Monday, March 31, 2014

A vertical of Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin

 Photo: Mathieu Mercier of Osoyoos Larose

One of the most significant ownership changes in the Okanagan wine industry occurred quietly last November when Constellation Brands sold its 50% interest in the Osoyoos Larose winery to Bordeaux vintner Groupe Taillan.

That gives the French group 100% ownership of the winery, which had been launched in 1998 as a French/Canadian joint venture between Groupe Taillan and Vincor International. The latter company was taken over by Constellation in 2006.

The consolidation sets in train the eventual building of an Osoyoos Larose winery on its 80-acre vineyard west of Osoyoos Lake. The winery currently operates in a separate area of the sprawling Jackson-Triggs winery north of Oliver. The winemaking staff works independently from the Jackson-Triggs staff (aside from a shared public address system). Osoyoos Larose has never had a public tasting room.

Even as a joint venture, this has always been a thoroughly French winery. The intention of Donald Triggs, then the chief executive of Vincor, was to bring valuable French viticultural and winemaking knowhow to the Okanagan. The Bordeaux partners chose the vineyard site, sourced the vines in France, designed the planting method and recruited Pascal Madevon, a veteran French winemaker.

Pascal managed Osoyoos Larose from its first vintage in 2001 until he left in 2013 to join Culmina, the new winery that the Triggs family opened last year in the Okanagan. Groupe Taillan promptly sent another winemaker, Mathieu Mercier, who also has solid French and international experience.

Mathieu was born in 1988 in Cognac to a family of cognac producers. He has degrees in viticulture and enology from two of Bordeaux’s leading universities.

While going through university, he also did hands-on industry practicums. “I spent some time in Chile where I worked for Don Melchor, the premium winery of Concha y Toro,” Mathieu says. “Then I worked in Bordeaux for André Lurton at Château La Louvière and Château de Rochemorin.  Then I moved to California where I worked in 2010 for Swanson Winery in Napa. It was such a good experience that I went back in 2012 for six months, making wine for Cain Vineyard and Winery [in St. Helena].”

He returned to Bordeaux and worked at several of the estates owned by Groupe Taillan. (The most famous of the group’s properties is Château Gruaud-Larose, a distinguished Saint-Julien winery with a second growth classification.) Early last year, he jumped at the opportunity to move to Osoyoos Larose in the Okanagan.

“Taillan owns a lot of property in Bordeaux,” he says. These range from producers of medium-priced wines to “a very expensive one like Gruaud-Larose. When we did some tastings to compare Osoyoos Larose with some of the best Grand Cru in Bordeaux, it was obvious that we could compare it. Osoyoos Larose belongs among the famous good wines in the world. The quality of the terroir for Osoyoos Larose is unbelievable.”


Osoyoos Larose makes just two red wines: Le Grand Vin and, in the Bordeaux tradition, a lower-priced second wine, Pétales d’Osoyoos. In part, the wine is a home for the barrels judged to be less ageable, with lower tannin, that what is blended for Le Grand Vin. It is made in a different style so that the wine is fruitier and more accessible when young than Le Grand Vin. Pétales is by no means a lesser wine.


Le Grand Vin is a classically Bordeaux-styled red, deliberately structured to be cellared at least to its 10th birthday, if not longer. It is one of the premiere collector wines from the Okanagan. Unlike most other Okanagan icon reds, the production is large enough that any serious collector can find it and buy it.


The current release of Le Grand Vin is from the 2009 vintage. The current Pétales is from 2010.


Recently, a small group of us assembled to taste a vertical of every vintage of Le Grand Vin. We learned several things. Even though there is inevitable vintage variation, it never obscures the consistent style and personality of this wine. You always know you have Le Grand Vin in the glass.


Secondly, the wine develops magnificently as it ages, peaking somewhere between six and eight years and then holding at that level for another six to eight years. Le Grand Vin sells for $45. As Mathieu discovered, it can hold its own against many pedigreed Bordeaux reds.


Here are notes from the vertical tasting. The Pétales d’Osoyoos was tasted separately.

Le Grand Vin 2001: Total production 2,200 12-bottle cases. This is 66% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. I had this wine two years ago from a magnum, which it still showed good fruit. The standard bottle ages faster and this vintage is fading. The flavours are drying out and the tannins, while not hard, seem somewhat dusty. However, my do not resuscitate judgment  was a bit premature. A third of a bottle remained in a carafe until the following day. The wine revived to show glimmers of fruit and reasonably full texture. We had no trouble finishing the wine at dinner.

Le Grand Vin 2002: Production 6,775 six-bottle cases. This is 57% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. The colour is darker and the texture still has some flesh. The cassis aromas and flavours mingle with hints of cigar box. While the wine will not get better, it is still very satisfying.

Le Grand Vin 2003: Production 19,700 six-bottle cases. This is 75% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This wine began with a glorious of cassis and red fruit and delivered rich flavours and a full weight to the palate. At its peak now, this is an impressive wine. This vintage and the 2007 were the favourite wines of the tasting.

Le Grand Vin 2004: Production 18,500 six-bottle cases. This is 68% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. Bottle age has given this wine an alluring cassis perfume. There is concentrated fruit on the palate – blackberries and black currant – with a touch of chocolate and espresso coffee on the finish.

Le Grand Vin 2005: Production 20,950 six-bottle cases. This is 67% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. This is an elegant wine with silky tannins. It seems to have less power than either the preceding or succeeding vintages, but the wine is more polished and rather pretty.

Le Grand Vin 2006: Production 20,250 six-bottle cases. This is 69% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. This wine has a dense, chewy texture with ripe tannins supporting earthy notes of black currant and coffee. Some tasters thought there was a hint of bitterness – probably something that will disappear entirely with another year or two of age.

Le Grand Vin 2007: Production 15,000 six-bottle cases. This is 70% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. In this vintage, the winery moved to aging the wine for 20 months, up from 16 months, in new and one-year-old barrels.  Once again, the tannins are silky and the texture is juicy. There are notes of cassis and mocha in the aroma and on the palate. The wine’s elegant balance impressed all of the tasters.

Le Grand Vin 2008: Production 18,000 six-bottle cases. This is 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine has just begun its development to a glorious future, with a bold and ripe texture and flavours that include blackberry, black currant and pepper.

Le Grand Vin 2009: ($45 for a production of 16,000 six-bottle cases). This is 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. The wine was aged 20 months in French oak, with 60% of the barrels being new, 40% being one year old. Dark in colour and concentrated in texture, this wine still shows its youthful tannins. Decanting helps reveal aromas of sage, blueberry and cedar with lush layers of plum and black currant. 94+

Pétales d’Osoyoos 2010 ($25 for 10,100 six-bottle cases). This is 58% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. The wine was also aged 20 months but in one and two-year-old French oak. It saw no new oak. The wine has generous aromas and flavours of black currant, blueberry sage and even a hint of chocolate. The tannins are relatively soft, giving this wine an early drinkability while waiting for Le Grand Vin to be ready. The winery advising drinking it within three years of its release. 91.


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