Thursday, December 12, 2013

Quails' Gate Old Vines Foch makes friends




A friend who retired to New Zealand after a fine career as home winemaker in BC ingratiated himself with Kate Radburnd, the chief winemaker at the C.J. Pask Winery by giving her a bottle of Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch.

It is unlikely that she would ever have encountered the Maréchal Foch grape during a long and distinguished winemaking career there. It is not impossible, however, since the New Zealand industry, like Canadian wineries, relied on many hybrid grape varieties through to the 1970s.

Radburnd began her career about the same time as New Zealand switched massively to the classic European varieties. Hence, a Canadian Maréchal Foch wine – arguably the best Canadian Foch – should have been a treat for her.

The Stewart family which owns Quails’ Gate has a block of Foch in its West Kelowna vineyard that likely was planted in 1964. The Stewarts decided not to pull the vines out in 1988 when most Okanagan growers ripped out hybrids to make room for the European classics. That was a fortunate decision.

In 1994, Jeff Martin, an Australian winemaker, was recruited to be the winemaker at Quails’ Gate. He found that most of the vines in the Quails’ Gate vineyard were relatively young, having been planted since 1990.

Much of his Australian experience was making big reds with grapes from mature vines.  To make a big red in the Okanagan in the mid-1900s, he had to do his best with Maréchal Foch. His best was so good that the Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch has been a cult wine ever since. And the winery has extended its Foch franchise to add a reserve Old Vines Foch and a Port-style Foch.

Grant Stanley, the New Zealand-trained Canadian who was the Quails’ Gate winemaker for 10 years until leaving this summer, refined the Old Vines Foch. Jeff’s model had been Australian Shiraz; his Foch was big, bold and swaggering. Grant is obsessed with making finessed Pinot Noirs. His Foch was by no means a Pinot Noir but it seemed to have become more polished and less muscular.

This fall’s releases from Quails’ Gate included both of the Old Vines Foch wines, along with an excellent Merlot and an even better Cabernet Sauvignon. Any of these wines would have turned Kate Radburnd’s head.

Here are notes on the wines.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2011 ($24.99 for 3,050 cases). This wine begins with alluring aromas of black currant, blackberry and blueberry. The aromas are echoed in the juicy flavours and are accentuated by hints of spice and chocolate. The tannins are ripe but also firm. Decanting is recommended. 89.

 Quails’ Gate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($24.99 for 1,100 cases). This is an exceptionally well-growth Cabernet Sauvignon, especially since it comes from the winery’s Boucherie Mountain vineyard, not from Oliver or Osoyoos. The wine begins with aromas of cherry and cranberry. The palate has layers of vibrant fruit flavours, including blackberry, black cherry and vanilla. The texture is firm but supple. This is such a delicious red that it needs to be sold in a magnum. A 750 ml bottle is not enough. 90.

 Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2011 ($24.99 for 4,800 cases). The grapes for this came primarily from 29-year-old vines in an Osoyoos Vineyard that Quails’ Gate owns. Fans of Foch will be a little unhappy to hear that this block is being replanted with Chenin Blanc. Quails’ Gate has concluded that the white variety, which is in short supply but makes a very popular wine, will do better on Osoyoos sand that the Foch. This is a dark wine with smoky black cherry aromas. On the palate, it presents gamey flavours with a touch of sour cherry (the acidity is brisk). This is the ideal red to have with venison or bison. 88.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2011 ($40 for 1,400 cases). This is made from vines planted in 1964 and that accounts for the rich, almost chewy texture. The wine begins with aromas of spice, vanilla, black cherry and chocolate and it delivers flavours of black cherry and plum. It finishes with what the winery described as “sweet and sour” notes. Again, the acidity is a touch higher than is usual in a red wine. In this wine, that is not an issue. The huge concentration of fruit needs the acidity to help the flavours jump from the glass. This is a generous and satisfying red to pair with a pepper steak or a bison rib eye. 91.

Quails’ Gate Fortified Vintage Foch 2011 ($22.99 for 375 cases). Made in the tradition of Port, this wine, which spent 18 months in barrels, has 18% alcohol. Dark in hue, it has aromas of spice, chocolate and cherries. On the palate, the wine is rich in texture, with flavours of black cherry and chocolate. Imagine drinking a Black Forest cake! 91.




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