Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quails' Gate releases the 2007 reserve wines

Photo: Grant Stanley

Burgundy varieties, notably Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are the flagship wines at the Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

The reserve wines are called Stewart Family Reserve after the ownership. The winery is currently run by brothers Tony and Ben Stewart. In 1975, their father, Richard, planted Pinot Noir and seems to have been the first grower in British Columbia, if not Canada, to grow it successfully.

Today, this is the most important variety in the winery’s vineyard near Westbank. Quails’ Gate now grows seven clones on 40 acres. Pinot Noir makes up one-fifth of the winery’s total production.

Grant Stanley, the current winemaker, was hired in 2003 precisely for his experience making Pinot Noir with a leading New Zealand winery for six years.

“We hired Grant based on his interest in Pinot Noir,” Tony Stewart says. “If Grant had it his way, we would probably make only Pinot Noir. Not to say that he does not like making the other wines; he does, but his goal is the make the Pinot Noir as best as he can. The other wines make it possible for us to invest in the Pinot Noir program.”

Given that commitment to the variety, there is always a sense of excitement around the new releases from the winery. The 2007 reserve Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are just being released.

Stewart Family Reserve 2007 Pinot Noir: The average age of the Pinot Noir vines that produced this reserve wine is 24 years. The winemaker selected four clones (not identified in his notes) and then selected the best barrels after making four separate lots of Pinot Noir. The winery has released 2,948 six-bottle cases, at $45 a bottle.

That may be Oregon pricing but this wine will stand up well against some of Oregon’s best. It is a seductive wine, beginning with a rush of berry aromas in the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of strawberries and plums, subtly laid on good French oak. I did not find the chocolate that the winemaker reports in his notes; others may. The velvet texture adds to the wine’s seduction. This is a very elegant wine. I was surprised to see the winery recommending cellaring it five to eight years. Despite its charming delicacy, this wine’s power may be deceptive. 91 points.

Stewart Family Reserve 2007 Chardonnay: The winery has released 1,932 six-bottle cases of this wine at $29.99. The vines that produced this wine are 12 to 15 years old, clearly in their productive prime.

Again, the wine begins with appealing aromas of citrus framed by the delicate toastiness that comes from barrel fermentation in good French oak. It is a surprise to read that the wine completed full malolactic fermentation because it still presents lively, tangy acidity, giving the wine a refreshingly crisp finish. On the palate, the wine is rich, with abundant flavours of lemon and lime and subtle spice, likely from the barrels. This Chardonnay will develop additional character with a year or two of cellaring if you can keep your hands off it. 90 points.

Both of these wines reflect a good vintage but, even more so, the superlative farming at the Quails’ Gate estate vineyard. The winery’s regular Pinot Noir ($25) and Chardonnay ($19) wines are also very well made.


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