Saturday, May 16, 2009

New releases from Quails' Gate

Quails’ Gate winemaker Grant Stanley has said that he spends 80 percent of his time thinking about Pinot Noir.

Perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration of his exceptional interest in Pinot Noir. However, most winemakers acknowledge that they improve their craft generally from the lessons gained in making Pinot Noir.

More than most other varieties, Pinot Noir needs to be grown very well. In the winery it needs to be treated gently – so gently that the most dedicated of Pinot Noir producers sometimes still crush grapes with their bare feet. The foot does not scour the bitter seeds the way some crushers will.

The winemaking is temperature sensitive. The quality can be enhanced by using the proper yeasts, or even wild yeast. The choice of barrels is critical. And on and on, even among those winemakers who maintain that the less they mess with the wine, the better it will be.

So it stands to reason that winemakers who can make fine Pinot Noirs vintage after vintage will also make other excellent wines. The latest releases from Quails’ Gate confirm that theory.

Five are wines from the 2008 vintage, a cool vintage that was saved by a good Indian summer.

It took impeccable farming to get the grapes ripe by the end of the season. Referring to Pinot Noir, Grant says: “Last year, we probably put more of the crop onto the ground than we picked.” The point of thinning the yield is to give the vines a chance to get the remaining grapes ripe.

The coolness of the vintage also preserved the acidity in the grapes. The Okanagan usually grows grapes with good acidity. Last vintage’s wines are often bracing in their acidity – not over the top, just very refreshing. It was one of the best vintages so far in the Okanagan for white varieties and for Pinot Noir grapes with lots of flavour.

The technical specifications of the 2008 Quails’ Gate wines show significant acidity ranging between 7.2 grams and nine grams a litre. Hats off to Grant for not fiddling with what nature gave him. These are all wonderful food wines.

Here are my notes on the range:

Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2008 ($16.99). This aromatic white blend is half Chasselas (a Swiss varietal) with equal parts of the other two varietals. Quails’ Gate produced 11,000 cases of a light (12% alcohol) and refreshing wine. The wine shows aromas and flavours of sweet lime, honey dew melon, apple with a hint of minerals in the texture. The wine is finished with 15 grams of residual sugar and 7.2 grams of acid, a balance that creates an impression of dryness. The wine is very refreshing. 88 points.

Chenin Blanc 2008 ($18.99). Back in the 1970s, so much dull Chenin Blanc came from California that it ruined the market in British Columbia and discouraged the planting of this varietal. A great pity. Only three or four wineries make what is arguably the finest seafood wine anywhere. Quails’ Gate has the courage to release this wine with a racy 9% grams of acidity, but with a trace of residual sweetness to take away the sharp edge. This is a tangy wine, with flavours of green apples and lime. The acidity and the minerals give it the grip to cut through any sauce you put on the oysters. 4,700 cases were made. 89

Dry Riesling 2008 ($16.99). The wine is a steal at this price. It begins with an attractive herbal aroma and presents flavours of lime and grapefruit. It has a crisply dry finish, along with a daringly tangy bite. This is a serious cellar-worthy Riesling. The winery made 4,000 cases. 90

Gewurztraminer 2008 ($15.99). This is a Gewurz with delightful feminine beauty to it, started with its perfumed floral aroma. That leads to a core of sweet fruit on the palate – flavours of peaches and apples and lychee. The acidity of eight grams is perfectly balanced with 10 grams of residual sweetness, giving the wine a tangy, refreshing finish. 6,200 cases. 88

Rosé 2008 ($12.99). Here is a screamingly good buy but only 3,000 cases were released. The wine is 95% Gamay Noir with a dash of Pinot Gris to add body and fruitiness. And is there ever fruit! This is a bowl full of strawberries and rhubarb. The wine is technically dry but the fruit flavours impart a refreshingly sweet impression on the mid-palate. Every glass tastes like more. 89

Chardonnay 2007 ($18.99). With a production of 6,018 cases, this well-made wine is widely available. Two-thirds of the blend was fermented in barrel (20% new French oak as well as American oak) and that comes through on the palate with buttery and honeyed marmalade flavours. The one third that was tank fermented adds the fresh and crisp citrus notes. The texture is rich and the finish is lingering. 88

Pinot Noir 2007 ($24.99). This is one of two Pinot Noirs from Quails’ Gate, the other being the $45 premium wine. The winery released 3,817 cases of its “regular” Pinot Noir and it certainly displays the pedigree of its big brother, showing a lovely silky texture. It begins with aromas of ripe berries. On the palate, there are flavours of cherries and strawberries with a hint of chocolate and some spice on the finish. It is a full-bodied wine for drinking while big brother ages. 90


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