Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quails' Gate wines reprise three vintages

Photo: Vineyard at Quails' Gate

In each of the last three Okanagan vintages, nature has thrown curves at the vintners. It has taken careful grape growing by experienced viticulturists to produce good wines.

There are few Okanagan families with more vineyard experience than the Stewarts, the owners of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. The vineyard on a slope of Mt. Boucherie overlooking Okanagan Lake was established in 1956. It has been replanted several times as better wine-growing varieties came available; some of the oldest vines date from the early 1960s. However, the emphasis in the last decade has been on increasing the Pinot Noir plantings. The winery grows eight or nine clones now and makes its flagship wine from that variety.

The recent vintages have tested the acumen of the Quails’ Gate team.

The 2008 season began with a cool spring and late bud break. Then a spell of fine warm weather caused the vines to put on a heavy crop which had to be thinned considerable to ensure good ripening. Cool weeks in autumn delayed ripening. The season ended two weeks late but with a blast of warm weather. The harvest started in mid-October, was short and intense – and produced good quality grapes.

The 2009 season, coming off a long and cold winter, also saw late bud break. That was followed by warm, sometimes hot weather for much of the growing season, with an early harvest beginning in the third week of September and finishing about the same time the 2008 harvest had started. The harvest ended a month ahead of previous vintages. Again, intensely flavoured grapes were produced.

The 2010 season began with very late bud burst. A cooler than average spring required aggressive crop thinning so that the vines would ripen what crop remained. Quails’ Gate had a much smaller harvest than in previous years. The rainy September threatened the vines with mildew, combated by removing leaves so that the natural air flow kept the grapes healthy. The weather turned for the better late in September. Quails’ Gate began its harvest October 4th and only finished with an early icewine harvest on November 23. In spite of all the challenges of the year, the grapes came in with the intensity of flavour and the vibrant acidity that yields good wines from a cool year.

The recent releases from the winery show that Quails’ Gate’s vineyard and winemaking crew can hit the curves, sometimes out of the park.

Here are notes on those wines.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2008 ($24.99 with a production of 7,424 cases). This wine, with 14% alcohol, has the big, ripe flavours of that vintage. The winemakers extracted additional flavour by macerating the juice on the skins for about 20 days. The wine was aged entirely in French oak (15% new) for about 11 months. It is a dark wine with aromas of cherries, raspberries and with bright but also savoury berry flavours, along with a touch of mocha. It has the velvet texture of a classic Pinot Noir. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 ($45 with a production of 3,112 six-bottle cases). It is a seductive wine, beginning with a rush of spicy berry aromas in the glass. There are concentrated flavours of black cherry, plum and spice. The velvet texture adds to the wine’s seduction. This elegant wine is so good that it should be in a one-litre bottle because every glass tastes like more. 93.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2009 ($19.99). The winery made 4,420 cases. The wine was fermented 50% in barrel, 50% in stainless steel, leaving the spotlight on the fruit flavours and keeping the oak flavours quite subtle. It begins with citrus aromas. The flavours are clean and focussed – tangerine, a note of honey and buttered brioche, with lingering clove notes on the finish. This is a very appealing wine. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($29.99). Fermented entirely in French oak barrels, this wine presents with a disciplined elegance, reflecting the intensity of flavours and minerals from mature vines. There are aromas and flavours of citrus over subtle oak, with a lingering finish that includes notes of cloves. This wine should be cellared a few years to achieve all of its complex potential. 91.

Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2010 ($16.99 with a production of 4,800 cases). This wine begins with aromas of honeyed citrus fruits, leading to intense flavours of lime and grapefruit. There is a good backbone of minerals and bright acidity. Recently, I had a 2006 Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling; the age had rounded the acidity and increased the intensity of the aromas and fruit. I would recommend putting the 2010 away for a few years as well. 91.

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2010 ($18.99 with a production of 4,400 cases). This wine actually is 90% Chenin Blanc, fermented in steel. The rest is Sauvignon Blanc which was barrel-fermented with a little Chenin Blanc, a technique to achieve a little more weight, according the winemaker Grant Stanley’s notes. It worked – “good weight” appears in my notes. This is a crisp, tangy white with aromas and flavours of green apples and lime. 90.

Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2010 ($16.99 with a production of 3,700 cases). This is a restrained reading on the variety, with delicate aromas of rose petals and cinnamon, flavours of lychee and grapefruit and a crisp finish. 88.

Quails’ Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2010 ($17.99 with a production of 9,000 cases). This one brand alone is bigger in volume than most of the wineries British Columbia; that is testimony to the popularity of this slightly off-dry white. Chasselas is a Swiss variety that the Stewarts planted by accident in the 1970s when their vine supplier screwed up their order for a labrusca white. Recognizing their good fortune, they never pulled it out. On its own, Chasselas makes a rather neutral wine. The winemaker transformed the wine by adding 30% Pinot Blanc and 10% Pinot Gris to the blend. This is a juicy wine with flavours of melons, apples and lime and with a vibrant acidity that adds to the refreshing finish. 90.

Quails’ Gate Rosé 2010 ($14.99 with a production of 3,500 cases). Made with 90% Gamay and 10% Pinot Noir, this is a fine dry rosé just begging for a hot summer. There are aromas and flavours of raspberry, strawberry and red currant, with a refreshing tangy finish. 89.


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