Thursday, August 24, 2017

River Stone 2013 Corner Stone and friends

Photo: River Stone's Ted Kane

River Stone Estate Winery’s top red wine, Corner Stone, is included in my new book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries.

Other products from this winery might easily have been included. However, the focus of the book is to highlight one wine (with a few exceptions) that you should collect for your cellar. Corner Stone, a Bordeaux red, is it for River Stone. And the price makes the wine more affordable than a lot of other aspiring icons.

Here is what I have written about River Stone in Icon.

Ted Kane had Corner Stone in mind back in 2003, when he began planting the River Stone vineyard on Tucelnuit Drive, just outside Oliver. In the French tradition, he planted Bordeaux varietals—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec—in the proportions he believed he needed for his blend.

“I knew at the beginning it was going to be a Merlot-forward, Right Bank Bordeaux style because of our cool-climate growing conditions,” Ted says. “Merlot is the most reliable ripener as opposed to Cabernet Sauvignon, which I knew would be the last to ripen.” Consequently, Merlot was the biggest block on the well-drained south-facing slopes. Subsequent experience led him to increase the planting of Cabernet Franc, another reliable ripener. He also replaced five rows of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot in order to grow the full suite needed for a Bordeaux-type blend.

Ted says some have drawn parallels between Corner Stone and Bordeaux’s Château Cheval Blanc, although in the latter’s vineyard, Cabernet Franc takes the lead, followed by Merlot. While he does not mind the compliment inherent in that comparison, Ted says that Corner Stone is made in the New World style, closer to reds from California or Chile. “I wanted to produce wines that had concentration and weight,” he says. “I also found after a short time in France that what I didn’t want was the astringency that was still there after year six on some of the wines.”

Ted, who was born in Edmonton in 1962, began making wines from tree fruits when he was 19. Even as he began a career as a respiratory therapist, he was obsessed with wine-growing. “I built a small greenhouse by my house in Edmonton,” he says. “I bought grapevines from Eastern Canada and propagated and grew them, just so I could learn pruning and trellising and irrigation techniques.” By the late 1990s, while his wife, Lorraine, was completing a medical degree, Ted was anxious to find an Okanagan property before, in her words, “It was all gone.” Good properties were still available in 2001, when they found 3.8 hectares (9.5 acres) of raw land near Oliver, on a hill beside the Okanagan River. They moved there in 2002, planting a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) vineyard while Lorraine began a family medicine practice.

After selling grapes for several years, Ted took advantage of the superb 2009 harvest to make River Stone’s debut vintages. He was mentored in his first vintage by a consulting winemaker, New Zealand–trained Jacqueline Kemp. She remains on call when another palate is needed, but Ted is now comfortable in his ability to grow grapes and make wine.

The individual varietals are fermented in small lots that are aged separately in French oak barrels for 14 to 18 months. By blending time, Ted has identified the best barrels of each varietal. Wine not needed for Corner Stone is blended into Stones Throw, which, in the French tradition, is made for earlier consumption. He also bottles modest volumes of single varietals, offering them in the wine shop and to his wine club.

Perhaps the most notable of these single varietals is the Cabernet Franc, which grows very successfully in the River Stone vineyard. “If I knew back when I planted what I know now, I would have planted more Cabernet Franc,” Ted admits. Much like Cheval Blanc.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Riverstone Sparkling White Merlot 2016 ($22.90). This is, I believe, the first sparkling wine from Riverstone. The wine has a pale salmon hue in the glass, along with lively bubbles. The strawberry in the aroma is echoed on the refreshing palate. The finish is crisp and dry. It is, I think, just missing a touch of residual sugar. 88.

Riverstone Pinot Gris 2016 ($19.90 for 230 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus, leading to flavours of pear, apple and peach. Bright acidity is well balanced with 4.7 grams of residual sugar, giving the wine a crisp finish with a spine of minerality. 90.

Riverstone Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19.90 for 240 cases). The wine begins with aromas of lime leading to flavours of lime, grapefruit and guava. The crisp, focussed fruit flavours suggest a promising Okanagan style where the winemaker is not trying to emulate either New Zealand or the Loire. 91.

Riverstone Cabernet Franc 2015 ($27.90 but sold out). This delicious red begins with brambly aromas of blackberry, raspberry and boysenberry. On the palate, the wine is rich and ripe, with brambly flavours that echo the aroma. The finish is remarkably long, with lingering red berry notes. 92.

Riverstone Stone’s Throw 2014 ($25.90 for 525 cases). The blend is 58% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec and 11% Petit Verdot. The ripe, juicy texture begins with the fermentation technique: 80% of the berries are whole (not crushed), given a three to five-day cold soak, and fermented in small tanks for optimum skin contact. The wine, which was aged 14 months in French oak (30% new), begins with aromas of black cherry. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, black currant, vanilla and sage. The tannins are long and the texture is generous. 91.

Riverstone Corner Stone 2013 ($31.90 for 333 cases).  This is the winery’s flagship red: 47% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot. It was aged 18 months in French oak. Dark in colour, the wine begins with appealing aromas of cassis, cherry and plum. The palate delivers a bowl of dark berry flavours including cherry, boysenberry and black currant. The long ripe tannins give the wine immediate accessibility (decanting is advised) but with the structure to let the wine develop gracefully through to 2023. 93.


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