Monday, September 9, 2013

How Touriga Nacional joined the Moon Curser portfolio

Chris and Beata Tolley, the owners of Moon Curser Vineyards in Osoyoos, have a  track record for making “interesting” wines.

For example, they made the Okanagan’s first Tannat after planting the slightly obscure French variety found mostly in Uruguay these days. After releasing the variety on its own, they now blend it with Syrah in their most iconic red.

Their releases this summer included the first Touriga Nacional table wine from any Okanagan winery.

                                       Photo: Moon Curser's Beata and Chris Tolley

There is a second release of that red next year, along with a first release of Arneis, an Italian white variety that the Tolleys planted three years ago. They have just planted Dolcetto, an Italian red. If the vines succeed, we will see the Okanagan’s first Dolcetto in about four years.

Touriga Nacional is a notoriously late ripening and winter sensitive Portuguese variety. It came to be planted in the south Okanagan when Tony Fernandez, who owns a packing house near the winery, asked Chris to suggest varieties for a five-acre vineyard he was developing in 2009.

Chris picks up the story:

“Just because he is Portuguese, I mentioned Touriga,” Chris recalls.  “Then I had to warn him that it was not too winter hardy and did not crop a lot.”  Tony planted three acres of that variety and two acres of Viognier, with Moon Curser as the buyer when the vines started producing.

Unfortunately, a hard early freeze snapped across the Okanagan about October 10, 2009, damaging a lot of new plantings – including 80% of the Touriga Nacional. “A lot of the plants died and none were replanted,” Chris says. What vines remained produce a small and late crop in 2011, a cool vintage. Chris bought the Viognier but did not think there would be a worthwhile Touriga harvest.

“Tom asked what we thought of the Touriga when we bought the Viognier,” Chris says. “At that point I knew pretty much for sure that we would never harvest that crop. It was so far behind that I thought it would never come off. But I did not feel like blurting that out. So I said we’ll take a look, we’ll keep checking on it.”

Busy with the crush, Chris pretty much forgot about the Touriga. “There were so few vines that it was not the first thing on my radar. Looking at 1.1 tons of Touriga was not of major concern.”

He chanced to encounter Tony in a restaurant that fall and gave him the gloomy prognosis. Tony proposed that Chris make wine for Tony’s personal consumption with whatever was on the vines.

“About the 9th or 12th of November, we had pressed everything else out,” Chris  says, recalling the Moon Curser vintage. “Then it popped into my mind that the Touriga is still out there and I had better go and do something. I had it in mind that I would drive out there and taste the grapes. I expected they would be acidic and with no sugar, and I would phone Tom and tell him we’ll be done for the season. But when I got out there, they were very sweet. When I tested them, I got 24.5 Brix. They were the ripest grapes we had in the entire 2011 vintage. So I phoned him and said we’ll buy these grapes and you don’t have to find yourself with 60 cases of your own wine. I’ll give you five cases or whatever you want and we will give you a good price and keep the rest. He was happy with that.”

After the 2012 vintage, which again yielded just enough grapes for about two barrels of Touriga Nacional, Tony sold the entire vineyard to Chris.

The original rows were spaced too far apart. Because of that and the sparse number of Touriga vines, Chris pulled out everything and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Dolcetto.

“But we took cuttings of those Touriga plants,” he says.  “Lanny Martinuik [who runs a vine nursery] is growing them out and we are going to plant them next year on a site that has similar characteristics. It is just a couple of hundred meters from that first vineyard.”

With luck, there won’t be an early freeze until the vines have settled in. The next Touriga Nacional vintage could occur in 2017.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Moon Curser Vineyards Afraid 2012 ($21.90 for 620 cases). This is the winery’s Rhone white – a blend of 47% Roussanne, 31% Viognier and 22% Marsanne. It begins with an appealing aroma of citrus and apricots, delivering flavours of stone fruits, melon and apples, with a spine of minerality supporting a rich texture and bold (14.1%) alcohol. A wine with power, it has a crisp finish. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Viognier 2012 ($28). The 14.3% alcohol declared on the label is the first clue that this is a ripe Viognier that benefitted from plenty of hang time to develop maximum flavour. Aromas of apricot, tangerine and ripe bananas explode from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot, with touches of orange, pineapple and spice. The finish is dry with just a trace of warmth from the alcohol, nicely balanced with the rich texture of the wine. 91.

Moon Curser Vineyards Nothing to Declare Rosé 2012 ($21.90 for 144 cases). This is a Syrah rosé. The wine begins with an appealing dark rose hue. On the nose, there are aromas of plum and black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, cherry and raspberry. Dry on the finish, this rosé has serious weight and texture. Great food wine. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Border Vines 2011 ($25 for 1,805 cases). This is the winery’s flagship red, a blend of  38% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Carmenère. Almost black in colour, it begins with aromas of cassis and spice, leading to flavours of blueberry and lingonberry, framed by notes of oak and vanilla. The bright acidity and firm texture suggest this is a good candidate for cellaring for several years. 88-90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($28.90 for 609 cases). Somewhat lean and tangy, this reflects south Okanagan Cabernet in a cool year. It begins with aromas of mint and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of red berries, with spice, tobacco and cedar on the finish. This reminded me of a Cabernet from Coonawarra in Australia. 87.

Moon Curser Vineyards Dead of Night 2010 ($38 for 405 cases). This is 53% Syrah and 47% Tannat, both from estate vineyards. This is an inspired blend, with complex aromas of black cherry, plum, vanilla and earth. On the bold palate, there are flavours of black cherry, mulberry and black currant, with peppery, smoky and gamey notes. This is such an expressive wine that it should be matched with boldly flavoured foods, like lamb or venison. 91.

Moon Curser Vineyards Merlot 2011 ($25 for 607 cases). The wine begins with bright red berry and vanilla aromas. On the palate, there are notes of black currant and cherry. The initial firm structure led to retasting the second half of the bottle on the second day. With exposure to air, the wine filled out dramatically and was much richer on the palate. The lesson: use a decanter. 89.

Moon Curser Vineyards Petit Verdot 2011 ($29 for 175 cases). The colour, as is typical for the variety, is profoundly dark. The aromas are dramatic, with some floral notes (violets) and with ripe fruit aromas of blackberry and plum. There is a hint of mocha in the background. On the palate, the flavours include plum, cherry, cola and liquorice. The structure is still a bit firm but it should be; this wine will age very nicely for five to seven years. 92.

Moon Curser Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 ($29.90 for 145 cases). Not many Osoyoos wineries make Pinot Noir because vineyards often are too warm. Moon Curser buys these grapes from a grower on the west side of Osoyoos Lake, a somewhat cooler site than Moon Curser’s East Bench vineyards. This vibrant wine, with a good dark colour, begins with aromas of plums and cherries. Full on the palate with a silky texture, the wine delivers those flavours, along with a hint of French oak and sour cherry on the finish. 89.

Moon Curser Vineyards Contraband Syrah 2011 ($28.90 for 200 cases). This is a single vineyard Syrah. Dark in colour, the wine begins with meaty aromas, along with pepper and plum. On the palate, there are peppery flavours of black cherry, plum, chocolate and cola. The finish is persistent. 92.

Moon Curser Vineyards Syrah 2011 ($25 for 831 cases). Fruit for this wine was sourced from three Osoyoos East Bench vineyards. There is also seven per cent Viognier in the wine, a routine winemaking practice that fixes the colour and lifts the aromas. This wine begins with aromas of dark fruit and classic pepper. There are plum and black cherry flavours on the mid-palate, with a complex spicy finish. The tannins are still firm, suggesting this wine will age well for several more years. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Tempranillo 2011 ($29 for 260 cases). Dark in colour, the wine declares itself with bold aromas of blackberry, black cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are ripe flavours of blackberry, cherry, leather and spice, with ripe tannins. The finish lingers. 90.

Moon Curser Vineyards Touriga Nacional 2011 (sold out). The winery produced just 60 cases in its debut 2011 vintage. Considering a tour de force this is, I would recommend getting on the wait list for the 2012 vintage. The winery made a similar quantity. The wine begins with an appealing aroma of blackberry, cherry and plum, with a touch of spice. Bold, luscious flavours of blueberries and mulberries fill the mouth. There is a smoky note of black pepper on the finish. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. 92.


At September 9, 2013 at 12:21 PM , Blogger Quench! Wines said...

Stag's Hollow Winery will be harvesting Dolcetto this year.


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