Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Quails' Gate releases some pleasant surprises

Photo (courtesy Quails' Gate): Harvest at Quails' Gate

Why am I even reviewing the latest releases from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery?

You don’t need my guidance. When was the last time you tasted a Quails’ Gate wine that disappointed you? These are wines you can order by the case without tasting them, secure in the knowledge that the only surprises will be positive.

So let’s talk about the surprises in the latest releases. One is a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the winery’s West Kelowna vineyard which, as we all know, is too far north for this varietal. Wait until you tuck into this wine.

Another is the $40 price tag on the Old Vines Foch Reserve. The wine is worth it, certainly. It is just that Maréchal Foch once was the butt of derision: one Okanagan vintner famously said that the varietal was not imported from France but rather deported from there.

Richard Stewart, the scion of the family that owns Quails’ Gate, planted Foch in 1956 (as did many others). Much of the Okanagan’s Foch was pulled out in 1988 because the variety was judged mediocre. The problem was that almost every grower was over-cropping what was already a naturally vigorous varietal. The resulting reds were thin and acidic.

Quails’ Gate single-handedly salvaged the reputation of Foch in 1994 when the winery began making Old Vines Reserve. In recent vintages, Sperling Vineyards, which has Foch vines almost as old, has released a Foch Reserve at $32, further underlining that this is good varietal is well grown.

Another surprise is the volume of Pinot Noir being made at Quails’ Gate. The Stewarts planted this varietal as early as 1975, although the majority of the vines are about 20 years old. The Mount Boucherie terroir seems to deliver top-flight Pinot Noirs consistently.

The winery also makes a lot of Chardonnay. That varietal, along with Pinot Noir, are particular focuses at Quails’ Gate.

Here are notes on current releases.

Quails’ Gate Chardonnay 2013 ($19.99 for 8,960 cases). Half of this wine was barrel-fermented but the other half was fermented in tank. This technique delivers the best of both worlds: aromas and flavours of melon, apples and citrus that mingle with toasty, butter notes from the oak. The bright, fresh acidity gives the wine a crisp finish. 90.

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2013 ($40 for 2,230 six-pack cases). The winery believes this is one of Okanagan’s best Chardonnays. I am inclined to agree. Barrel-fermented and aged six months on the lees, it is packed with flavours of citrus and cloves with buttery caramel reflecting the new French oak and the full malolactic fermentation. The acidity is still fresh. There is just the slightest residual sugar here to flesh out the texture. 92.

Quails’ Gate Merlot 2012 ($24.99 for 3,177 cases). This ripe and robust wine – 14.5% alcohol – includes five per cent each of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has aromas and flavours of plum, black cherry, blackberry and cassis. The dollop of sweet fruit on the mid-palate is framed by firm, but not hard, tannins. The texture is full and the wine is delicious. 90-91.

 Quails’ Gate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($26.99 for 1,100 cases). Try telling the owners of Quails’ Gate that you cannot grow good Cabernet Sauvignon in the north Okanagan – and then taste this wine, made with grapes grown on the slopes of the winery’s Boucherie Mountain vineyards! To be sure, 2012 was an excellent vintage. This wine, which has nine per cent Merlot in the blend, is one of the standouts. The appeal of the wine begins with aromas of ripe berries lifted by notes of vanilla and mocha. On the palate, there are flavours of cassis and blackberry with a hint of minerality on the finish. The texture is generous and the finish lingers. The winery believes this will cellar well for up to 10 years. 91.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2012 ($40 for 1,200 cases). I believe I have tasted every vintage of Foch Reserve. This is perhaps the most refined example of a variety few think of as refined. The wine begins with aromas of sweet, jammy fruit, accentuated by the sweetness of the new American oak in which it has been aged. There are flavours of plum, cherry, cola and spice. Generous in texture, it has an exotic gaminess on the finish. This would be my choice for venison. 91.

Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.99 for 7,000 cases).  Intense, vibrant and sophisticated are descriptors for this wine. It begins with smoky aromas of raspberry and blackberry and delivers flavours of cherry and blackberry. Still youthfully firm, this wine has just begun to develop the varietal’s classic silky texture. There is a note of spice on the finish. 90.

Quails’ Gate Fortified Vintage Foch 2012 ($25 for 394 cases of 375 ml). This is a Port-style wine that starts with very ripe Maréchal Foch grapes. During fermentation, the wine is fortified to 18% alcohol, leaving it with 96 grams of residual sugar per litre (nine on the sweetness scale). It also has been aged 18 months in oak barrels. The aromas – plums, currants and spices – recall a very good fruitcake. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate, with an appealing sweetness that lingers on the finish. Think of a medium-bodied, elegant Ruby Port. 90.


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