Friday, May 1, 2015

Naramata Bench 2015 tasting: Part One.

Photo: Naramata winegrowers Will (l) and Bryan Hardman

The most crowded wine real estate in the Okanagan is the Naramata Bench, a loosely defined area that stretches from Penticton to the Chute Lake turnoff north of Naramata.

Including a few virtual wineries, there are 38 producers. You can drive from one end to the other in 45 minutes, without breaking the speed limit. Only a teetotaller would fail to find something to drink here. Most wine tourists are just overwhelmed by the choices.

The Naramata Bench Wineries Association represents 25 of those producers. The association has just concluded its annual spring tasting events in Victoria and Vancouver. Those attending likely also were overwhelmed by the choices. Even after spending six hours at the Vancouver tastings, I still missed a few wineries.

That is not to complain. Two decades ago, there were not this many wineries in all of British Columbia. There certainly was not the quality of wine either. British Columbia’s wine consumers are fortunate indeed.

For those unable to attend, here are my notes on some of the wines. I am dividing the reviews in several parts, so as not to post an excessively long document.

The prices are close but sometimes not exact, thanks to the government’s decision to separate the taxes. Add about 15% to prices ending on odd numbers.

Deep Roots Winery, which opened last year, is one of the newest of the Naramata wineries, but, as the name suggests, one with roots. Bryan Hardman and his son, Will, the winemaker, are one of the two winery owners actually born in the region. (Robert Van Westen of Van Westen Vineyards is the other.)

Deep Roots Pinot Gris 2014 ($19). This wine begins with honey and mango aromas, leading to flavours of pear and apple. The slightly off-dry finish gives the wine a plump texture. 90.

Deep Roots Unoaked Chardonnay 2014 ($21). Long, cool fermentation with this wine (as with the Pinot Gris) have preserved aromas and flavours of tropical fruit. It begins with aromas of mango and cantaloupe leading to flavours of mango, melon, peach and papaya. 89.

Deep Roots Rosé 2014 ($19). This is two-thirds Merlot, one-third Gamay, with a deep colour from four days of skin contact. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry, with an off-dry finish that gives the wine a fleshy texture. 89.

Deep Roots Gamay 2014 ($22). Approachable and easy drinking, this wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and blackberry with white pepper and spice on the finish. 88.

Deep Roots Merlot 2013 ($26). This is a full-bodied Merlot with intense aromas of plum and blueberry, leading to flavours of black currant, blueberry and vanilla. 90.

Deep Roots Malbec 2013 ($28). This begins with the classic and appealing Malbec aromas – violets, spice and plums. On the palate there are flavours of plums and mulberry. The firm texture suggests this will age well. 90.

Deep Roots Syrah 2013 ($34). This wine has the typical note of black pepper on the nose and the palate, accentuating the earthy, gamey flavours that mingle with dark chocolate and plum. 90.

Deep Roots Frosted Pinot 2014 ($22 for 375 ml). The bounteous harvest of 2014 allowed the Hardmans to leave some Pinot Gris for late harvest. The grapes for this were picked on three days, all at or near Icewine temperatures. Will blended the three lots to make a delicious dessert wine with intense tropical fruit aromas and flavours. The fresh acidity balances the sweetness and leaves the palate refreshed. 90.

Elephant Island Orchard Wines has, since opening in 2001, established itself as one of the best fruit wineries in British Columbia. In recent years, it has also added three grape wines to its portfolio, under the Unconventional Wisdom label.

Unconventional Wisdom “The Other Way” Chardonnay 2014 ($17.39). This is a brand new wine from this producer, made because owners Del and Miranda Halladay bought a small vineyard a few years ago that grows, among other varieties, some Chardonnay. This is a crisp and refreshing wine, with just three months in oak, recalls a Chablis, with citrus aromas and flavours and a backbone of minerals. 90.

Unconventional Wisdom “I Told You So Viognier” 2013 ($22.99). This is a glorious expression of tropical fruit aromas and flavours, with notes of spice, pineapple and ripe apricots. 91.

Elephant Island Pink Elephant Sparkling Brut 2012 (21.79). This is a refreshing bottle fermented sparkling wine made with Granny Smith apples and a cassis dosage. The flavours are generous and long-lasting. The finish is crisp. 90.

Elephant Island Pear 2013 ($14.79). Crisp and fresh, this has flavours of spice and pear with a hint of mint and liquorice on the dry finish. 90.

Elephant Island Cherry 2014 ($14.79). Dark in colour, this wine’s aromas and flavours have the gamey, meaty notes of a good rare steak. The finish is dry. This would indeed pair well with venison. 90.

Elephant Island Blackberry 2014 ($15.69). If I had tasted this blind, I might have taken it for a medium-bodied Cabernet Franc that has spent time in good new French oak. The wine was, in fact, fermented in stainless steel. The spicy flavours are all blackberry and the impression of oak likely comes from the seeds. 90.

Elephant Island Crab Apple Wine 2013 ($16.59 for 375 ml). The tangy acidity turbocharges the crisp and refreshing apple flavours. 90.

Elephant Island Apricot Desert Wine 2013 ($16.59 for 375 ml). Well-balanced with good acidity, this has appealing spicy fruit flavours. 90.

Elephant Island Framboise Fortified Wine ($17.39 for 375 ml). This is like smelling and drinking raspberry jam. The aromas are intense and the flavours just last and last. The wine is rich but neither cloying nor heavy. 92.

La Frenz Winery, which opened in 2000, has a very long portfolio. This is the one to take to a dessert island because it covers almost all wine styles except sparkling wine.

La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($18.99). This is refreshing, with aromas and flavours of lime and lemon around a backbone of crisp acidity and minerality. 91.

La Frenz Sémillon 2013 ($19.09). This is loaded with tropical aromas and flavours – honeyed notes of lime and papaya. 91.

La Frenz Riesling 2014 ($17.29). New to the portfolio, this is from a young planting near the winery. The wine is crisp and tangy, with aromas and flavours of citrus around a spine of minerals. 89.

La Frenz Viognier 2014 ($18.99). This begins with aromas of pears and apricots, leading to flavours of apricots, figs and marmalade. A gentle warmth of alcohol lingers in the background of this ripe and rich wine. 89.

 La Frenz Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 ($27.79) and ‘Desperation Hill’ Pinot Noir 2012 ($19.99). The grapes are from the same vineyard but the reserve, a selection of best lots and best barrels, is more of everything. The reserve has aromas of strawberries, cherries and vanilla, with a refreshing and silky structure. A very pretty wine. 92.

La Frenz Grand Total Reserve 2012 ($34.69). This blend of the five Bordeaux varieties is the pinnacle of the La Frenz reds. A powerful wine, it has notes of black cherry, cassis and leather on the nose, leading to rich, ripe flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate and vanilla. 93.

Lake Breeze Vineyards, coming up to its 20th anniversary next year, is planning to enlarge its tasting room and add a new barrel cellar. Currently, an expanded winery park lot is being completed to handle the crowds at this popular winery.

Lake Breeze Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17.39). This is a refreshing white with crisp and focussed aromas and flavours of herbs, lime and lemon. 91.

Lake Breeze Pinot Gris 2014 ($16.59). In my view, this is a must-have Pinot Gris from this vintage. It is just bursting with clean, fresh flavours of apples, ripe pear, ripe pineapple and citrus. 92.

Lake Breeze Spice Jar 2014 ($16.49). This is a lively and quaffable blend of Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Schönburger. The spicy aroma leads to flavours of tangerine, ripe apple and lychee. 90.

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Chardonnay 2012 ($21.79). This begins with appealing aromas of cloves and citrus, leading to flavours of tangerine and ripe apple, with lingering fruit and spice on the long finish. 90.

Lake Breeze Merlot 2012 ($17.39). This is a ripe, almost jammy wine with concentrated flavours of cassis, black cherry and blueberry. 90.

Lake Breeze Meritage 2012 ($18.29). This is a firm, ageable red with favours of black currant and coffee, and an earthiness on the finish. The core of sweet fruit is not yet fully emerged. Decant this before drinking. 88.

Lake Breeze Pinot Noir 2012 ($22.69). This is a bit of a brooding earthy style, with a firm structure and flavours of cherry. I would certainly age this for another three to five years. 89.

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