Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blue Mountain Reserves sell as fast as U2 tickets

Photo: Winemaker Matt Mavety

Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars released three reserve wines from the superb 2014 vintage on April 24, 2017.

I learned recently that the wines sold out that afternoon.

When wine sells almost as quickly as tickets for a U2 concert, that speaks volumes for the loyalty of Blue Mountain customers and the quality of the wines.

Why am I still reviewing the wines? If you bought them, you might like to compare notes. And perhaps Blue Mountain allocated some of the wines for restaurants or select wine shops.

If you have these wines, or come across them in a wine shop, don’t rush to open them. While the three wines are drinking well now, a further year in your cellar will unlock even more complexity.

Blue Mountain is included in my new book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. For most wineries in the book, I chose just one wine; I wanted to focus on wines that might be collected for vertical tastings. I made an exception with Blue Mountain because all of the reserves are collectible.

In fact, when I asked winemaker Matt Mavety which of his wines are collectible, he said: “All of them.” That included the “regular” releases as well as the reserves. It is hard to disagree with that.

Here is an excerpt from the Blue Mountain profile in the book.

The style and consistency of Blue Mountain’s estate-grown wine is such that everything in the portfolio has the cellar longevity that collectors look for. It begins in the 32-hectare vineyard that the Mavety family has farmed for 45 years. “The approach that we take is to treat all the vineyard blocks like a grand cru vineyard,” winemaker Matt Mavety says. “We spend all our time working hard in the vineyards, and we spend time in the cellar to look after all of the wines. Every grape that is brought into here gets handled such as it could be reserve wine.”

Ian and Jane Mavety, Matt’s parents, planted this picturesque Okanagan Falls vineyard in 1971, initially with the hybrid varieties then in demand for winemaking. They began replanting with vinifera in 1985, focusing on the varieties of Burgundy and Alsace, the French terroirs they believed to be most similar to their vineyard. The winery opened in 1992 with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir from the 1991 vintage, followed shortly by the 1991 Blue Mountain Brut and a 1993 Chardonnay.

The winery soon began making its eminently collectible reserves, beginning with a 1992 Vintage Reserve sparkling wine (subsequently phased out). Striped labels were designed to differentiate the reserve wines from the regular wines, released with cream-coloured labels. The winery released its first reserve table wines in 1996—a 1994 Pinot Noir, and a Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the 1995 vintage. Blue Mountain gained international recognition when it was the first Canadian winery invited to the prestigious International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon, to pour its 1994 Pinot Noir Reserve.

Since then, Blue Mountain has produced reserve table wines virtually every vintage. The typical volume is 600 to 800 cases of Pinot Noir and about 350 cases of Chardonnay. The reserve sparkling wine was replaced in the 2005 vintage with the R.D.—or “recently disgorged”—which is on the lees for six or seven years before being disgorged. Volumes range from 100 to 200 cases.

No Reserve Chardonnay was made in 2009 (for a 2010 release), a cool vintage, when isolating the reserve fraction would have caused an unacceptable drop in the quality of the cream label Chardonnay. “If it turns out that we cannot take away any of the components to make a reserve without compromising what’s left, we don’t make a reserve,” says Matt Mavety, who became involved in making the wine after completing winemaking studies at Lincoln University in New Zealand in 1997.

The grapes from each vineyard block at Blue Mountain are fermented and aged separately. About nine months after the harvest, the lots are assessed to determine which wines will be blended as reserves and which are destined for the cream label. “We are looking for a little bit more structure, a little bit more body,” Matt says about the reserve level wines. “At the time of blending, it may not necessarily be as powerful, but in time it’ll get there. It really is a fine-tuning exercise.”

Vintage variation aside, the wines are consistent in style and quality. This reflects that Blue Mountain only uses estate-grown grapes. From the very first vintage until 2013, when he died, Blue Mountain employed the same winemaking consultant from California, French-trained Raphael Brisbois. Matt has been the hands-on winemaker in the Blue Mountain cellar for nearly two decades.

The consistency extends to the winery’s choice of oak barrels, which have come almost exclusively from a family-owned cooperage in France, Tonnellerie de Mercurey. “In 1997, I had three or four different cooperages in here,” Matt recalls. “It was decision-making time; do we carry on with this approach? The reality is we were happy with the Mercurey barrels, so we continue to use them.”

Here are notes on the three reserve wines just released.

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Gris 2014 ($28). Sixty percent of this was fermented in stainless steel. The other 40% was fermented and aged eight months in French oak barrels (a mix of new to three-year-old barrels). The wine was bottled in July 2o15 and given extended bottle age to develop before release. It begins with aromas of pear, citrus and vanilla which are echoed on the palate. The finish has notes of pear and spice mingled with citrus. 92.

Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay 2014 ($30). Sixty percent of this wine was fermented and aged 11 months in French oak barrels (new to three years old). The remainder was fermented in stainless steel. The portions were blended and aged a few months on the lees before being bottled. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of apple, lemon, butter and vanilla mingled with a hint of lees. The wine has good weight on the palate with enough acidity to finish crisply. 93.

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($40). To develop the intense flavours and deep colour in this wine, the lightly crushed grapes were macerated 16 to 20 days. The wine was fermented entirely with wild yeast and was aged 16 months in French oak barrels. The barrels added toasted notes to the aroma and the flavour. There are spice and cherry notes on the nose and on the palate. The rich flavours have a lingering finish while the texture is elegant. The winery suggests this could age seven to eight years. 93.


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