Photo: Winemaker Dominic McCosker
For years, I have thought that the wines from La Frenz Winery would an excellent choice for a desert island cellar if one were limited to just one Okanagan winery.
The La Frenz portfolio is extensive and the wines have always been well made, as a review of the winery’s awards will attest. Until now, there has been one hole in the portfolio – no sparkling wine. How would one celebrate being rescued from the island?
However, Dominic McCosker, the winemaker who joined La Frenz owner Jeff Martin in 2014, delivered good news when I tasted with him this summer. “We have started doing a sparkling that will fall under the reserve portfolio,” he says.
He admits it is a challenge to develop a focus in a portfolio as extensive at that at La Frenz. “But what do we drop?” he asks. “I enjoy making them all and we believe we make them well. When you are making everything well and selling it all, it is hard. With our vineyards, we have most of the varieties covered.”
Like Jeff, Dominic, who was born in 1976, is from Australia. “Previously, I was working in agricultural labs, research labs; and travelling a lot,” he told me in an interview in 2013. “I liked wine from an early age; my family liked wine. And I like the whole science background to it. I was working in agricultural labs and travelling on and off with my partner … backpacking in Europe. Then we decided to do one last travel and we came to visit some friends here [in the Okanagan] and decided to stay.”
He started in the Okanagan wine industry 2007, in the vineyard and cellar at Tantalus Vineyards. “Then I did some harvests at home,” he said, “and did a college course here to back up my biology degree from at home.”
In 2008, he moved to CedarCreek Estate winery to spend four years as an assistant winemaker. Then he became the winemaker at St. Hubertus Estate Winery for two vintages before moving to La Frenz on the Naramata Bench.
“I took the opportunities that I could,” he said. “The two vintages I did in Australia [2008 and 2011] were really helpful. I worked at Harewood Estate Winery in The Great Southern region for a really good winemaker. He was just super generous with his knowledge. Then the last one I did was at Cape Mentelle.”
Clearly, it has given him the experience and the confidence to take over at La Frenz, one of the most respected wineries in the Okanagan. He has begun to bring some slight changes in the style of some of the wines (less oak in Chardonnay), but not so much as to upset the regular buyers of La Frenz wines.
“I have been working on adding a little more depth and weight to the wines since I got here,” he says. “The Syrah - we have changed from labelling it as Shiraz to Syrah, because that is the style I am doing. If the consumers see Shiraz, they think Australian Shiraz. And that’s not what we are doing. I don’t want them to be disappointed or confused about what it is. I am co-fermenting it with the Viognier and trying to get more finesse. I think it matches better with the fruit we have.”
And he says the 2014 Syrah is his favourite red from that vintage.
Here are notes on current releases. Some are sold out since I tasted with Dominic because I was in Scandinavia for most of August and reporting in tastings was delayed. The prices do not include tax.
La Frenz Riesling 2015 ($17.30). A youthful Riesling, this should be cellared a year to let it develop. It is a wine with pristine aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with just a hint of petrol. 90.
La Frenz Viognier 2015 ($20.78 but sold out). One-third of this was fermented in a concrete egg while the remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The wine begins with ebullient tropical fruit aromas, leading to flavours of guava, stone fruit and citrus on the palate. The texture is rich and the finish is remarkably fresh for such a ripe wine. 92.
La Frenz Alexandria 2015 ($19.04 but sold out). This Muscat wine has a huge following among fans of off-dry white wines. The winery describes it, aptly, as “flamboyant.” It has layers of aromas and flavours – mango, peaches, lychee and rose petal spice. 91.
La Frenz Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($25.13). This wine was aged 15 months in barrel. Dominic has begun to reduce that by a few months but age it longer in bottle before release. But he is moving carefully since there is a wide following for a Chardonnay with noticeable oak. I enjoyed the toasted oak notes on the palate because they are balanced by the bold buttery flavours of guava and marmalade. 91.
La Frenz Vivant 2014 ($21.65). This is Dominic’s take on a Rhone white, with Chardonnay standing for the Marsanne that La Frenz does not grow. The wine is 52% Viognier, 38% Chardonnay and 10% Roussanne. When the varieties were pressed, the free run juice was kept separate; all was fermented very slowly in barrel (10% new) and kept on the lees for nine months, with regular stirring. The result is a wine with floral and fruity aromas, leading to flavours of guava, orange peel and cantaloupe. The texture is rich and the finish is persistent. 92.
La Frenz Ensemblé 2014 ($21.65). This is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sémillon. The wine was fermented slowly in barrel (10% new) and aged 11 months on the lees. The model for this wine is Graves. The wine’s racy acidity brings an appealing freshness to both the aroma and the palate. There are layers of exotic tropical flavours and a long, long finish. 93.
La Frenz Pinot Noir 2014 ($19.91 but sold out). The winery grows its Pinot Noirs on a Naramata Bench vineyard called Desperation Hill, perhaps because of its steep aspect. It has proven to be an excellent vineyard, with variations in soils between the top and the bottom that deliver an array of flavours and concentration. The regular Pinot Noir has plum, cherry and strawberry on the nose and the palate. Silky in texture, the wine has a feminine delicacy. 91.
La Frenz Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 ($30.35). Four clones from the best blocks in the vineyard are in this wine, which finished its slow ferment in French oak (30% new). It was aged a total of 15 months in barrel, two months longer than the regular. The wine has more depth of flavour and concentration. The wine begins with aromas recalling flowers as well as forest floor. It delivers flavours of cherries and strawberries mingled with savoury spice. The texture is absolutely plush and the finish is very long. 94.
La Frenz Syrah 2014 ($24.26). Perhaps five percent Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah, a technique to fix the dark colour and lift the subtle note of violets in the aroma. Full-bodied, the wine has flavours of plum and black cherry, with a savoury earthiness on the palate. There is white pepper both in the aroma and in the finish; and the texture is firm. This is definitely a Rhone-style wine, not a Shiraz. 92.
La Frenz Malbec 2014 ($21.65). Dominic wonders whether this variety is suited to the Okanagan because it is difficult to get it adequately ripe in a cool year. However, 2014 was an very good Malbec year. This is a dark, concentrated red with big ripe tannins. It begins with aromas of blueberry and blackberry, leading to flavours of black cherries, plums and mocha. 91
La Frenz Grand Total Reserve 2013 ($39.04). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend, a dense wine built to age for at least 10 years. (I think La Frenz, like most Okanagan wineries, is on the conservative side about how long the top blend can be cellared.) This is 58% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc. The single varieties were aged 22 months in barrel (50% new) before being blended and aged 12 months in bottle. The wine has aromas of black currant mingled with leather. The palate is big (14.7% alcohol). The layers of flavour – black currant, espresso coffee, dark chocolate – are still held tightly by the tannins. Decant for immediate consumption if you don’t have the patience to wait. 93.
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