Monday, April 25, 2011

Naramata Bench Wineries 2011 tasting



Photo: Kettle Valley's Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts

Here is a measure of how well established the Naramata Bench is as a premier wine region in the Okanagan: Kettle Valley Winery is celebrating its 20th anniversary of winemaking this year by the same owners, Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts.

There are two older wineries on the bench, Hillside Estate Winery and Lang Vineyards. Both opened in 1990 and both have been through several ownership changes.

Since those three wineries opened, the Naramata Bench has blossomed. There are now about 25 wineries. The exact count depends on the final outcome of the bankruptcy of the six Holman-Lang wineries. At least two of those – Lang Vineyards and Stonehill – are in the hands of new owners.

The other wineries on the Bench seem to doing well. At least, that is the conclusion that I would draw from tasting their wines, either at the recent Naramata Bench Wineries tasting in Vancouver or at other recent opportunities. There are still a few wineries I have missed, an indication of just how many there are.

The wineries here have succeeded in branding their region, to the point that some have discussed created a Naramata sub-appellation. Naramata is a strong name to have on a wine’s label. Recognizing this, Nichol Vineyards is not waiting for the sub-appellation. Its current releases all proclaim that the wines are “Naramata Village Grown.” The winery is one of several actually within the limits of the village.

The brand is working because, with few exceptions, the wines are good to outstanding. As unfortunate as the Holman-Lang bankruptcy was, at least it has taken some less-accomplished Naramata Bench wines off the market to the benefit of the remaining wines.

Here are notes on Naramata Bench wines that have impressed me this spring.

Black Widow Winery 2010 Pinot Gris ($19.90). Crisp and refreshing, with a slight pink hue, this has flavours of apple and rhubarb and has a tangy finish. 90.

Black Widow 2010 Oasis ($19.90). This is a delicious blend of Schönburger, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. The flavours are spicy grapefruit and apple, with a juicy texture and a lingering, dry finish. 90.

Black Widow 2010 Syrah Rosé ($21.90). This dry rosé, with an intense hue, takes you to the south of France, with aromas and flavours of pomegranate and strawberry. It is full-bodied for a rosé. 90.

Black Widow 2009 Merlot ($27.90). With a production of only 175 cases, this is the winery’s first single varietal Merlot. Firm in texture and built to cellar for several years, this is a generous wine with flavours of figs, black currants and chocolate. 90.

Black Widow 2009 Syrah ($31.90). This is a plush, ripe Syrah, with aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry and spice and with an appealing note of red liquorice on the lingering finish. 91.

Black Widow 2008 Hourglass ($35.90). The winery’s flagship red, it is a blend of 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has spent 21 months in barrels, mostly French oak. It is a deep, rich red with flavours of blackberry, black currants and figs; and the structure to age well and develop further complexity. 90.

La Frenz Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($22). This stands up nicely against many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. The wine is zesty and refreshing with aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lime. 90.

La Frenz 2010 Sémillon ($20). Fresh and tangy, this wine has aromas and flavour of gooseberry and grapefruit and has the potential to become fleshy and complex with age (as if it won’t be consumed by the end of summer, alas). 90.

La Frenz 2010 Riesling ($20). Here is a beautifully balanced wine, with a touch of natural sweetness offsetting the acidity so that the finish comes across as dry. There are aromas of citrus fruits and flavours of lime and apples. 90.

La Frenz 2010 Alexandria ($20). This is an excellent Muscat-based blend, packed with juicy tropical fruit flavours including lychee, musk melon and spice. There is a touch of residual sweetness. This is one of the best summertime whites you can buy. 90.

La Frenz 2009 Reserve Chardonnay ($29). This is barrel-fermented in new French oak but the fruit flavours – tangerine, peach – are so intense that the oak becomes just the toasty frame for a very complex wine. It has a lingering finish, with an appealing note of cloves. 91.

La Frenz 2009 Merlot ($25). The winery consistently makes intense Merlot, with cassis, blueberry, plum and spice flavours. The texture is full and satisfying and the finish is long. 90.

Hillside Estate Winery 2009 Pinot Gris Un-oaked ($19.99). This is a juicy and refreshing white with the variety’s classic flavours of pear and ripe apples. 88.

Hillside 2008 Pinot Gris Reserve ($19.99). The winery tweaked the variety by fermenting and aging a portion of this wine in barrel. This is an elegant and structured wine with melon, pear and citrus flavours. 89.

Hillside 2009 Gewürztraminer ($18.99). This has characteristic aromas and flavours of lychee, grapefruit and spice, with a touch of balanced sweetness. 89.

Hillside 2010 Muscat Ottonel ($19.99). This is the winery’s signature white, with floral aromas and with delicately spiced fruit flavours. 89.

Hillside 2007 Mosaic ($36.99). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The style is ripe Bordeaux, with flavours of black currants and cedar. The wine is elegant and age-worthy. 90.

Hillside 2009 Malbec-Merlot ($N.A.). This was a barrel sample of a very promising red, with blueberry aromas, with cherry and plum flavours and with a chewy ripe texture. 91.

Howling Bluff Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon ($19) is a delicious white, with aromas of grapefruit and clover honey. The grapefruit is echoed on the rich palate; and the wine is crisp and tangy on the finish. 90.




Howling Bluff Summa Quies Pinot Noir 2009 ($32). This wine begins with glorious aromas of strawberries. Big and fleshy on the palate, yet with the classic silky texture emerging, this seductive wine has flavours of cherry and strawberry that linger and linger. 92.

Kettle Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($22). The style here is a peachy, tropical wine with soft acidity that contributes to a luscious texture. 88

Kettle Valley 2009 Gewürztraminer ($18). This wine leaps from the glass with a dramatic aroma of spice and grapefruit, repeating that power on the palate. The finish is dry. 90.

Kettle Valley 2009 Viognier ($24). Full-bodied and satisfying, this wine has flavours of apricot, pineapple and citrus. 90.

Kettle Valley 2009 Chardonnay ($18). This is a fruit-forward Chardonnay, with flavours of peach and tangerine and with a refreshing, tangy finish. 88.

Kettle Valley 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve ($35). A full-bodied expression of the variety, this wine has aromas of raspberry and spice, with flavours of cherry and raspberry. 89.

Kettle Valley 2007 Merlot ($24). This is a brooding, intense expression of the variety, with flavours of black currants. 88.

Kettle Valley 2007 McGraw Merlot ($35). The winery’s premium single vineyard Merlot, this elegant wine tastes of currants and blackberries. The structure is firm and muscular and built to age.

Kettle Valley 2007 Syrah ($35). Here is a bold, meaty Rhone-style wine with flavours of plum and chocolate and with pepper in both the aroma and the finish. 89.

Kettle Valley 2007 Barber Cabernet Sauvignon ($35). This is a big, ripe Cabernet, with aromas of red berries and mint and with flavours of cassis, vanilla and tobacco. The wine is built for aging. 91.

Kettle Valley 2007 Old Main Red ($35). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend; a big, complex red with chewy, ripe tannins and with flavours of plum, cassis, chocolate and tobacco. 91.

Laughing Stock Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris ($20). A delicious unoaked Pinot Gris, this is full and juicy on the palate, with flavours of pear, apple and grapefruit. 91.




Laughing Stock 2010 Blind Trust White ($25). This is a white blend built around Viognier; you have to peel back the capsule to find out exactly what is in here. The wine is crisp, with flavours of grapefruit and apple and with a lingering finish. 90.

Laughing Stock 2009 Chardonnay ($26). There was some debate at the tasting whether or not the wine carries too much oak. I don’t think so. The clean, toasty notes of the barrel provide the frame for flavours of citrus and butterscotch. The finish is very long. 90.

Laughing Stock 2010 Viognier ($26). An appealing wine, it has flavours of pineapple, apricot and ripe apple, all built around a firm and crisp spine. 90.

Laughing Stock 2008 Syrah ($34). This is a dark, brooding, earthy red with spicecake aromas and with flavours of plum and black cherry and pepper. 91.

Laughing Stock 2009 Portfolio ($40). This is the winery’s flagship red; it will not be released until November. You were lucky if you ordered some at $35 a bottle during the recent futures offering. It is rich and satisfying, with flavours of plum, black currants, vanilla and liquorice. 92.



Marichel Vineyard 2008 Syrah ($39.90). Muscular and juicy, this is a dark, gamey red with flavours of plum, hints of pepper and earth on the finish. 91.

Marichel 2009 Syrah (barrel sample). This is another meaty red, with flavours of plum, liquorice and figs. The finished wine will match the quality of the 2008.

Marichel 2009 ‘raison d’être’ Viognier ($15). That’s the name of the vineyard from which the grapes were purchased. The wine, light in texture, is crisp with citrus flavours. 87.

Nichol Vineyard 2008 Pinot Noir ($26.90). The winery has released 565 cases of this Burgundian-style wine, which begins with strawberry aromas and has flavours of strawberry, cherry, mocha, with a touch of spice. 88.

Nichol Vineyard 2008 Cabernet Franc ($26.90). This is what I call an honest glass of wine – because the aromas and the flavours are so satisfying: blueberry, cherry and black currant aromas and flavours, with some spice and dark chocolate on the finish. 90.




Nichol Vineyard 2008 Syrah ($29.90). This vineyard was the first with Syrah in the Okanagan and it still makes one of the best. The aromas are complex and alluring: cherry, blackberries, white pepper, iodine. On the palate, there are meaty flavours of plum, blackberry, cherry with white pepper on the finish. Some 470 cases were produced. 91.

Nichol Vineyard 2007 Cabernet Syrah ($28.90). The winery made 578 cases of this wine, a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Syrah. This is another satisfying red, with spiced cherries in the aroma and with earthy flavours of plum, blackberry and dark chocolate. 90.

Perseus Winery 2008 Invictus ($29.99). This is a blend built around Cabernet Sauvignon, with four other Bordeaux varietals, This elegant wine is full on the palate, with a sweet core of berry flavours: currants, blueberries, which a touch of spice on the finish. 90. Later this year, the winery will release the 2009 Invictus (91 points) which is more floral in aroma and more vibrant in its berry flavours.

Perseus will be discussed in more detail in a future blog.

Poplar Grove Winery 2009 Chardonnay ($22). A classic Chardonnay with flavours of citrus and nectarines subtly supported by oak. 88.

Poplar Grove The Legacy 2006 ($50). A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, this elegantly sculptured icon spent two years in French oak and then another 18 months in the bottle before release. It begins with powerful aromas of black currants, blueberries and cedar. On the palate, there are flavours of currants, plums and blackberries. The silky tannins add to the elegance of texture but also to the wine’s ability to age. 92.

Red Rooster 2009 Syrah Reserve ($29.99). This is a bit less intense than the other Syrahs from Bench wineries but is no less tasty, with black cherry flavours and with pepper and spice both on the nose and in the finish. 87.

Serendipity Estate Winery Serenata 2008 ($39.90) is the winery’s first Bordeaux red, a blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon that spent 23 months in new French oak. It begins with aromas of vanilla, eucalyptus and red fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of currants, blackberries, chocolate, coffee and tobacco, with a core of sweet fruit nesting in long, ripe tannins. 90.




Therapy Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris ($19.99). Here is another crisp and refreshing white, with citrus aromas, flavours of pears, apples and citrus and, as the wine warms, peach. 88.

Therapy 2010 Gewurztraminer ($17.99). This wine has delicate spice and rose petal aromas, with flavours of grapefruit and spice. The intensity of the fruit flavours are still developing as the wine settles down after bottling. 87.

Therapy 2010 Alterego ($N.A.). Here is a complex new white blend: Pinot Gris (45%), Sauvignon Blanc (35%), Viognier (10%) and Chardonnay (10%). It is a delicious wine, rich on the palate with flavours of citrus and cantaloupe and a touch of butterscotch on the finish. 89-90.




Township 7 2009 Un-oaked Chardonnay ($17.99). This is an example of the fruit-forward Chardonnays that have been in vogue for a few years in a reaction to over-oaked (real or imagined) Chardonnay. This is a pleasant apéritif with flavours of tangerine and peaches. 87.

Township 7 2009 Chardonnay ($19.99). This winery has a foot in both camps. This is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay that was also aged in oak for 10 months. The oak is quite subtle so that the wine displays its fruit flavours – peach, citrus, ripe cantaloupe. 88.

Township 7 2007 Reserve 7 ($34.99). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Merlot (40%) and Cabernet Franc (5%). It begins with a touch of mint on the aroma. On the palate, there are flavours of vanilla, black currant and chocolate. The texture features silky tannins. This wine benefits from decanting, both to open the flavours and to leave behind the modest sediment the wine – presumably unfiltered – is throwing. 88.

Van Westen Vineyards 2009 Viognier ($24.90). Here is a great expression of the variety’s tropical personality, with flavours of pineapple, guava and apple. 90.

Van Westen Vivacious 2009 ($18.90). Primarily Pinot Blanc with some Pinot Gris in the blend, this is a crisp and, yes, vivacious white with aromas and flavours of apples and a backbone of minerality. 88.




Van Westen Vivre la Vie 2007 ($27.90). This big, ripe wine has 14.9% alcohol but so much fruit and chewy texture that there is no heat on the finish. The wine, which is 100% Merlot, begins with abundant red berries on the nose. Its layered flavours include currants, blackberries and plums with hints of chocolate and vanilla on the finish. 90.

Van Westen Voluptuous 2007 ($29.90). This red is a blend of 67% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc. It begins with an alluring aroma of black currants and lingonberries which is picked up in the flavours. 90.

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