Saturday, October 14, 2017

Black Sage Vineyards and Sumac Ridge wines

Photo: Winemaker Jason James

Historically, the Black Sage Vineyard wines were part of the portfolio of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

In 2012, Constellation Brands– which then owned Sumac Ridge – decided to carve out Black Sage Vineyard as a brand on its own, occupying higher price points.  Subsequently, Constellation sold its Canadian wineries to the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. The Canadian group now operates as Arterra Wines Canada.

The winemaker for both Sumac Ridge and Black Sage is Jason James. The current releases from the two brands showcase both the 2016 and the 2015 vintage. The latter, according to Black Sage publicists, was “one of the finest vintages in the last 100 years.” It certainly was a strong year for red wines.

First, some history that lies behind separating the brands. The Black Sage vineyard, originally about 115 acres, was planted in 1993 and 1994 by Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters. It was then the single largest block of Bordeaux varietals planted in Canada. That was seen as risky until the grapes enabled the winery to make award-winning wines. Those wines were generally released with the vineyard name on the label, selling at a premium compared to the other wines in the extensive Sumac Ridge portfolio.

The rationale for carving out the Black Sage brand was laid out by Constellation in 2012.  “Black Sage Vineyard and wines it creates have always been special,” the company explains. “People always remembered the Black Sage Vineyard wines AFTER they tasted them. Consumer research told us that customers were confused by Sumac Ridge’s multiple tiers and many products. Black Sage Vineyard wines were deemed a lesser quality mostly due to the complexity of the portfolio. We believe that Black Sage Vineyard wines are some of the best out there.”

Arterra continues to believe in the logic of unbundling brands.

As the price points indicate, the brands are positioned for different consumers, or for those who use price to determine what they drink on Tuesday nights and what they drink for Sunday dinner. The spread between the two brands is roughly $10 a bottle. But neither brand is expensive.

While the quality of both is good, the difference is noticeable on the palate. The Black Sage Vineyards wines are more intense, reflecting better-grown fruit from that legendary vineyard.

The Black Sage reds are all from the hot 2015 vintage. That accountants for the richness of the wine - that and the fact that the fruit is from mature vines.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Sumac Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($13.99). The wine begins with herbal and citrus aromas. On the palate, the zesty, grassy flavours include lime and lemon. The acidity is nicely balanced with a hint of sweetness. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Sumac Ridge Gewurztraminer 2016 ($14.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and lychee, leading to a palate of tropical fruit, including lychee and apricot, with a touch of ginger spice. The 10 grams of residual sugar make this a sure-fire crowd pleaser. I would have preferred it drier. 87.

Sumac Ridge Merlot 2015 ($14.99). The aromas of black cherry and cassis leap from the glass. On the palate, the wine is soft and juicy, with flavours of black currant, blueberry and black cherry that linger on the finish. 89.

Sumac Ridge Cabernet Merlot 2015 ($14.99). The flavours of blackberry and plum are framed by too much oak. Perhaps this was recently bottled and the oak has not yet integrated. 87.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($25.99). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and black currant jam. It is a bold wine, with soft ripe tannins. The savoury flavours include black cherry and blackberry. It is an excellent example of how good Okanagan Cabernet can be in a hot vintage. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2015 ($25.99). This wine, with a concentrated texture, begins with aromas of black current and blueberry which are echoed on the palate. This is an accessible Merlot with enough boldness and structure to cellar for several years. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015 ($25.99). The tiniest hint of smoke from the 2015 forest fires actually adds character to this lively with, with its brambly aromas and flavour. The wine, which has four per cent Merlot, was aged 15 months in barrels (70% French, 30% American). On the finish, there are toasty notes of blackberries and cherry. (For the record, the winery says ‘the vineyards along the Black Sage Bench were not affected” by smoke.) 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2015 ($28.99). This is a richly satisfying red, Dark on colour, it has aromas and flavours of black cherry, plum, white pepper and spice, with a touch of dark chocolate on the finish. The tannins are long and supple. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 ($25.99). This is a ripe and generous wine, with aromas and flavours of blackberry, raspberry and a medley of dark fruits. 90.


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