Saturday, September 5, 2015

River Stone triggers a closure discussion


Photo: River Stone Estate Winery (courtesy of winery)

As if the wine business is not tough enough, there are still times when the cork supplier lets a producer down.

When I received this year’s samples from River Stone Estate Winery, the Malbec rosé was the first wine I opened. That wine had become a favourite around our house.

The wine was corked! I set aside the other samples until I could get to the Okanagan to pick up a fresh rosé.

Then I thought there was a cork issue with another wine, which made for another trip to the Okanagan to taste the entire range at the winery. I usually do not take so long to get reviews posted but I did not want to take any chances. The wines at River Stone have always been very well made.

I was also somewhat concerned that I had something to do creating the apparent cork issue. Several years ago, owner and winemaker Ted Kane released his wines with what I would call economy corks. I thought they created the wrong image for a winery releasing premium wines and I said so.

Subsequent releases have come with premium corks. They look much better, even if one or two were not doing the job this year.

Winery owners must spend hours agonizing over closures, especially when it comes to changing the closure.

Let me quote a recent conversation I had with Hagen and Roland Kruger, who handle winemaking and marketing at Wild Goose Vineyards. The winery uses only screw caps, having begun to switch very cautiously in 2006.

“I wanted to move to screw cap and Hagen was very reluctant,” Roland said. “He wasn’t against it but we started very carefully, using it for 300 cases of The Stony Slope Riesling. All the rest were under cork. The following year we did a couple of thousand cases and we slowly switched over.”

“I would encourage all winemakers to just go to screw caps,” Hagen says now. “There is always reluctance to change, but I went out and got this book, Taming The Screw, and it tells you everything you need to know about screw caps. Yes, it is a different process but it is not something we should be afraid to do.”

The screw cap for wine bottles has been around for a couple of decades. It was a response to the unacceptable amount of cork taint that wineries had begun to experience. Badly corked wines smell and taste like a musty root cellar; mildly corked wines are dull enough to discourage repeat purchases.

The cork producers, after losing market share to screw caps (and even synthetic corks), have responded with major quality improvements. Corked wines are very much rarer than they once were.

A good case can be made for continuing to use cork for wines meant to be aged. I would expect there will always be a role for natural cork at River Stone, although the rosé and perhaps the whites might migrate to screw cap.

Here are notes on the current releases.

River Stone Gewürztraminer 2014 ($18). Here is a Gewurz with lots of personality. It begins with aromas of spice and lychee, leading to flavours of lime and grapefruit. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.

River Stone Pinot Gris 2014 ($19.90). This wine begins with aromas of citrus and peach, leading to flavours of apple, pear, melon and nectarine. The wine is generous on the palate, with a lingering medley of fruit on the dry finish. 90.

River Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($18). This wine has an appealing aroma of lime and lemon. Those are echoed on the palate, along with hints of herbs and minerals. The lively acidity leaves the wine crisp and refreshing. 91.

River Stone Malbec Rosé 2014 ($19.90). This rosé has a strikingly dark hue. The aromas of strawberry and cherry are echoed by similar and intense flavours. Fruity and generous, this is not a wimpy rosé. Dry on the finish, this is built for food. 90.

River Stone Cabernet Franc 2013 (Sold out). The wine begins with classic spice brambleberry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of blackberry, black cherry and black currant. The wine comes off as boldly rustic. 90.

River Stone Merlot 2012 ($19.90). This wine has aromas and flavours of cassis, black cherry and blackberry. The tannins are firm but silky and the wine has good concentration. 91.

River Stone Stones Throw 2013 ($23.90). This is 78% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. Dark in colour, it has aromas of blueberry and plum, leading to flavours of plum, black cherry and cassis. The texture is rich and juicy and the finish is long. 91.


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