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
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
“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
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
($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
($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
($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
La Frenz Reserve
($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.
La Frenz Vivant 2014
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
($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
($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
($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
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
La Frenz Malbec 2014
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
($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.