Poplar Grove Wins ‘Prestigious’ Wine Competition

It's called "5 Guys on Gambier Island" and the Okanagan kicked a little bit of Washington, Aussie and French derrière.

July 12, 2017

By Neal McLennan / Photo: Poplar Grove

The key to appreciating a wine competition is to understand its ground rules, making sure it’s on the up-and-up. For this competition, the ground rules were simple: everyone grab a few bottles of syrah, hop in a boat, head to an off-the-grid yurt (is there any other kind?) on Gambier Island and, after a bracing swim and a few pints, start some blind tasting. One of the guys even lugged over some very nice Reidel glasses—that’s how serious it was.

This was the line-up (all served blind):

• Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie 2012
• Cayuse Cailloux Syrah 2012
• Two Hands Bella’s Garden 2014
• Two Hands Lily’s Garden 2007
• Saint Joseph JL Chave 2013
• Poplar Grove Syrah 2013
• Ochota Barrels I Am The Owl Syrah 2016
• Hillside Select 2006

To be honest, I had some ideas about who might reign supreme. Cayuse, the impossible-to-find wine with a high price point from Washington State—which might be the most highly decorated syrah in the new world—was a strong contender (the 2014 version of this wine just earned a perfect 100 from Robert Parker).  The Ochota Barrels (which I brought) was one of the new breed of Aussie syrahs, and those whose palates I respect have mad love for. And Cote Rotie, well, the standard bearer for the grape is always a serious contender. And the 2007 Two Hands (one of Australia’s big names) might have mellowed to a point of being sublime.

And here’s what happened:

  1. The Ochota Barrels was a disaster. The promised acidity was nowhere to be found, nor was the minerality, and it simply tasted like a well-made Aussie shiraz (as well it should be for $43). I was teased for bringing it.
  2. The Cayuse was a dud. Of course it was a tad young but for a 96-point wine from Robert Parker it elicited the biggest gasp when it was unmasked as no one had any love for it.
  3. Producer trumps region when the more modest bottling (Saint Joseph) by the great J. L. Chave was noticeably better received than the great appellation (Cote Rotie) by the more mid-market producer, Jamet.
  4. The Hillside was long gonzo, but it had been stored in atrocious conditions in the VanMag offices for years so probably not its fault. Pity though.
  5. Two Hands tastes like Two Hands no matter how old it is: the 2007 was obviously mellower than the 2014 but it was still a big jammy brute of a wine. Great if you like that style.
  6. And then there was Poplar Grove—at $35 the cheapest wine of the bunch, and one that clearly had its work cut out for it, received a communal hoot and holler when the bag was removed because everyone ranked it consistently high.

In the spirit of Okanagan ascendency I grabbed a bottle of the Black Hills syrah to follow up but it became very clear that we were in no condition to appreciate anything.

So what’s the takeaway? I was not in any sort of tasting form and my tasting notes are non-existent but this was, in the truest sense, real life conditions. And it was blind. It didn’t matter how many hipsters love the Ochota Barrels—on this night, with this gang of goons (who, to be fair, all maintain pretty solid cellars and knowledge) it was not up to the challenge. And neither was the esteemed Cayuse. But the Poplar Grove was and then some. It wasn’t hands-down the best, but it was in the running with a troika of wines that cost three to four times as much and which have the world’s critics drooling. So all in all, not too shabby.

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