No matter how professional and experienced a wine taster may be, the label inevitably influences the thought process. Before even taking the fist sip, it brings pre-conceived ideas about what a wine should or shouldn’t be. This is why blind tasting is so brilliant. It’s much more than playing a game of identification. It’s about assessing a wine for what it is, without being influenced by the label. It brings disappointment and surprises.
Last August, when I was judging for the WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada, I came across this intriguing wine. It was fizzy, complex and exuded a combination of bright citrus fruit and earthy mushroom notes. It reminded me very much of a well-made sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. I gave it a high score and couldn’t wait to find out what it was so that I could purchase a few bottles for my fridge. At the end of the week I received the results. The wine I was advocating so strongly for was made from a winery in my own backyard: Unsworth Vineyards Cuvée de l’île sparkling.
Even though I’d previously tried a few wines from the winery, I was not that familiar with Unsworth Vineyards. My recent experience made me want to dig deeper.
Located on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan Valley, the winery was born in 2009 when Tim and Colleen Turyk purchased 12 acres of land. This region has the warmest average temperature in Canada. It is protected from the Pacific Ocean storms by the mountains nearby which provide a long autumn. This is an ideal situation to slowly ripen the grapes and develop flavours while preserving a bright acidity.
The winery first got recognized for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. “The next step for us is to promote the hybrid grapes that we champion in our vineyards. People often think of lesser quality with hybrids but we love them. They ripen well and they are resistant to rot and other diseases. They require very little spray,” says Chris Turyk, the assistant vineyard manager, marketing assistant, chief gardener & hen keeper. This is an optimal choice for a winery that has decided to convert completely to organic viticulture over the next year. Sauvignette is the latest hybrid Turyk is excited about. The white grape will be featured in a new sparkling wine done by tank method, which will be launched next year.
While we wait patiently for the release of more sparkling wines, the Pinot Gris is definitely worth seeking out. It's the perfect match with fresh oysters and scallop ceviche. If you’re curious about some of the hybrids they advocate, try the 2012 Symphony. It is a blend of 85% Cabernet-Libre and 15% Petite Milo which are best enjoyed with food. My vote is a plate of cured meat and pâtés. Happy discovery!
Michelle Bouffard is a wine educator and journalist who splits her time between Montréal & Vancouver. She co-owns the Vancouver-based company ‘house wine’ and is the president of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. She Tweets @michellebwine and Instagrams @michellebouffard.