Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mission Hill releases Oculus and friends




Given the size of its portfolio, Mission Hill Family Estate Winery has new releases almost every month.

One looks especially forward to the new releases when they include Oculus, the star of the house. The 2007 Oculus is from one of the strongest red vintages in the Okanagan this decade.

Mission Hill wines are released in four tiers, with the Legacy tier being the top one. Oculus is the crown of that tier. The three other Legacy wines – Quatrain, Compendium, both red blends, and Perpetua, a Chardonnay – were released last fall. These are wines for connoisseurs.

The next tier is called SLC, or Select Lot Collection. The most recent SLC releases came out last year. Priced roughly between $22 and $37 a bottle, these also deliver the level of quality that appeals to collectors and connoisseurs.

The current releases include wines from the Reserve Tier and from the entry level Five Vineyards tier. These are very good wines that you can afford to drink week in and week out.

It is a credit to winemaker John Simes and his team in the vineyards and the cellar that the quality is consistent across the portfolio.

Here are my notes.

Mission Hill Oculus 2007 ($80). This is the tenth vintage for the wine that is the ultimate in Mission Hill’s portfolio. The blend is Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (24%), Cabernet Franc (21%), Petit Verdot (5%). It is a big wine with muscular, but ripe, tannins, a structure to enable to wine to age 10 or 15 years. I accelerated that aging process by decanting the wine aggressively; then by tasting it over three days. As expected, the wine opened layer upon layer of flavour. The initial aromas were primarily oak and dark chocolate; plum and cherry aromas developed with time. On the palate, the flavour layers revealed plum, currants, figs, chocolate, with a hint of spice on the finish. With time, a core of delicious ripe fruit flavours emerged. The wine already is throwing a little sediment, a good sign in that it shows great care was taken not to strip anything from the wine with overly aggressive filtering. Collectors – surely the target market – understand the benefits of aging and then decanting a fine red like this. 94-96.

Mission Hill Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2009 ($18.99). The winemakers built complexity into this wine by barrel fermenting about 17% of the blend and leaving it on the lees for 3 ½ months. This imparted a richness on the palate. The wine begins with herbal and citrus aromas, opening to flavours of citrus and even a touch of peach. The dry finish gives this a flinty austerity recalling a white Graves. 88.

Mission Hill Chardonnay Reserve 2009 ($18.99). The winery’s ability to deliver consistent quality Chardonnay vintage after vintage is remarkable. I gave the previous vintage the same score as this elegant wine. The wine begins with aromas of tangerines and spice. The palate is rich, with citrus and tropical fruit flavours and with a lingering note of cloves on the finish. The wine has just the right amount of acidity to give it a bright and lively finish. 90.

Mission Hill Riesling Icewine 2009 Reserve ($59.99). Very few varieties match Riesling when it comes to making Icewine. Mission Hill now has several plantings of Riesling in its Kelowna area vineyards. This wine was made from grapes picked on December 7, 2009, at temperatures low enough that the juice before fermentation was 41.5 Brix – effectively, the percentage of natural sugar by volume. This is ideal for Icewine. The wine’s honeyed citrus aromas include a hint of petrol, classic with Riesling. The palate is richly concentrated with flavours of citrus and apricots. The sweetness is nicely balanced with fresh acidity, giving the wine a refreshing finish. 91.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Chardonnay 2008 ($13.99). Here’s great value in Mission Hill’s entry-level Chardonnay. Light, easy to enjoy, this wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and peach with a light hint of oak and butterscotch and a crisp tang on the finish. 87.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2009 ($15.99). Year in and year out, this is one if Mission Hill’s top selling wines, for a good reason: it is absolutely delicious. It begins with herb, citrus and peach aromas, continuing to flavours pear and citrus, with a hint of anise on the finish. 90.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009 ($19.99). It is remarkable that a wine selling at this price was barrel-fermented in French oak. Mission Hill is really serious about its Pinot Noirs. This medium-bodied charmer has notes of raspberry and strawberry. The time in oak has helped the wine develop the classic silky texture of Pinot Noir. 88.

Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot 2008 ($16.99). One sees the Oculus template at work here: the blend is Merlot (47%), Cabernet Franc (28%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Petit Verdot (5%). However, this is a red for drinking now – medium bodied, with notes of red berries and herbs in the aroma, and with flavours of plums and cherries. 87.

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