Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Hester Creek wines: textbook consistency

Photo: Winemakers Robert Summers and Mark Hopley

These wines were released in two tranches last fall. It was my intention to review them while Hester Creek still was celebrating its 50th anniversary of growing grapes. Other tasks plus the holidays got in the way.

The limited volume wines may now be hard to find. However, Hester Creek makes many of these wines in good volume and distributes them widely. However, the very small lot wines under the Terra Unica label are available only to Hester Creek wine club.

The consistently high quality of the Hester Creek wines is attributable to several factors beginning with the very good estate vineyard. Some of the blocks of vines are 50 years old. Most of the plants are at least 10 years old.

Secondly, the winery, which was built 10 years ago to produce 35,000 cases a year, was so well designed that the capacity is closer to 60,000 cases. It is equipped with Italian-designed fermentation tanks (no other Okanagan winery has them) that enable making red wines with soft tannins and generous textures. There is a clear house style to Hester Creek reds.

Thirdly, the winemakers – Robert Summers and Mark Hopley – have decades of experience between them. And they have a clear-headed approach to winemaking. For example, they avoid wild ferments, a trendy winemaking technique much in fashion elsewhere.

They do, however, have a few secrets up their sleeves. For example, they add 15% of the previous vintage to the blend of The Judge, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend. That is just enough to ensure a continuity of style from vintage to vintage without obscuring any particular vintage.

“Also, it makes the wine a little more approachable for the consumer,” Rob says. We like to stay away from the game of asking you to take it home and age it for five years. We want it to be approachable when we offer it to the consumers. The Judge does age but it is drinkable when we release it.”

Here are notes on current releases.

Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc 2017 ($18.95 for 200 ml; 460 cases made). This luscious wine was made with fruit from the estate’s old vines Pinot Blanc. The grapes were picked on December 19, 2017, and probably had a touch of frost to further concentrate the sugars. This is a dessert wine for those who find Icewine too sweet. It begins with a lovely aroma of ripe apples and spice.  It is luscious in the mouth, with apple pie flavours. The lively acidity gives the wine an excellent balance and a lingering, fresh and fruity finish. 92

Hester Creek Select Barrels Merlot 2017 ($19.95 for 3,400 cases). Here is a delicious wine made for early drinking. It was aged just eight months in barrel. It begins with aromas of black cherry leading to flavours of plum, black cherry and vanilla. The texture is soft and juicy, giving the wine a pleasing richness on the palate. 91.

Hester Creek Select Barrels Cabernet Merlot 2017 ($19.95 for 4,000 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, aged just eight months in barrel. An easy-drinking red, it has aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant, blackberry and spice. 90.

Hester Creek Character Red 2017 ($20.95 for 3,780 cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. The wines were aged six to eight months in barrel. The wine begins with dramatic aromas of spice and dark fruits. The palate is equally exuberant, with flavours of black cherry mingled with licorice, spice and vanilla. Long ripe tannins give the wine a soft, quaffable texture. 90.

Hester Creek Reserve Merlot Block 2 2016 ($28.95 for 780 cases). This wine, made from the oldest Merlot block on the Hester Creek estate, was aged 16 months in barrel (75% French, 25% American). A concentrated wine, it begins with aromas of cherry, plum, mocha and spice. It delivers flavours of plum, cherry, black currant, vanilla and chocolate. 92.

Hester Creek Syrah Viognier 2016 ($28.95 for 1,100 cases). Adding a small quantity of Viognier, usually during fermentation, is a traditional Rhône technique to lift the aromatics. This wine begins with aromas of raspberry, cherry and pepper, with a floral lift. On the rich palate, there are flavours of plum and blueberry with a touch of pepper. This is an elegant wine with a long finish. 93.

Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Reserve 2016 Block 3 ($28.95 for 1,675 cases). This wine shows the depth and complexity than can be achieved with old vines (about 50 years old). The wine, which was aged 18 months in oak (75% French, 25% American), begins with what the winery calls a “heady” aroma – blackberry, black cherry and vanilla. The palate shows richly layered fruit – blackberry, raspberry – with notes of leather and tobacco on the long finish. 92.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Cabernet Syrah 2016 ($32.95 for 110 cases). This exceptional wine was available just to Hester Creek’s wine club. It is a blend of two-thirds estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah from a Black Sage Bench vineyard comprising the other third. The varietals are blended early in the winemaking process and then aged 18 months in oak (70% French, 30% American). The wine begins with aromas of black currant and spice. The dark fruit on the palate has layers of flavour, including black cherry, plum, blackberry mingled with dark chocolate. 93.

Hester Creek The Judge 2015 ($49.95). This is Hester Creek’s iconic Bordeaux blend, which has been made in every vintage since 2007. This vintage is a blend of 38% Cabernet Franc, 29.5% Merlot, 28.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and two per cent each of Petit Verdot and Malbec. The wine was aged 24 months in 75% French and 25% American oak. A powerful yet elegant wine, it begins with aromas of black currant, black cherry and vanilla. The palate delivers savoury flavours of dark fruits, vanilla, mocha and spice. 95.


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