Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kettle Valley’s Old Main Red 2012

Photo: Kettle Valley's Old Main Vineyard

The flagship red wine from Kettle Valley Winery is the Bordeaux blend, Old Main Red, named for the vineyard where most of the grapes are grown.

The wine is popular among those who collect and cellar red wines from the Okanagan. The winemaking style at Kettle Valley is well suited to collectible wines.  The winery’s reds, when carefully cellared, will live 15 years, perhaps longer.

I have been researching collectible wines for a forthcoming book. Old Main Red is among those wines. I am taking the liberty of quoting from the text to provide some background to the wine.

The Old Main Vineyard, 1.6 hectares (four acres) in size, is on Old Main Road, a thoroughfare near Naramata Village. It slopes to the west, close to Okanagan Lake; it is sun-bathed all summer but the lake effect tempers the summer heat and keeps the vineyard free of frost very late in autumn.

The vineyard was planted intentionally in 1990 and 1991 to make a Bordeaux blend. “We have three varietals in that one vineyard,” says Tim Watts, who operates the winery with partner Bob Ferguson. “We have a third each, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.” Malbec and Petit Verdot, the other varietals in the wine, were planted subsequently in a nearby Kettle Valley vineyard.

“We were told we were stupid to plant Cabernet Sauvignon,” Tim remembers. “We were told it would never grow. Then we were told after it grew that it would never ripen. Then we were told maybe it will ripen but it will never be any good.” Such was the pessimism in the Okanagan Valley in the early 1990s when the pioneering vintners took a chance on premium varieties.

The three varieties in Old Main Road usually ripen evenly enough that the winery picks them at the same time. The grapes for the Old Main Red blend are co-fermented rather than blended later. “We usually pick them together, crush them together,” Tim says. “There have been a couple of times when we have separated out the Merlot because acids were falling and it was not going to be ideal by the time the Cabernet Sauvignon was ready. For the most part, we pick them altogether. It makes a difference. If you wait a couple of years and then blend things, it will taste like a Cabernet and a Merlot blended together. If you start right from the beginning, it becomes much more harmonious and develops its own set of flavours rather than combinations of the components.”

Old Main Red ages an average of 2o months in French oak barrels (mostly used barrels) before being bottled.  “We started off with one year of barrel aging,” Tim says. “We did that for a while until we discovered that it made a huge difference when the wine aged in oak for a second year. There is so much concentration that goes on in that barrel. We don’t do any humidifying in the barrel room; we are actually looking to have some of that evaporation and concentration.”

Three other wines were included in the recent release from Kettle Valley. Here are notes.

Kettle Valley Adra Station Chardonnay Reserve 2014 ($38 for 119 cases). To make a wine that packs lots of power, the winery allowed the grapes to ripen to 25 brix and then left the crushed grapes cold-soaking three days on the skins before pressing them. The wine was barrel-fermented in French oak.  The slight note of gold in the hue likely is the result of skin contact. The aroma and flavours recall marmalade with a touch of oak. The stated alcohol is 13.5% but it tastes a little more robust than that. 88.

Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2014 ($24). The winery’s Pinot Gris style also is singular. Two days of skin contact extracted both colour and flavour in this pink-hued wine. For added complexity, a portion was barrel-fermented. The wine is utterly delicious, with aromas and flavours of ripe apple and ripe pear. The spicy notes on the finish recall crab-apple flavours. The wine has good weight and the dry finish lingers. 92.

Kettle Valley Stern Vineyard Syrah 2013 ($38 for 48 cases). There is another powerful wine made with grapes from a Naramata vineyard where production is limited to two tons an acre. It begins with smoky aromas of black pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of figs, black olives, liquorice, dark chocolate and tobacco, with pepper on the concentrated finish. 93.

Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2012 ($38 for 430 cases). This wine begins with appealing aromas of spice, cassis, lingonberry and vanilla. On the palate, the vibrant fruit flavours of black cherry, blackberry and plum are framed with notes of vanilla and oak. The tannins are firm but not harsh. The wine should be decanted to immediate consumption; it has the structure and concentration to continue to improve for the next decade before it plateaus. 93.


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