Monday, November 13, 2017

Laughing Stock ferments Syrah in clay

Photo: Laughing Stock's David Enns

Five years ago, Laughing Stock Vineyards co-proprietor and winemaker David Enns added a pair of 500 litre terracotta clay amphorae to his winemaking tools.

The Romans, and probably earlier civilizations, fermented, stored and shipped wines in amphorae. When the Romans occupied the Iberian Peninsula, they planted extensive vineyards, shipping the wine back to Rome and other parts of their empire in amphorae. The empties were not returned to the vineyards, for practical reasons. It has been said that one of Rome’s seven hills consists of broken amphorae (an improbable story).

The amphorae at Laughing Stock are strictly for making and storing wine. The wine gets to the consumer is glass bottles.

This fall’s releases from Laughing Stock included the winery’s flagship red, Portfolio, as well as the Okanagan’s first Amphora Syrah. The winery made just 100 cases of the Syrah, a delicious natural wine that is already sold out.

The previous amphora releases from Laughing Stock were Viognier Roussanne blends released as orange wines. Those wines get colour from prolonged skin contact and perhaps a touch of oxidation. The style has become all the rage with sommeliers. They are welcome to all the orange wine they can drink and/or sell.

In the 2016 vintage, David fermented Syrah in his amphorae with altogether more pleasing results, at least to my palate.

“Part of the experience of working with Amphorae,” the winery explains, “has been to explore the boundaries of winemaking. Each year David has left the wine ‘on the skins’. In past vintages the Viognier Roussanne has been left on the skin progressively longer, starting with 5 weeks and ending with 5.5 months on the third vintage.”

He pushed the envelop further with the 2016. “We placed the Syrah grapes in our Amphorae and left them fully untouched for eight months,” the winery said. “After 10 days, the wild ferment began at a low temperature and slowly progressed for five weeks. This hands-off approach results in slower extraction from the grape skins, while the tannin works as a natural oxidant.”

Portfolio 2015, one of the iconic red wines from the Okanagan, is made more conventionally. The berries are fermented in both stainless steel and oak, and the wine is aged 20 months in French oak (40% new, 60% second fill).

I have always enjoyed Portfolio. This vintage is no exception.

Here are notes on the wines.

Laughing Stock Amphora Syrah 2016 (Sold out). The wine begins with aromas of plum and black cherry with a hint of pepper. On the palate, this is bold, ripe wine with flavours of figs and dark chocolate. The texture is rich, with just enough tannin to give the wine ability to age. The winery recommends cellaring it five to seven years from the vintage. 90.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2015 ($44.90 plus tax for 2,500 cases). The blend is 45% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. When poured in the glass, the wine’s aromas just bound out: cassis, blueberry, blackberry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of sweet fruit: cassis, black cherry and mulberry. The long, ripe tannins are polished. The wine is full-bodied, with a long elegant finish. Previous vintages have cellared well for at least 10 years. This wine is approachable now but there is no hurry to drink it. 94.


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