Thursday, February 4, 2010

Releases from Artisan Wine Co. and friends

The Artisan Wine Company is one of the Okanagan’s major wine producers but, since its wines appear under other labels, chances are that most consumers have never heard of it unless they read the fine print on back labels.

Artisan has the same owner and operates from the same winery in West Kelowna as Mission Hill Family Estate.

The strategy of a plethora of labels spanning the many price points is common among the large producers. It is a way of differentiating the prestige wines from the value wines.

Mission Hill is owner Anthony von Mandl’s prestige label. He bought the winery in 1981 and, during the last three decades, has transformed it profoundly. His announced ambition is that Mission Hill should rise to become one of the top 10 wineries in the world.

In recent years the Mission Hill portfolio has gone somewhat upmarket with its $70 Oculus, the flagship red in its expanding Legacy series; with super-premium wines under the SLC (Select Lots Collection) banner; and premium wines labelled as reserve. The wines are seldom less than $20.

Mission Hill still retains its Five Vineyards labels, mostly under $20 a bottle. These wines compete directly with some of the Artisan labels but they sell in such substantial volume that Mission Hill would be daft to drop them. The fourth and fifth largest selling VQA brands in the Liquor Distribution Branch in the year to March 31, 2009, were the Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio ($1.4 million) and the Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot (also $1.4 million).

The second biggest VQA seller, at $1.5 million, was the Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Pinot Grigio. (The number one remains Sumac Ridge’s Gewürztraminer at $2 million.)

Launched just three years ago, Prospect is the major VQA producer under the Artisan umbrella. The label has become so big (2009 sales topped $9 million) that it has its own winemaker, Wade Stark, and would easily rank among the top 20 B.C. wineries. The wines are all under $20 a bottle (except for icewine) and, generally, the quality over-delivers for the price.

The Artisan family also includes nine other labels: Fork in the Road, Rigamarole, B3, Forty Nine North, Sonoran Ranch, Painted Turtle, Mission Ridge, White Bear and Wild Horse Canyon. There are both VQA wines and non-VQA wines under the Artisan family.

There have been recent releases from Mission Hill and from two of the Artisan VQA labels. Here are my notes.

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($18.99). This white begins with attractive aromas of mango and tangerine, leading to herbal and citrus flavours. The finish has a zesty and refreshing crispness. 88-90.

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot 2007 ($24.99). This is a superb Merlot, plump and juicy, with spice and cedar aromas and flavours of black currants, mocha and even a hint of pepper. 88-90.

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz 2007 ($21.99). A dark wine with aromas of plum and spice and flavours of plum and cherry with classic gamy notes of the variety. There is a touch of pepper on the finish. The flavours developed beautifully after the wine was decanted. 88.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($22.95). The wine is a triumph, especially at this price. Dark in colour, it begins with attractive aromas of blueberry and blackberry. There is a multitude of flavours – blackberry, black cherry, plum, tobacco. The long, ripe tannins give the wine a full body. 90-92.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008 ($16.45). One should not ask too much of Pinot Noirs in this price range and nor will they ask much of you. This is a pleasant quaffer, a light wine with notes of cherry and classic silky texture. 85

Prospect Larch Tree Hill Riesling 2008 ($12.99). This is a very fine value dry Riesling, beginning with delicate aromas of citrus and herbs. On the palate, there are flavours of lime with a touch of minerality. Even though there is little residual sugar, the concentration of fruit flavours delivers a sweet sensation before the wine finishes cleanly and crisply. One can enjoy this by the glass on its own or with a variety of food. 88

Prospect The Census Count Chardonnay 2008 ($12.99). Winemaker Wade Stark worked hard (with success) to make this a far more complex Chardonnay that one would expect at the price. Twenty per cent of the wine was barrel-fermented and aged six months on the lees. While oak is scarcely perceptible amid the lovely fruit flavours (papaya, tangerine, lemon), it adds a subtle richness to the texture. The wine is charming and easy to drink. 88

Prospect Birch Bark Canoe Pinot Blanc 2008 ($12.99). This wine reflects the appealing house style for Pinot Blanc at Mission Hill and associated wineries. While the variety can be neutral in the hands of other winemakers, here the wines always show a zesty, New Zealand-white styling. The fresh apple flavours in this wine have an appealing tang and the finish is crisp and fresh. 88

Prospect Major Allan Merlot 2007 ($12.99). Consumers usually do not decant wines in this price range. I think it would good to do so: while this red seemed a bit lean on first tasting it, it fleshed out appealingly in the bottle overnight. There are lively raspberry and plum flavours. 85-86

Prospect Haynes Barn Merlot Cabernet 2007 ($14.99). This is a blend of 51% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, aged 14 months in American and French oak barrels. Even so, I found this a fairly linear wine that could have benefit from riper fruit flavours. 85

Fork in the Road Oliver Block 212 White 2008 ($17.99). This white blend is screaming good value. It is a blend of 67% Chardonnay, 17% Sémillon, 7% Muscat, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Pinot Blanc, aged on the lees in French oak for seven months. With that treatment, you would expect the wine to cost a lot more. It has layers of fruit – apples, pears, melons, citrus – with an herbal and citrus aroma. It has good weight and a crisp, dry finish. 88

Fork in the Road Oliver Block 249 Red 2007 ($19.99). Again, great value. It is a blend of 53% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 14% Shiraz, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, aged 16 months in French and American oak. This is a big, satisfying red with aromas and flavours of blackberry, plum, cherry and vanilla. 88-90.


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