Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sandhill and friends: a tasting with Howard Soon and his team

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Photo: Winemaster Howard Soon

After Andrew Peller Ltd. took over Calona in 2005, three major labels were brought into that sprawling winery.

This is the home of Calona Vineyards, Peller Estates and (until, and if, a separate winery is built on Black Sage Road), Sandhill Wines.

The wines from the three labels are remarkable distinct. Calona, where the winemaker is Sandy Leier, gets most of its grapes in the north Okanagan, producing wines that, for the most part, are fruity, uncomplicated and seldom oak-aged.

Peller Estates, where the winemaker is Stephanie Leinemann, has one tier of wines that is affordable and a higher tier that, while still affordable by Okanagan standards, is more complex. The grapes are drawn from both Okanagan and Similkameen vineyards that are either owned by Peller or under contract to Peller.

Sandhill, whose winemaker is Howard Soon, produces strictly single vineyard wines. The object is to showcase the individual terroirs. Sandhill never blends wines from more than one vineyard.

Sandhill now has five single vineyard designations. The largest is the 174-acre Sandhill Estate Vineyard (SEV) on Black Sage Road, the likely home of the long-planned standalone winery. The 43-acre King Family Vineyard near Penticton, is owned by the Don and Rod King, who grow Pinot Gris for Sandhill.

The seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard and the adjacent 12-acre Osprey Ridge Vineyard are owned by veteran vineyard managers who have been associated with Sandhill ever since the wines were launched in 1999.

Finally, Sandhill has released its first wine, a Cabernet Merlot, from the 104-acre Vanessa Vineyard in the Similkameen. This vineyard, owned by a Vancouver developer, was planted about five years ago. It now sells all of its grapes to the Peller group of wineries.

I have been able to taste many of the wines from these three producers at two recent tastings with the talented winemaking team. The quality is excellent to outstanding. Here are my notes.

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Photo: Calona winemaker Sandy Leier

Calona Artist Series Chardonnay 2010 ($13.99). This is a charming and focussed fruit-forward Chardonnay, with clean, fresh flavours of citrus and peaches. 89

Calona Artist Series Gewürztraminer 2010 ($13.99). The spicy rose petal aromas of this wine jump from the glass. There are flavours of grapefruit with a spicy finish. 88.

Calona Artist Series Sovereign Opal 2010 ($13.99). This is a Calona exclusive, a white wine with exotic spice on the nose and palate. It is produced from a varietal developed at the research station in Summerland. Only one vineyard grows it. The wine is selling so well that the plantings are being increased from six acres to nine acres. This is a mouthful of fruit – peach and pink grapefruit – with just a hint of sweetness on the balanced finish. 89.

Calona Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($14.99). This is a medium-bodied, easy drinking red with soft tannins and flavours of cherries and red currants, with a touch of chocolate. 88.

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Photo: Peller winemaker Stephanie Leinemann

Peller Private Reserve Dry Riesling 2010 ($15.99). Here is a textbook Riesling, with a touch of petrol on the nose, tangy flavours of lime and grapefruit and a spine of minerals in the texture. The wine has a long, refreshing finish. 90.

Peller Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2009 ($16.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and apples. On the palate, there are layers of fruit flavours – apples, pears, grapefruit. The finish is crisp. 89.

Peller Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($19.99). The wine begins with aromas of sage and red berries. It has flavours of currants and blackberries, with hints of chocolate and tobacco on the finish. The texture is generous. 89.

Sandhill SEV Chardonnay 2010 ($17.99 for a production of 3,244 cases). This wine was half fermented in barrel, half in stainless steel. The result is an excellent Chardonnay where the oak notes are subtle and in the background, with the fruit aromas and flavours – citrus, apples, pears, spice – out in front. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Sandhill SEV Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($18.99 for a production of 937 cases). Howard Soon confides that this is the best Sauvignon Blanc he has made. I would not dispute that. The zesty freshness of the wine takes one away to New Zealand, at least in style. The wine has aromas and flavours of lime, grapefruit, with an accent of herbs and minerals. The clean, fresh finish lingers forever. 92.

Sandhill King Family Pinot Gris 2010 ($18.99 for a production of 4,634 cases). This is a lovely glass of fruit – aromas and flavours of pears, apples, melon and peaches. With just a trace of residual sugar to balance the acidity, the wine has an appealing texture and a long finish. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Single Block Chardonnay 2009 ($30 for a production of 190 cases). This wine is made from grapes grown on a specific block on the Sandhill Estate Vineyard and kept aside because of the special quality of the fruit and the wine. This wine was fermented in barrels and aged for eight months in new French oak. The toasty bacon fat aromas of the new oak add complexity without overshadowing the rich tangerine and butter flavours of the wine. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Osprey Ridge Vineyard Viognier 2010 ($28 for a production of 615 cases). This full-bodied wine begins with floral and apricot aromas. In the palate, there are intense flavours of melon, apricot and pineapple.92.

Sandhill SEV Rosé 2010 ($17.99). This is an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc, Barbera and Sangiovese. The juice was drawn from the crushed skins after four days of cold soak. That resulted in a lovely dark wine with mouthfilling flavours of strawberry, cherry, watermelon and tea. The finish is dry. 90

Sandhill SEV Merlot 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 3,000 cases). Juicy and delicious, this wine begins with aromas of blueberries, blackberries and plums and delivers all of those flavours to the palate. The tannins are ripe and supple. 90.

Sandhill SEV Cabernet Merlot 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 3,800 cases). This is a blend of 58.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39.3% Merlot and 2.5% Cabernet Franc. A full-bodied red, it has aromas of black currants and flavours of black currants and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate and earthiness on the finish. 90. This wine is released to restaurants and other licensees.

Sandhill Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 5,800 cases). This release, which is currently available in 122 Liquor Distribution Branch stores in B.C., is Sandhill’s first release from a Similkameen vineyard. The wine has sweet berry aromas and flavours, with spicy black cherry flavours on a note of vanilla. 88.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Sangiovese 2008 ($30 for a production of 430 cases). This is the only Sangiovese VQA wine grown and produced in Canada. What this wine shares with Chianti is the classic aromas of dried fruits and cigar box. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, pomegranate and spice. The wine is finished to total dryness. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Single Block Merlot – C8 2008 ($40 for a production of 119 cases). This is a dense, concentrated wine, built to be cellared a few years. It has aromas of black currants, coffee and tobacco with flavours of plums, cherries and spice and a hint of cedar on the finish. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard Petit Verdot 2009 ($30 for a production of 175 cases). This wine, not yet released, begins with the alluring perfumed bouquet of this variety, continuing to flavours of cherry and mocha. The tannins are firm but ripe. 91.

Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah 2009 ($40 for a production of 150 cases). This is a big, ripe wine with alcohol of 15.1% but with so much fruit and texture that the alcohol is in balance. There is pepper both in the aromas and on the finish, with gamey, meaty flavours, along with black cherry and fig. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard One 2008 ($35 for a production of 498 cases). This vintage, which is sold out at the winery, is a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a core of sweet fruit to a wine with aromas of black berry, black currant and spice and flavours of cassis, cherry, blueberry, with a note of oak on the finish. 94.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Two 2008 ($35 for a production of 336 cases). This is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc. Once again, there is an appealing core of sweet fruit, with aromas and flavours of black currants and spice. There are notes of leather and tobacco on the finish and the structure is firm. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Three 2008 ($35 for a production of 266 cases). This is Sandhill’s version of a Super Tuscan wine, a blend of 55% Barbera, 36% Sangiovese, 9% Merlot. The Barbera gives this generous red a rustic personality, with flavours of red fruit and mocha and a touch of earthiness in the mid-palate texture. 91.


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