Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quails’ Gate 2013 spring releases

Photo: Quails' Gate vineyards

Grant Stanley is going into his 10th year as winemaker at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery and he has certainly put his fingerprints on the wines.

Quails’ Gate was opened in 1989 by the Stewart family, a pioneering family in horticulture and, since the 1950s, in grape growing.

In 1975 the family was one of the first, if not the first, to plant Pinot Noir in the Okanagan. Today, Quail’s Gate is one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir. Grant Stanley was hired in 2003 because, as he has said, “I am a Pinot Guy.”

In the decade before him, three Australian winemakers in succession made the wines at Quails’ Gate. The first was Jeff Martin, now the owner of La Frenz, his own fine Naramata winery. His successor was there only briefly, dying in mid-vintage. The third Australian was Ashley Hooper, a big one-time rugby player, who made several solid vintages before deciding to return to Australia.

Grant represented a daring change in winemaking style. Born in Vancouver in 1967 to parents from New Zealand, Grant became passionate about wine while working in restaurants in Canada and in Britain. In 1991, he and his British-born horticulturist wife, Annabelle, moved to New Zealand and took wine industry jobs. Grant, after professional training, made six vintages with Ata Rangi, a leading Pinot Noir producer.

He once told me that he spends 80% of his time thinking about Pinot Noir. However, the other wines he makes at Quails’ Gate never taste as if they had been overlooked (he has a good cellar team behind him).

One of his secrets has been slimming down a portfolio that had ballooned to 26 wines when Grant arrived. By making larger volumes of fewer varietals, he brings better focus to the releases. The individual releases at Quail’s Gate often are each larger that the production of many smaller wineries.

The most astonishing example is the Chasselas/Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris blend. Where these were once separate varietals in the portfolio, Grant has been blending them into one terrific and affordable white. The current 2012 release is 14,900 cases. There are probably 100 wineries in B.C. that are smaller than that.

As the notes below indicate, all of the estate wines are made in large enough volume that restaurants can keep them on their lists and individuals can stock up.

There is a production cap, however, on the reserve wines, which are marketed as Stewart Family Reserve and are not made every year. There was no SFR Pinot Noir in 2010 because that vintage did not produce a reserve quality Pinot Noir, at least in the judgment of Quails’ Gate. As a rule of thumb, the reserves are about 10% of the volume of the regular varietals.

Here are notes on the new releases.

Quails’ Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris 2012 ($18.99 for 14,900 cases). One bottle of this always tastes like more; fortunately, there amazing volume produced. The blend is 45% Chasselas, 30% Pinot Blanc and 25% Pinot Gris. The winery has been making this blend for some years now, because these three white varieties marry well and because the volume means there is plenty to go round. Just slightly off-dry, the wine begins with apple and citrus aromas and delivers flavours of apples, pears and peaches. 90.

Quails’ Gate Dry Riesling 2012 ($16.99 for 4,00o cases). This could also be labelled an Old Vines Riesling because it includes grapes from vines more than 25 years old. It begins with lovely floral, citrus and herbal aromas. There is good intensity of flavour, with notes of lime, green apple and minerals. The wine is crisp and dry; the touch of residual sugar does not mask the racy acidity. Although the wine is drinking well now, buy a few more bottles, put them away for five years and enjoy the rewards of patience. 90-91

Quails’ Gate Chenin Blanc 2012 ($18.99 for 5,100 cases). Here is another zesty white wine that tastes good at a mere six months but will taste even better in a year or two when the racy acidity has settled down and the fruit is more expressive. It begins with appealing aromas of apple, lime and grapefruit. On the palate, it is absolute bowl of fruit – limes, lemons, papaya. The finish is crisp and refreshing. There is eight percent Sauvignon Blanc in this blend – as if Chenin Blanc needs help to express fruit. 90.

Quails’ Gate Gewürztraminer 2012 ($16.99 for 8,200 cases). I think the only reason this wine did not bowl me over is that the sample was recently bottled. It takes Gewürztraminer a while to get over bottle shock. My sample had muted aromas and flavours but I fully expect that the spice and the lychee will emerge by June. Then, because it is closed with a screw cap, the wine will remain full of fresh, fruity flavours for several years. 88+.

Quails’ Gate Rosé 2012 ($14.99 for 5,000 cases). The winemaker’s style with this, made primarily with Gamay Noir, is to craft a wine that “smells sweet but drinks dry.” It is a tangy, refreshing wine with aromas ands flavours of rhubarb, strawberry and sour cherry. 90.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir Estate 2011 ($24.99 for 7,000 cases). This is the Pinot Noir to drink now while waiting for the reserve to be ready. This wine has a fine dark hue.  It begins with attractive aromas of cherry, raspberry and mocha, leading to bright cherry flavours, with mocha and toasty oak subtly on the finish. The texture is already showing the classic velvet of the variety. 90.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2011 Stewart Family Reserve ($35 for 1,131 six-bottle cases). The previous vintage, which may still be available, won a gold medal at this year’s Chardonnay-du-Monde competition in France. I expect this wine will also rack up numerous awards. It is an exceptionally elegant wine with butter, toast and tangerine on the nose and the palate. The toastiness comes from the wine being fermented in barrel, a practice that integrates the oak without submerging the fruit. 92.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2011 Stewart Family Reserve ($45 for 2,027 six-bottle cases). Because the winery made no Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir in 2010 – a poor vintage – the market had begun to clamour for the 2011. It has now been released three months prematurely and against the winemaker’s better judgment. The first bottle I tasted in late March was pretty tight and smelled a bit funky, probably from the sulphur used when the wine was bottled in December. Recently, I was able to taste the wine a second time and it has begun to get over its funky mood. There are raspberry aromas and deep, rich flavours of spicy plum and cherry. The texture is still firm. Decant the wine if you must have it now; or do yourself a favour and cellar it for several years. 92.


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