Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Great Northern's challenge to Amador County

 Photo: Zinfandel in the boiler

Move over, Amador County. Kettle Valley’s Great Northern Vineyard in the Similkameen has arrived.

Amador County is the viticultural area in north central California renowned for its powerful Zinfandel wines.

The 2013 Great Northern Zinfandel just released by Kettle Valley is strikingly reminiscent of a premium Zinfandel from one of Amador County’s wineries.

This is the third vintage of Great Northern Zinfandel. The 2013 vintage took that wine to another level, reflecting perhaps the increasing maturity of the vines. The first vintage was 2011, all of 46 cases. My review of that wine indicated it already had power.

I wrote: “Think California ripeness! The wine has 15.6% alcohol. It is a big, almost porty wine with vanilla and black cherry aromas; spicy brambly flavours; and – as you would expect – a touch of heat on the finish.”

In 2012, 191 cases of Great Northern Zinfandel were produced. I liked it as well: “This wine begins with earthy aromas of plum and leather, leading to robust flavours of plum, black cherry and blackberry. The wine presents a huge dollop of ripe sweet berry flavours to the palate.” The alcohol was 15.5%.

In 2013, 239 cases were produced. As indicated, I think this is the best one yet. The review follows.

The vineyard, which grows Syrah and Viognier as well as Zinfandel, is on a hilltop east of Keremeos, just beside Highway 3 en route to Osoyoos.  It is owned by sisters Colleen Ferguson and Janet Watts. With their husbands, Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts, they own Kettle Valley, which opened in 1996. The vineyard is managed by Andrew Watts, Tim and Janet’s son and an enology graduate of Lincoln University in New Zealand.

The robust performance of Zinfandel speaks well for the sun-drenched terroir of the Similkameen Valley. Zinfandel can be problematic in British Columbia. Because the variety ripens late and unevenly, it needs a lot of hang-time. It seems to be getting it in the Great Northern Vineyard.

The vineyard is named for the railroad that formerly operated through the Similkameen. This proved to be convenient for Kettle Valley. The winery now puts the image on a locomotive on the labels of both brands, neatly telegraphing the family relationship.

Here are notes of current releases from both labels.

Kettle Valley Riesling 2014 ($26 for 189 cases). This wine is made with Naramata Bench grapes. The winery says the wine is “slightly off-dry with significantly less residual sugar than prior vintages.” I don’t recall those vintages; but it seems to me Kettle Valley nailed it with the 2014. The tiny bit of sweetness shows only in the depth and honeyed richness of what is essentially a dry wine. Lightly golden in hue, the wine has aromas of lime and lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of herbs and lime. The wine has good weight and a long finish. 90.

Kettle Valley Barber Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($38 for 45 cases). The leanness of this wine reflects a cool vintage that did not ripen the Cabernet Sauvignon as much as one would have liked. The wine has aromas and flavours of black currant and spice. By aging it 20 months in French oak, the winery achieved elegant tannins. 88.

Kettle Valley Pinot Noir 2012 ($26 for 688 cases). This robust and fleshy wine is made with grapes from four different vineyards, presumably giving the winery a good selection of clones to work with. The wine was aged in French oak barrels for 20 months. It has aromas and flavours of cherry and vanilla. 90.

Great Northern Viognier 2014 ($21 for 317 cases). Here is a rich, ripe Viognier, with a honeyed texture and aromas and flavours of apricot. It is a delicious wine with a long finish. 90.

Great Northern Syrah 2012 ($24 for 239 cases). The vineyard was farmed at just over one ton an acre in a quest for concentrated flavours. The wine, which aged 22 months in French oak, has a rich and plummy aroma, with almost jammy flavours – a meaty melange of plum, black cherry and blueberry. 90.

 Great Northern Zinfandel 2013 ($24 for 263 cases). This has 16% alcohol but the wine is so rich that it does not come across as hot. It has appealing aromas of blackberry and black cherry, echoed in the rich and ripe flavours and the long spicy finish. This is a big, swaggering red wine. One of my table companions took a mouthful and, quite spontaneously, said “yum.” She made the point. 93.


At December 14, 2015 at 9:40 PM , Blogger darren vogler said...

I bought the 2011, 2012 and 2013 GN zin based on the reviews and mostly because I love Kettle Valley. Opened the 2013 last night and was mildly disappointed. It was more like a Pinot. Cherry nose, very little in the mouth. Not a bad finish considering how diluted it felt in the mouth and especially at 16%. At least it wasn't "hot". Had another glass tonight and it was mercifully better, but still barely able to be called a Zinfandel.


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