Thursday, March 21, 2013

Domaine de Chaberton makes sparks with AC wines

Photo: Domaine de Chaberton's Eugene Kwan

At times, Domaine de Chaberton Estates Winery in Langley Township flies below the radar a little too much.

Last July, the winery released two ultra-premium reds with so little publicity (if any) that they did not come to my attention until year-end and then did not get tasted for a few more months.

These small-lot wines, under the new AC label, mark a significant step forward in terms of quality, packaging and price. Vancouver lawyer Eugene Kwan, one of two partners in Domaine de Chaberton, tells me there are other changes coming, including one more AC red, and a refreshing of the winery’s labels this fall.

Eugene’s partner is Hong Kong businessman and wine lover Anthony Cheng – hence the AC on the labels of the new wines.

Anthony and Eugene, who had worked together on other real estate transactions, bought Domaine de Chaberton in 2005. Anthony had been trying to buy property in Provence but the deal fell through. Eugene suggested he look at Okanagan wineries. “His initial reaction was that B.C. wines are crap,” Eugene recalls.

But Eugene discovered that Domaine de Chaberton was being sold by the founders, Claude and Inge Violet. He looked at the books, liked what he saw and persuaded Anthony to become a partner because knew more about wine.

Domaine de Chaberton, which opened in 1991, is based on a 46-acre vineyard entirely planted to white varieties. To this day, the winery is better known for its whites. Its best-selling wines are made from Bacchus, a grape that emerged in 1972 from plant breeding at Geilweilerhof, a German research station. It has proved a good cool-climate grape, producing fruity aromatic wines. Domaine de Chaberton likely has the largest Bacchus planting in British Columbia.

The winery gets its red grapes from the south Okanagan. The Violets opened the winery just as the “French Paradox” – red wine and the Mediterranean diet are good for the heart – was driving a new demand for red wines. To get red grapes, the Violets in 1995 partnered with the Toor brothers to convert their orchards on Black Sage Road to vineyard. The Toors went on to develop their own winery, Desert Hills, but they have continued to be one of Domaine de Chaberton’s main suppliers of Okanagan grapes.

From the start of his partnership with Eugene, Anthony’s ambition has been to produce premium reds patterned on the style of the Bordeaux reds he was collecting. He has also changed his mind about B.C. wines, having tasted the dramatically improved wines now being made.

“The AC Series are the first major step [for his ambitions with Domaine de Chaberton],” Eugene says. “He thinks he is headed in the right direction.”

Of course, some credit for these wines also goes to Elias Phiniotis, Chaberton's veteran consulting winemaker, and Barbara Hall, who joined 18 months ago as associate winemaker and who has just been promoted to winemaker.

The AC wines are built on a Merlot platform. The number on the label signals the percentage of Merlot in the blend. The one yet to be released is called AC 100. The first releases all are from 2008 because the wines are given at least 17 months in barrel, benefitting from long bottle aging before release.

Here are notes on two AC wines and on 10 other releases. These include some under the winery’s Canoe Cove label. Since the wines under that label have not been particularly distinctive from the Domaine de Chaberton wines, don’t be surprised if Canoe Cove is phased out during the current rebranding exercise.

Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus 2011 ($15.99). The winery makes both a dry and an off-dry Bacchus; the dry is sold out. This one has just enough sweet fruit to make superb as an aperitif. It is a veritable fruit salad on the nose and on the palate, tasting of orange, peach and apple with spice on the finish. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 ($13.99). Has Chardonnay fallen so much out of fashion that it should be priced $2 less than Bacchus? This bargain has appealing tangerine and apricot aromas. On the palate, it is also a fruit salad, with flavours of peaches, mangoes and sweet grapefruit. It is crisp and refreshing on the finish. 90.

Domaine de Chaberton Gewürztraminer  2011 ($16.99). This wine begins with the classic aroma of spice and lychee. On the palate, there are flavours of lychee, sweet grapefruit and even apricot, with spice on the finish. The wine is so fruity as to seem off-dry – but it is not. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Pinot Gris 2011 ($16.99). This is a juicy-textured white with flavours of apples, pears and peaches. There is a hint of anise on the finish. The soft acidity leaves the impression that the wine is off dry. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Merlot 2009 ($24.99). From the Okanagan’s best vintage in that decade, here is a big, dark Merlot with aromas of blueberry, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of blueberry, plum and black cherry. The long ripe tannins add to the appeal of this tasty red. 89.

Domaine de Chaberton Gamay Noir 2011 ($16.99). This varietal is somewhat under-appreciated which explains why most wineries give it a moderate price. This wine has aromas and flavours of cherry with a smoky note. It seemed medium bodied on first opening it but became fuller with exposure to air. 88.

Domaine de Chaberton Syrah 2008 ($29.99). The time in bottle has given this delicious wine a polished texture. It begins with aromas and flavours of black cherry and spice, with a touch of black pepper on the finish. 90.

Domaine de Chaberton AC 50 2008 ($45 for 163 cases). The AC wines are an impressive new label for this winery. This is a blend of equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of spicy black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, vanilla, coffee and tobacco. The firm but ripe tannins suggest this wine has potential to age further. 91.

Domaine de Chaberton AC 70 2008 ($45 for 139 cases). This is 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a well-crafted and complex red blend with generous sweet fruit flavours that emerge with decanting. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, black cherry and pepper, leading to flavours of black currant, plum, tobacco, coffee and vanilla. 91.

Canoe Cove Shiraz 2007 ($22.99). Soft, ripe and juicy, this is a wine for current drinking, not cellaring. It has aromas and flavours of spicy black cherries and plums. 88.

Canoe Cove Merlot 2008 ($NA). Here is a muscular Merlot with aromas of vanilla and black currants and with flavours of black currants, black cherries, plums, vanilla, cloves and liquorice. 90.

Canoe Cove Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007 ($19.99).  This wine needed to be open for a while so that the hint of sulphur blew away to liberate the fruit aromas. It has aromas of blackberry, vanilla and spice, with flavours of bramble berries and black cherries. 87.


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