Sunday, August 7, 2011

Drink royally with Quails' Gate

Photo: Totally botryis affected grapes

During the past three years, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery has enjoyed a remarkable string of invitations to provide wines visiting dignitaries.

Most recently, six Quails’ Gate wines were served at a dinner in the Northwest Territories for Prince William and his bride, Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Before that, Quails’ Gate wines were served to such guests of Canada as Queen Elizabeth, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, the president of Ireland and President Barack Obama.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence that the Stewart family, owners of the winery, includes some who are federal Conservative supporters. The records would probably show that when the Liberals ran the country, the wines at state functions occasionally came from Senator Ross Fitzpatrick’s CedarCreek Estate Winery.

It just happens that these are two of the best wineries in the Okanagan. I expect that our visitors and those dining with them came away quite impressed.

It was not always like this. In the early 1980s, wines served at a dinner for the Queen included a Maréchal Foch (not from Quails’ Gate) so unstable that there fizzy bottles all over the room.

That was then and this is now. The Duke and the Duchess had a chance to taste some of my favourite Quails’ Gate wines: the Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir, the Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay, the Chenin Blanc, the Old Vines Foch Reserve, the Fortified Vintage Foch and the Totally Botrytis Affected Optima.

Some of these I have reviewed before while others were included in the most recent group of samples. We can all drink like royalty.

Here are notes on four recently-released wines.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($29.99 for a production of 1,100 six-bottle cases). The SFR wines are the top tier wines here. The grapes for this wine come from vines that are 13 to 17 years old and, therefore, deliver more flavour. This wine was barrel-fermented entirely in French oak barrels (40% new, the rest one year old). Consequently, the oak notes are very subtle and well integrated in this complex wine. The wine shows aromas of toast, butter and tangerine; and flavours of citrus and apricot with a touch of spice. While the wine went through malolactic fermentation, it still retains a crisp finish. 91.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2009 ($25 for a production of 7,000 cases). This winery probably has the single largest planting of Pinot Noir in the Okanagan; the Stewart family has been growing Pinot Noir since 1975. Their winemaker, Grant Stanley, is absolutely passionate about the variety and it shows. This wine, from a big, ripe vintage, is dark in colour with aromas of cherries. It is vibrant and rich on the palate, with notes of raspberry and cherry. The winery produced 7,000 cases. 89.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2008 ($24.99 for a production of 2,750 cases). When I read the label, I thought here is an Okanagan Merlot than thinks it is a Zinfandel: the stated alcohol is 15.5%. When a wine is as well-balanced as this ripe Merlot, you don’t notice the alcohol (at least not until it hits the knees!).

Because the wine is bottled under a screw cap, I took pains to decant it and let it breath so that the youthful exuberance could evolve and give the idea of what the wine would taste like with cellaring. The winery recommends cellaring it up to seven years.

It was a little firm on being first tasted, reflecting both its oak and its long, ripe tannins. Over the next hour or so (and with a steak), its rich, fleshy texture emerged, along with a core of sweet fruit – currants, plums, figs. If you are patient with this muscular red, you are well rewarded. 90.

Quails’ Gate Totally Botrytis Affected Optima 2009 ($29.99 for a 375 ml bottle; production of 452 cases). TBA wines are rare in the Okanagan because the climate usually is too dry to foster botrytis, the noble rot that raises the sugars and flavours of grapes by dehydrating grapes on the vine. The Quails’ Gate vineyard, not far from Okanagan Lake, has the microclimate for botrytis and a grape variety, Optima, which is susceptible to noble rot. The winery has been making dessert wines like this for close to 20 years.

The grapes for this wine were actually crushed by foot. That is far more efficient that a mechanical crusher in making sure the juice of these shrivelled grapes is in contact with the skins. The wine was fermented slowly until the winemaker achieved the right balance between sugar, acidity and alcohol. This has 10% alcohol and 122 grams of residual sugar.

The wine has a lemony gold colour, with honey and orange peel aromas and flavours of honeyed apricots. While the wine is sweet, it is beautifully balanced to finish with delicate fruit flavours that are not cloying. 88.

As pleasant as this wine is now, I think it should be cellared for several years because TBA wines darken in colour and become more intense in flavour with age. Think of the difference between a young Sauternes and an old one. Sauternes, of course, are TBA wines.


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