Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mission Hill's wine quartet really sings

Mission Hill Family Estate’s ultra-premium family of wines is now a quartet with the release this week of Compendium, a new blend of the Bordeaux red varieties.

At $40 a bottle, this is the wine to buy if your budget does not stretch to the $70 asked for Oculus, the winery’s signature red.

Compendium is one of three wines in what Mission Hill calls its Legacy Series. The others, first released last year, are Quatrain, a red built around Syrah, and Perpetua, an elegant Chardonnay.

And there are more high-end wines to come. Last month I tasted a very impressive tank sample of a 2008 dry Riesling. The working title of this unreleased wine is Fritz Riesling because Fritz Hasselbach, the proprietor of German’s Weingut Gunderloch, has been involved since 2006 as a consultant and blender on Mission Hill’s Rieslings.

A veteran of 30 vintages in Germany, Gunderloch is a leader in the Riesling Renaissance and a worthwhile addition to the Mission Hill brains trust. The so-called Fritz Riesling will take its place at the front rank of Canadian Rieslings – a tangy, concentrated and savoury wine. I scored the sample 90-92.

While Mission Hill winemaking team, led by John Simes, is superb, it never hurts to tap the skills and the ideas of a few outsiders. That became evident a few years ago when Michel Rolland, the French super-consultant, became involved in the production of Oculus. He doesn’t make the wine, of course. On his advice, Mission Hill added a number of sophisticated pieces of wine-making equipment. He also comes around to help Mission Hill’s team put together the blend for Oculus.

Mission Hill began making Oculus in the 1997 vintage. The last four vintages of Oculus have seen the wine move to a higher level. It may have been the influence of Rolland coupled with the impact of maturing vineyards. This wine aspires to a First Growth of the Okanagan.

This month’s releases include Oculus 2006, Quatrain 2006, Compendium 2006 and Perpetua 2007. Here are my notes on those wines:

Oculus 2006 ($70). This is a blend of 51% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot. The wines were fermented, and got extended maceration, in the French oak fermenters that Mission Hill installed several years ago, apparently at Rolland’s suggestion. The wines then were aged 14 ½ months on French oak barrels. The finished wine aged a year in bottle before being released. The result is a classic Bordeaux-style red that belongs in the cellars of collectors. At this stage, the structure of the wine is still tight and concentrated, with firm, ripe tannins framing the favours of red currants, plums and dark chocolate. 94

(I tasted that wine side by side with the Oculus 2005, which I have rated 92-94. The extra year of bottle age has enabled the wine to develop a more generous texture, with flavours of black currants, black cherries, cedar and tobacco. There is no rush to drink either of these wines. They promise to be drinking well for at least 10 years.)

Compendium 2006 ($40). This blend is 52% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. This wine was fermented and aged in small French oak barrels. It is structured deliberately to be more approachable in its youth than Oculus – in other words, the wine to drink while waiting for Oculus to age. It is a very appealing wine, juicy on the palate with flavours of blueberries and raspberries with an undertone of spice. The tannins are still firm enough to give this wine five to 10 years, even if it is drinking well now, if decanted. 89-91.

Quatrain 2006 ($45). This is a blend of 41% Syrah, 32% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, fermented and aged in small French oak barrels for 15 months (only 45% of the barrels were new). Dark in colour, this is a full-bodied, satisfying red with spicy flavours of black cherry, blackberry, prunes and chocolate. The big ripe tannins and the chewy texture give this wine a long finish. 90.

Perpetua Chardonnay 2007 ($35). No doubt it is a coincidence that this wine, now in its second vintage, shares the name of a Christian saint in Carthage whose father imprisoned her when she would not renounce her faith. That has nothing to do with the wine, although tasting this wine should convert those who have renounced Chardonnay in recent years.

The winemaker stayed away from malolactic fermentation in order to keep the fruit flavours fresh and lively. This wine begins with clean, delicate aromas of citrus, pineapple and tropical fruit, carrying through to the palate with citrus flavours and with a fine mineral structure. Extended lees aging added to the fullness of the wine on the palate. This elegant wine is drinking well now but has the potential to development further complexity and richness over the next two or three years. 92

This is a fine quartet.


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