Friday, August 26, 2016

Tasting River Stone wines with visitors

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane

Once again this summer, a neighbour had a house guest from New York who knows wines and is curious about British Columbia wines.

Once again, we organized a tasting for him and several other neighbours around an interesting Okanagan winery. Last year, it was Moon Curser Vineyards of Osoyoos. This year’s choice was River Stone Estate Winery of Oliver.

It is a privilege for a wine reviewer to taste and rate these wines in the company of knowledgeable palates who bring other insights to what is in the glass. On this evening, I benefitted from the assistance of five other palates. Several of the tasters now want to buy some of the wines they have tasted.

For background on River Stone, here is what I wrote in John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
Like any serious wine lover, Ted Kane would like to taste Cheval Blanc, a legendary Bordeaux red with an astronomic price tag. The difference between Ted and the rest of us is that he has the grapes to make a wine in that style. Cheval Blanc is primarily a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which Ted grows along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. “This site is great with Cabernet Franc,” he says of his vineyard. “At some point, I am going to make a Cabernet Franc Merlot blend, just to see what it can do. I like that Cheval Blanc idea.”

He worried – needlessly, as it turned out – that there might be no more good vineyard sites available before he and his wife, Lorraine, then a medical student, bought this riverside property in Oliver in 2001. Born in Edmonton in 1962, Ted was so focussed on wine growing that he grew grapes in a greenhouse there just to learn how. They moved to Oliver in 2002, planting a three -hectare (seven-acre) vineyard while Lorraine, now the mother of three, began a family medicine practice.

River Stone’s well-drained property has ideal slopes to the south, the southeast and the southwest. The vineyard is planted in the French tradition, in the proportions Ted wanted for Corner Stone, the Merlot-dominant flagship blend that the winery launched with the 2009 vintage. “My Bordeaux blend is transitioning a bit,” he says after experience gained in subsequent vintages. “My blend is still Merlot driven but Cabernet Franc is equal to or greater than the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Cabernet Franc does better on my property than Cabernet Sauvignon.” Recently, he grafted Petit Verdot onto a small block of Cabernet Sauvignon, not so much for viticultural issues but to grow all five Bordeaux reds for the 450 or so cases of Corner Stone made every year.

River Stone’s wines all are estate grown, with the minor exception of Splash!, the refreshing summer white that includes Viognier from a neighbour.  “The vineyard is where it starts out and what carries us from season to season,” Ted says. “The best grapes make the best wines. I wanted to see where that was going to take us.”

River Stone Pinot Gris 2015 ($19.90). One member of our tasting group (a Francophile when it comes to wine) said this wine, with its ripe flavours and slightly warming alcohol, reminded him of Alsace. That is a high compliment, considering that Alsace produces benchmark Pinot Gris wines. This wine begins with aromas of peach and cantaloupe, leading to flavours of pear. It is a generous wine with good weight and with a dry finish. 90.

River Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($19.90 for 117 cases). Our Francophile taster compared this to Sancerre in style, with its herbal notes on the nose and palate, along with flavours of lime and lemon. There is also a flinty note on the finish. The wine has so much power in the glass than one wants to call it “thespian.” 92.

River Stone Malbec Rosé 2015 ($19.90 for 215 cases). This is a dark-hued rosé with intense and luscious flavours of raspberry and cherry. The winemaking technique sets out to extract colour, red berry aromas and flavours by letting the grapes (60% remain whole) to cold soak on their juice for 24 to 48 hours. After pressing, the wine is then fermented in stainless steel. This is a robust rosé (13.8% alcohol) that calls for salmon on the grill. 90.

River Stone Cabernet Franc 2014 ($27.90 for 150 cases). This is a bold and rustic (in a positive way) red, with brambly red fruit aromas. There are flavours of blackberry and black cherry with a touch of plum and tobacco and subtle notes of oak. 90.

River Stone Stones Throw 2013 ($24.90). The blend is Merlot (78%), Cabernet Sauvignon (11%), Petit Verdot (7%) and Malbec (4%). One might think of this as a little brother to Corner Stone, except for the lengths the winemaker goes to in making it. The grapes are essentially fermented as whole berries (only 20% are crushed) after three to five days of cold-soaking. The berries are fermented in small totes and tanks to increase the juice to skin ratio. The finished wine ages 14 months in French oak (33% new). The wine begins with aromas of black currant, vanilla and tobacco, leading to smoky, brooding flavours of plum and black currant. Our tasters attributed the brooding note to the Petit Verdot in the blend. 91.

River Stone Corner Stone 2012 ($31.90 for 339 cases). This is Merlot (57%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Cabernet Franc (14%), and Malbec (8%). The winemaking protocol is similar to that for Stones Throw. The wine’s 18 months in French oak (33% new) and further time in bottle has polished the tannins and added flesh to the texture. Dramatic aromas of plum, cassis and vanilla lead to flavours of black cherry, coffee and chocolate. While this is drinking well now, it will just get better with another five years in the cellar. 94.


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