Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ruby Blues: smile and tasting is free

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Photo: Prudence Mahrer

There is a $2 tasting fee for five wines at Ruby Blues Winery on Naramata Road but it is seldom collected.

“Why should you pay if you don’t like the wine?” reasons Prudence Mahrer, the co-proprietor and the effervescent presence in the wine shop.

It is curious logic. The chances of not liking the wine, especially the current releases, are slim to none. In any event, the only fee that Prudence really wants from her patrons is that they smile.

Prudence has long been a familiar personality on the Naramata Bench. She and husband Beat moved to the Okanagan from Switzerland in 1990. They turned an apple orchard into a vineyard and, in 1997, opened Red Rooster Winery just outside the village of Naramata.

The guests invited for the grand opening included Prince Charles. The real one sent a letter of regret, unaware of the inside joke. The Mahrers had a pet rooster also named Prince Charles. The rooster attended the opening while the real prince’s nice letter was hung on the wall.

Six years later, they build a much grander new winery right on Naramata Road for Red Rooster, with a big wine shop and, because Prudence is artistic, with a second floor art gallery. The winery soon became the safe house for Frank the Baggage Handler, the gangly sculpture of a nude male that had been vandalized repeatedly when first erected in downtown Penticton.

In 2005, Red Rooster, having become too big for the lifestyle that the Mahrers wanted in wine, was acquired by Andrew Peller Ltd. However, Prudence desperately missed interacting with customers. Soon after her non-compete clause expired, she and Beat opened a small new winery in 2009 right next door to Red Rooster. They vow it will never get bigger than 4,000 cases a year.

The winery initially was called Ruby Tuesday, inspired by the lyrics of a late 1960s Rolling Stones song, Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday. Prudence grew up with music like that and the lyrics still speak to her, especially this line: Catch your dreams before they slip away.

There is a big American restaurant chain (about 900 outlets) called Ruby Tuesday and Prudence soon heard from their lawyers. After she recovered from her first instinct, to fight, she changed the name of the winery this spring to Ruby Blues. Except for that one word, the label design has kept the red shoes with stiletto heels and the image of a young woman chasing her dream. There has been no noticeable damage to the branding.

This year, as you listen to the rock and roll music that is piped into the vineyard, you can even buy red shoes like that in the wine shop. There are two glamorous designs made in Vietnam and sold under the Dear Prudence brand.

Behind all the wine shop fun is some serious winemaking. The consulting winemaker, Philip Soo, is an Andrew Peller veteran now successful as a consultant in the Okanagan. The hands-on winemaker is Lyndsay O’Rourke, a Canadian who trained in New Zealand and who, with her husband, has her own Naramata Bench vineyard.

Here are notes on the current releases. As vintages change, the Ruby Tuesday labels will all be switched to Ruby Blues.

Ruby Blues Pinot Gris 2010 ($20). This is a delicious wine, juicy and appealing, that fills the mouth with pear and citrus flavours. The finish is refreshing, balanced toward dryness. 90.

Ruby Blues Gewürztraminer 2010 ($20). The wine begins with aromas of spice and rose petals. It has spicy flavours of grapefruit, grapefruit rind and lychee, with the dry and rich finish of a good Alsace Gewürztraminer. 90.

Ruby Blues Riesling 2010 ($20). The wine begins with apricot and peach aromas; has flavours of lime and green apples and finishes with a savoury tanginess. 90.

Ruby Blues White Stiletto 2010 ($20). This is a blend of 80% Viognier, 13% Gewürztraminer and 7% Muscat Ottonel. Beginning with aromas of spice and grapefruit, it is a crisp white with hints of apricots and with a nice mineral backbone. 89.

Ruby Blues Red Stiletto 2009 ($25). This is an unconventional blend of 80% Shiraz, filled out with Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; and aged in American oak. It is a juicy red, with plum and vanilla aromas and spicy flavours of plum and mocha. The texture is rich and fleshy. 88.

Ruby Blues Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($30). This is a good 51/49 blend, starting with aromas of spicy red berries and mint. On the palate, there are flavours of plums and currants with a hint of chocolate on the finish. The long ripe tannins give this a full-bodied texture. 90.

Ruby Tuesday Shiraz 2008 ($30). Aged in French oak, this wine begins with aromas of red fruit and white pepper. On the palate, there is black cherry and plum, with a hint of pepper on the finish. 89.

Ruby Tuesday Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($30). Dark in colour, firm in texture and with aromas of mint and blackberries, this has flavours of currants and blackberries. 89.

Ruby Tuesday Merlot 2008 ($30). Many think of Merlot as a soft, fruit red. That’s not true for Okanagan Merlot, a far more structured red, thanks to the climate and the terroir. All that is nicely reflected in this wine, which is firm and brooding at first. It opens to aromas and flavours of blueberry and black currant. 88.

Ruby Tuesday Grand Reserve Merlot 2008 ($40). This bold and concentrated wine is from grapes grown for the winery by a leading grower in Osoyoos. It is dark in colour, with cassis aromas and mouth-filling flavours of plum, blueberry and currant. 90.


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