Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Peller quartet sings

Judging from what the winery is charging for its wines, it seems that consumers have not quite caught on to the significant quality improvements in recent years by Andrew Peller Ltd. in British Columbia.

Eight or nine years ago, the wines were pretty ordinary. But in the last two years, Peller wines have won back to back excellence awards at the Lieutenant Governor’s wine competition. A few years ago, a competitor told me that this was the “most improved” winery in recent years.

The reasons for this change are fairly simple.

1. Peller took over Calona and Sandhill wineries in 2005. The package included Howard Soon, Sandhill’s winemaker. He became the senior winemaker in British Columbia for the Peller group. He introduced the discipline of winemakers spending a lot more time supervising vineyards than Peller had previously done in British Columbia. That discipline is fundamental to getting good grapes and making the decisions that produce good wine.

2. Stephanie Leinemann, a top flight winemaker who had started at Calona Wines in 2003, took over the Peller winemaking in 2005. A Kelowna native, she became enthused about wine when she took a break from college to work in a restaurant in Germany’s wine country. Returning to Canada, she switched to Brock University’s new wine school. She graduated with an honours degree in 2003, scoring so highly that she won the President’s Medal as the top graduate that year.

3. Peller has taken more control of its grape sources, growing more and more of its own grapes and relying less on growers.

Given that background, consumers are learning to anticipate new, affordably-priced releases from Peller. Here are notes on four current releases, two from the entry-level “Family Series” tier and two from the more ambitious “Private Reserve” tier.

Peller Family Series Pinot Blanc 2009 ($12.99). The 14% alcohol in this ripe wine leaves a touch of heat on the finish. The compensation is the big whack of juicy ripe apple and peach flavours on the palate. 87

Peller Family Series Merlot 2008 ($14.49). This medium-bodied red is appealing and quaffable, with notes of cherries, blueberries and blackberries and with soft, ripe tannins. 88

Peller Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($17.99). Under British Columbia regulations, a wine can be labelled as a single variety as long as it has at least 85% of the named variety. In this case the wine has 87% Sauvignon Blanc and 13% Sémillon in this blend. The latter grape plumps up the citrus aromas and flavours in a wine that begins with aromas of herbs, sage and new hay. The minerality gives the wine a crisp spine and a dry finish. 89

Peller Private Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 ($18.99). This is a delicious Pinot Noir, light but with the lovely silky texture one expects. The aroma has picked by a bit toast from its nine months in barrel. The flavours include strawberry and raspberry with a touch of spice on the finish. Only 42 barrels were made of this wine. 88


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