Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A vintage tour with Le Vieux Pin and LaStella

Severine Pinte, winemaker for Le Vieux Pin and LaStella

A recent tasting of wines from Le Vieux Pin and LaStella wineries proved to be a mini-tour of recent vintages by Rasoul Salehi, the passionate spokesman for the sister wineries.

“You know that the trio of super atypical vintages began in 2009 and ended in 2011,” he said.

The 2009 vintage was hot and early, which was fortunate because nearly all of the fruit was picked or was ready to pick when a hard freeze on the Thanksgiving weekend ended the growing year abruptly. The next two vintages started with late springs and were basically cool years, yielding wines with much lower alcohols that 2009.

“2012 was more typical of the South Okanagan,” Rasoul continued. “You got more of that rich and lush fruit. The grapes were homogenous, where sorting was a formality, as opposed to 2013, where tons of sorting was needed all over the valley. Some varieties, because of tight clusters and all the rain [in September], developed quite a bit of gray rot and sour rot. We had some wasp attacks which led to sour rot and required some sorting; and a little botrytis here and there on the not so well drained sites. So 2013 needed quite a bit of sorting.”

His comments provide a window on the challenge of Okanagan viticulture. The quality of the wines from these two producers shows that they are clearly up to meeting those challenges.

The first three wines tasted were from the splendid 2012 vintage and the others were from 2011. (Some of these wines have been released; many are being released this spring or even this fall.) All are made by Severine Pinte, the French trained winemaker at both wineries.

The cooler 2011 vintage, which benefitted from a long and warm autumn, produced some atypical wines, among them a pair of Syrahs with alcohol levels between 12% and 13%, easily two percent lower than 2009. Rasoul calls them “Syrah for Pinot Noir lovers” because the wines not as powerful as in earlier years.

But as his reference suggests, the wines have elegance and charm – so much so that he thinks the Équinoxe Syrah may be the best yet from Le Vieux Pin. Without the full range in front of me, I could not offer such a judgment. But there is no doubt it is an excellent wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon in 2011 needed help in order to taste ripe. Le Vieux Pin reverted to the old Bordeaux tradition and “hermitaged” its Cabernet with 20% Syrah. The resulting wine is called Retouche, or touched up.

“It is poking fun at what had gone on in Bordeaux when they ended up on the map after 1855,” Rasoul says, referring to great classification of the properties. “Global demand surged but they had a series of weak vintages. The petit châteaux were bringing wine from Algeria and Morocco to blend. The better châteaux were bringing wine from the Rhone, notable Hermitage. The term coined was hermitaging the wines of Bordeaux.”

Bordeaux does not do that any more but in other areas where this practise is not forbidden, there are many terrific blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

It is interesting to note that Merlot showed itself once more to be a reliable workhorse in the Okanagan, even in a cooler year. The LaStella Allegretto Merlot 2011 has a robust 14.6% alcohol.

Here are notes on the wines.

Le Vieux Pin Petit Sigma Blanc 2012 ($19 for 750 cases). This is remarkably complex blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Marsanne and Roussanne. It begins with fresh and appealing fruity aromas, leading to flavours of tangerine, melon and apple. The texture is generous and the finish is crisp and refreshing. 90-91.

Le Vieux Pin Ava 2012  ($35 for 680 cases) The blend is 61% Viognier, 21% Roussanne and 18% Marsanne. This wine, which will be released in the spring of 2014, is barrel-aged and closed with cork. It is already an elegantly polished wine with an intriguing hint of white pepper in the aroma and on the finish. In between, there are flavours of citrus, melon and apple. The generous texture gives the wine good weight on the palate. 92.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Chardonnay 2012 ($60 for 75 cases).  Destined for release in April 2014, this wine shows exceptional harmony, with citrus aromas and with flavours of citrus and apple. The moderate time in barrel has added a buttery note to the flavour and polish to the texture. 91.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah 2011 ($45 for 374 cases). For release in the spring of 2014, this is an elegant Rhone-style red with only 12.7% of alcohol. The wine begins with aromas of white pepper and floral berry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and blackberry. The wine is medium-bodied but the flavours are ripe. 90.

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2011 ($80 for 268 cases). This will not be released until October, 2014, even if it is already drinking well. The wine begins with aromas of menthol, balsam wood and cherries. It has gamey rare meat flavours, along with notes of cherry, raspberry and blackberry and with white pepper and spice on the finish. The alcohol is just 12.9%, perhaps enhancing the elegance of the wine. 93-95.

Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2011 ($65 for 62 cases). This will be released in about a year. The wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon that, in the former tradition of Bordeaux, has been “touched up” with 20 percent of Syrah. The wine begins with classic minty Cabernet Sauvignon aromas. On the palate, the black currant flavours also show a touch of mint. The addition of Syrah probably accounts for the supple and ripe texture. 91.

LaStella Allegretto Merlot 2011 ($50 for 125 cases). With 14.6% alcohol, this is a testament to the ability of Merlot to get ripe if farmed well. This juicy wine has aromas and flavours of blueberry and cherry. The fruit and texture are concentrated and there is enough of backbone of ripe tannin to let the wine develop over the next five years. 90.

LaStella Fortissimo 2011 ($35 for 857 cases). This is the winery’s Tuscan inspired red. The blend is 71% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 5% Sangiovese. It has the “dusty” aroma and dry finish that recalls good Chianti. It has aromas and flavours of cherry, cranberry and red currant. Aged in Slovenian oak, this wine has been finished with a rustic elegance that really does echo Tuscany. 91.


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