluster pressing, minimal skin contact, fermentation in stainless steel and no malolactic fermentation, thus retaining good acidity. The wine presents aromas of rose petals, orange peel and spice. The flavours carry through this spiciness, with a hint of grapefruit. The finish is quite dry, with an exotic spicy signature, reminiscent of Alsace. 900 cases were made. 87.

Sandhill Cabernet Franc 2004 ($18.99) The wine spent 16 months in a combination of American and French oak before being bottled. The result is a firm, full red with aromas of blackberries and vibrant brambly, earthy flavours, with hints of plums and chocolate enhanced by the spice from the oak. The good shot of Merlot in the blend fills out the wine very nicely. 1,700 cases were made. 88

Sandhill Cabernet Merlot 2004 ($18.99) The wine begins with spicy oak and berry notes on the aroma. The flavours include black currants, cassis, and cherries. The structure is firm and disciplined, with just a hint of bitterness (tannins perhaps?) on the finish. This wine will reward the consumer who has the patience to cellar it for a year or two. 6,000 cases made. 87

Sandhill Merlot 2004 ($18.99) This single-vineyard wine – Sandhill makes only single vineyard wines – is rich and deep in colour, with aromas of vanilla, chocolate, blackberries, plums and mint. The long ripe tannins contribute to a full-bodied and generous texture. The wine shows a complex array of flavours, including spiced plums, black currants, a touch of blueberry and hints of minerals. This is a bold and satisfying Merlot; 6,500 cases were made. 89

Sandhill Pinot Blanc 2005 ($16.99) The American oak imparts attractive spicy sweetness to the aroma and the flavour. Lush in texture, the wine offers a medley of fruit flavours, including apples, pears, ripe pineapples. The stated alcohol is 14 percent but there is plenty of fruit to carry that alcohol. The winery released 6,800 cases. 87


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