Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Hester Creek's Trebbiano and friends


 Photo: Hester Creek's Robert Summers (l) and Mark Hopley

Followers of this blog will know that I admire all the wines now being made at Hester Creek Estate Winery by Robert Summers and Mark Hopley.

Among the whites, I have had a preference for the Trebbiano. However, the Terra Unica Sémillon makes a fair bid at taking over the top spot. It is, alas, a wine club only wine with just 167 cases produced. There are 2,000 cases of Trebbiano and it is more widely available.

You may also recall my story about trying to convince a winemaker from Tuscany, where lots of Trebbiano grows, that an excellent one is produced in the Okanagan. He just scoffed that it rained too much and the soil was not right. When I countered those arguments, he snapped that “You don’t have the culture.” I gave up trying to open a closed mind.

In fact, it was an Italian immigrant who planted the vines at what is now Hester Creek. Joe Busnardo, the original owner of the winery – it was then called Divino – is believed to have planted the Italian variety in 1968. He sold the vineyard in 1996 to relocate Divino to the Cowichan Valley. He took vine cuttings, including Trebbiano, with him for the Vancouver Island vineyard. If he produced that wine there, it likely disappeared into a blend.

It is not known whether anyone ever asked Joe where he sourced Trebbiano in Italy. There are at least six varieties of Trebbiano listed in Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al. The varietals are not even always related to each other.

The odds are that Hester Creek has Trebbiano Toscano. “It is by far the most widespread of the heterogeneous group of varieties with Trebbiano in their name and the second most widely planted in Italy,” Robinson writes. “It generally disappears into blends or in some countries into a still. Its neutral nature and high acidity make it an ideal candidate for distillation.” It is in fact the same variety as Ugni Blanc, much favoured by French distillers.

Hester Creek’s vines might also be Trebbiano Spoletino, a much less well known Umbrian variety. Joe Busnardo came from Treviso, north of Venice, which is closer to Umbria than to Tuscany.

It would take extensive DNA work to establish which Trebbiano this is. In fact, the Hester Creek vineyard still has a few other old Italian varieties, including one just called Italian Merlot, that need more research. Joe was blazing trail when he started planting the vineyard in 1968 with vines both from Italy and California. He planted as many as 136 varieties, experimenting more than a decade before the Becker project. Pinot Blanc, the most successful varietal in the Becker project, was already thriving at Joe’s vineyard.

Joe and succeeding owners have been winnowing the varietal mix down to what succeeds best here (and with consumers).

Hester Creek has propagated enough Trebbiano from its original block to support an annual production that has now grown to 2,000 cases.

The Sémillon vines were planted in 1997 and 1998, after Joe had sold the winery. Credit for choosing that varietal likely belongs to Frank Supernak, the legendary winemaker who managed Hester Creek from 1996 until his accidental death in 2002. If you belong to the Hester Creek wine club, drink a toast to Frank with this sensational white.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Hester Creek Character White 2018 ($15.99 for 3,500 cases). This is a blend of two-thirds Pinot Gris, one-third Gewürztraminer.  The wine begins with aromas of tropical fruits mingled with pears. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and pear. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2018 ($16.99 for 7,000 cases). Crisply dry, the wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple, with a spine of minerality. 90.

Hester Creek Old Vines Trebbiano Block 16 2018 ($20.99 for 2,000 cases). This wine begins with aromas of papaya and grapefruit. On the palate, there is an intense and rich medley for fruits, including papaya, mango and apple. The finish is dry and lingering. 93.

Hester Creek Terra Unica Sémillon 2018 ($19.99 for 167 cases). Utterly delicious just about covers it, the result of a long cool fermentation in stainless steel (11% was also fermented in French oak). It begins with aromas of honeydew melon, citrus and apricot. Those aromas are echoed on the palate, alone with notes of tangerine and lemon. The finish is crisply dry and very long. 93.

Hester Creek Cabernet Franc Rosé 2018 ($17.99). The wine presents attractively in the glass with a bright ruby hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and rhubarb that are echoed on the palate. The finish is crisp and dry. 90.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blue Mountain 2016 Reserves: Old Vines make a difference

International Chardonnay Day is May 23. Consumers in British Columbia do not lack for excellent Chardonnays to drink on that (or any other) day.

Few producers have been growing Chardonnay and turning it into a consistently fine wine longer than Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars at Okanagan Falls.

The winery has just released its 2016 Reserve Chardonnay. According to the specification sheet, that wine was made with fruit from 27-year-old vines. In other words, from vines that were planted in 1992.

The Mavety family have been growing grapes on their vineyard since the early 1970s. Initially, they were growing the same hybrid varieties that most other vineyards had planted. Conventional wisdom at the time was that the Okanagan was too cool for the classic European grape varieties.

By the mid-1980s, Ian Mavety recognized that the Okanagan could not compete with international wines just with such varieties as Maréchal Foch, De Chaunac and Okanagan Riesling. He began redeveloping this vineyard, initially planting Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau. The latter three varieties were replaced after Ian concluded they would not produce very good wine in his terroir.

After visiting vineyards in France, he decided that the best varieties for the Okanagan Falls are were the Burgundian ones and the Pinots. The vineyard was redeveloped with Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

His first block of Chardonnay was planted in 1990. Today, the vineyard grows 21 acres of Chardonnay.

In my very first edition of The Wineries of British Columbia, published in 1994, I noted that Blue Mountain opened in 1992 with a Pinot Noir and two whites from the 1991 vintage – Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The first Chardonnay was released from the 1993 vintage.

Few, if any, other producers were then growing Chardonnay; but several blocks in private vineyards signalled that Chardonnay would succeed in the Okanagan. When Robert Combret moved his family from France to the Okanagan to establish Domaine Combret in 1994, he bought an established Golden Mile vineyard from a grower named Joe Fatur. He was growing Chardonnay. A few years later, the Combrets made a Chardonnay that won the Okanagan’s first gold medal at the Chardonnay du Monde competition.

About the same time, Mission Hill bought some Chardonnay in 1992 from a neighbouring grower to Fatur. That fruit produced the wine that won the Avery Trophy at a major London competition in 1994. With classic hyperbole, Mission Hill positioned that as the best Chardonnay in the world. It was a very good wine and it started to put the Okanagan on the map.

These vineyards are now owned by the parent company of CheckMate Winery, which specializes in just Chardonnay (and Merlot). Earlier this year, I gave 100 points to the CheckMate Little Pawn Chardonnay 2015.

Blue Mountain has never entered a lot of competitions. It did not need to because its wines sold out year after year. Competition judging also can be haphazard. When a winery has a stellar reputation, as Blue Mountain does, the last thing it needs is to risk winning a bronze medal.

Blue Mountain wines continue to sell briskly even though there is much more competition. The 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir, released a month or so ago, is sold out. The other two reserves reviewed here still are available.

A bottle of Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay would be an excellent way to celebrate International Chardonnay Day.

Here are notes on the wines.

Blue Mountain Reserve Chardonnay 2016 ($30). This is a very elegant wine with aromas of citrus and flavours of citrus mingled with notes of lees and spice. With just 10% of the wine allowed to go through malolactic fermentation, the wine has a lively fresh acidity. The texture will enable the wine to develop even more complexity over the next five to eight years. 94.

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Gris 2016 ($28). These vines were planted in 1989 and are now delivering grapes with rich flavours and minerality. Thirty percent of the wine was fermented and aged sur-lie for eight months in French oak barrels. The rest was fermented in stainless steel, retaining fresh fruit. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and vanilla, leading to flavours of pear, apple and spice. 92.

Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($40). The vines for this wine were planted as early as 1987.  The wine is dark with intense and concentrated aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of cherry and vanilla, leading to savoury and spicy flavours of black cherries and dark fruit. 93.

Monday, May 13, 2019

SpearHead's White Pinot Noir is back

Photo: Winemaker Grant Stanley

Located in bucolic East Kelowna, SpearHead Winery specializes in Pinot Noir even though it debuted in 2010 with well-received Bordeaux reds called Vanguard and Pursuit. Made with grapes purchased from a Black Sage Road vineyard, they established the SpearHead brand while the winery awaited fruit from the estate vineyard, planted in 2008. They were discontinued after the 2013 vintage.

“We don’t grow Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and I don’t think it would make sense to plant those varietals in our area,” proprietor Bill Knutson said.  “I think a wiser course is to focus on Pinot Noir and do a good job with it. The Kelowna area is emerging as a pretty strong region for Pinot Noir.”

The vines  are planted in a former apple orchard on Spiers Road, which inspired the winery’s original name, SpierHead. It was changed in 2018 to avoid a trademark dispute with Spier Wine Farm in South Africa, founded in 1692.

SpearHead’s six-hectare (15-acre) Gentleman Farmer Vineyard  grows multiple clones of Pinot Noir, along with small blocks of Riesling and Chardonnay. “I hope we can develop a niche with a significant variety of Pinot Noir clones for different bottlings,” Bill says. In 2017, to carry out that strategy, he recruited Grant Stanley as SpearHead’s general manager and winemaker.

Born in Vancouver in 1967 and trained in New Zealand, Grant previously spent 10 years at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery and four at 50th Parallel Estate Wineries. Both specialize in Pinot Noir. Grant, who has his own Pinot Noir vineyard in West Kelowna, once said: “I think about Pinot Noir 80% of the time.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

SpearHead Pinot Gris 2018 ($20 for 1,500 cases). This wine, 10% of which was fermented in two-year-old French oak barrels, begins with aromas of peach and pear. Those notes are echoed on the fruity palate, mingled with spice and grapefruit. The finish is crisply dry. The wine is as fresh as a day in spring. 91.

SpearHead White Pinot Noir 2018 ($25 for 500 cases). This is the second vintage of this rare wine and it is probably back by popular demand. The wine begins with aromas of white peach, guava, citrus and even a hint of beeswax. On the palate, the rich texture displays flavours of pear and guava. The finish is dry with a hint of minerality. This is very food friendly. 91.

SpearHead Riesling 2018 ($21 for 500 cases). This wine is approachable now but is structured to be aged, so that several years in the cellar develop the aromas and flavours. The age worthiness results from balance 12 grams of residual sugar with 9.6 grams of acid. The wine begins with aromas of lime and lemon. The lime carries through in the flavours along with a spine of minerality. The residual sugar supports sweet fruit flavours and texture. The finish goes on and on. 92.

SpearHead Botrytis Affected Late Harvest Riesling 2018 ($25 for 220 cases of 375 ml). It is a rare treat when a winery manages to produce a botrytis-affected dessert wine; the Okanagan usually is too dry for botrytis to flourish. This wine begins with aromas of citrus mingled with marmalade and honey. On the palate, the wine is rich with honeyed tropical fruit and sweet tobacco. The wine has 164 grams of residual sugar which is balanced with enough acidity that the finish is refreshing. Cellar this wine for a few years to allow its complexity to flower. 93.

SpearHead Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($22 for 500 cases). This wine, in my view, is the perfect colour for a rosé – a delicate, but not pallid, pink that looks appealing in the glass. Aromas of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb explode from the glass and carry through to the palate. There is just enough acidity to keep the wine refreshing. It is dry on the finish. 90.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Meyer Micro Cuvée and friends

Photo: Winegrower JAK Meyer

Since this winery began in 2006, Meyer Family Vineyards has followed a disciplined focus: premium single vineyard wines with the addition in recent years of traditional method sparkling wine.

The ultra premium selections are released under the Micro Cuvée label. I included those wines in my 2017 book, Icon, as examples of Meyer wines recommended for collecting and cellaring.

In truth, most of the Meyer wines are collectible, even if the wines labelled as “Okanagan Valley” are meant for early drinking – while you wait for the other wines to mature in the cellar.

Here is an excerpt from Icon that deals with the Micro Cuvée story.

The winery was launched by JAK Meyer and his partner, Janice Stevens-Meyer. It was a hobby initially. Born in Alberta in 1958, JAK had succeeded as an investment dealer and real-estate developer while becoming passionate about wine. With help from James Cluer, MW, then a Vancouver wine educator, JAK bought a 1.5-hectare (3.5-acre) Chardonnay vineyard that had been planted in 1994 on Old Main Road near Naramata. He engaged an architect to design a winery while arranging to have both the 2006 and 2007 vintages made by Michael Bartier, whose mastery of barrel-fermented Chardonnay is legendary.

“During blending [the 2006 Chardonnay],” recounts the notes on the vintage, “five French oak barrels stood out as being superior quality. Blended together, the five barrels created a truly special wine that demanded to be bottled on its own as a small batch or Micro Cuvée.” Ever since, the flagship Chardonnay from Meyer has always emerged from the best barrels, while also being a single-vineyard wine. Virtually all the Chardonnay from the Old Main Road vineyard is treated the same way: fermented in French oak and aged on the lees for seven or eight months before being bottled. Those barrels that do not rise to the Micro Cuvée standard are usually blended and bottled for the winery’s Tribute Series Chardonnay—also a fine wine that some collectors even prefer.

“We only do it in years where we feel the vintage is exceptional,” JAK says. “You have to stay true to the philosophy of making Micro Cuvée only in vintages where something really stands out.”

Subsequent to the success of the Chardonnay, the winery added a Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir, an entirely logical partner.

That Naramata Road winery was never built. In 2008, JAK was able to buy a still-born winery and its vineyard just east of Okanagan Falls, on McLean Creek Road. That is now where Meyer has its tasting room and the majority of its 20 acres of estate vineyards.

Here are notes on four current releases from the winery this spring.

Meyer Méthode Traditionnelle Extra Brut NV ($34.88 for 550 cases). This is 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir.  The base wine was aged for two years, with several rackings, before bottled for secondary fermentation. The wine then spent 20 months on the lees before being disgorged. There was no dosage; it was topped up with 2014 blanc de blancs base wine. This is an elegantly polished wine with delicate hints of brioche mingled with hints of citrus and apple. 92.

Meyer 2017 Micro Cuvée Chardonnay Old Main Road Vineyard ($56.62 for 110 cases). This wine is always a selection of what the winemaker judges the best of that vintage (and Micro Cuvée is not necessary released every vintage). The model for this wine seems to be age-worthy Burgundy. The wine, which was aged 11 months on the lees in French oak, begins with aromas of mandarin orange mingled with croissant. On the palate, the fresh croissant flavour is more event, along with flavours of citrus. There is no rush in opening this; it has the structure to become even more complex with several more years in the cellar. 90-92.

Meyer 2017 Old Block Pinot Noir ($43.58 for 311 cases). There is a limit two bottles per person for this wine. Old Block refers to a block of vines in the McLean Creek Road Vineyard that were planted in 1994. The grapes were fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 11 months on French oak (30% new). There is a lot going on here, starting with aromas of cherry mingled with forest floor. On the palate, the fruit is bright with flavours of cherry and strawberry mingled with oak. The texture is silky and the finish is long. 93.

Meyer 2017 Micro Cuvée Pinot Noir ($56.62 for 150 cases). The grapes for this wine also are from the McLean Creek Road Vineyard. Again, the object is to select from among the very best wines in the cellar. One new 500-litre French oak puncheon and two two-year-old French puncheons were chosen. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, plum and baking spices that are echoed on the palate. The fruit flavours mingle with vanilla. The wine is intense and still firm; it is built for cellaring. 94.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Sandhill Rosé 2018: a wine with eye appeal

Photo:  Sandhill winemaker Sandy Leier

More rosé wines than ever before are being produced by British Columbia wineries. Consumers obviously agree that is a good thing because these are affordable, easy to drink, refreshing and versatile wines.

The Sandhill 2018 Rosé is a poster child for what is going so right with rosé.

At most wineries, rosé is no longer an afterthought in the cellar. These are now purposeful wines that start with quality grapes that are fermented with care. As this was handled by Sandy Leier, the Sandhill winemaker.

The Sandhill Rosé is 83% Gamay Noir and 17% Merlot. When the grapes arrived at the winery, they were pressed gently. The juice was divided into two batches. The first was separated from the skins immediately and sent to a stainless steel tank for fermentation. The second batch remained on the skins long enough to pick up colour and texture.

Then the batches were combined and fermented cool with a yeast that accentuated the aromatics. After fermentation, the wine was aged a few months in steel before being bottled.

The wine was finished dry, with the 7.2 grams of residual sugar balanced 5.9 grams of acid. The alcohol is 13.1% but it does not stick out because the wine is so harmonious and balanced.

Here is my note on the wine, which is widely available.

Sandhill Rosé 2018 ($19.99 for 1,878 cases). The wine has “sex appeal” in its special clear bowling pin-shaped bottle which shows off the appetizing delicate pink hue. It begins with aromas of strawberry and crab apple, leading to flavours of strawberry, raspberry, pink grapefruit and pomegranate. It is crisp and refreshing, with a lingering finish. 90.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Stag’s Hollow Winery has a new owner

Photo: Linda Pruegger and Larry Gerelus

Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger, who founded Stag’s Hollow Winery and Vineyard in 1992 and opened the winery three years later, announced the sale of the Okanagan Falls enterprise last month.

The new owner is Eric Liu, the proprietor of Bench 1775 Winery on Naramata Road. Larry and Linda will continue to manage Stag’s Hollow and are completing the planting of 18-acre Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard. That vineyard, just north of Okanagan Falls, has been under development since 2011. A new clone of Pinot Noir will be planted this year.

The Stag’s Hollow estate vineyard, with vines planted as early as 1987, is 10 acres. The two vineyards, along with some purchased fruit, supported the production of 5,500 cases in the 2018 vintage.

Eric Liu, an immigrant investor from China now residing in the Okanagan, entered the British Columbia wine industry when he purchased Bench 1775 in 2014.

While keeping a low profile, he has expanded his wine industry investments significantly in the last two years. The estate vineyard at Bench 1775, with 18 plantable acres, is currently being redeveloped, where required, with appropriate varieties and rootstocks. In addition, Eric has acquired two other Naramata Road vineyards, totalling just under 20 acres.

Last year, he purchased two properties in the Similkameen Valley. One is a 28-acre former orchard near Cawston, which is being converted to vineyard growing Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The other is Ladyhawke Vineyard, near Keremeos.  This is 8.9 acres of vines, most of them planted in 2007, including Zweigelt, Maréchal Foch, Riesling and a little Gewürztraminer. Valeria Tait, the general manager of Bench 1775, made wine from some of this fruit last fall but is expected to redevelop most of the vineyard.

Stag’s Hollow initially made its reputation with Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. It also developed a cult following for Vidal, a heritage white already in the vineyard when Larry and Linda bought the property.

More recently, the winery planted two Spanish varietals, Tempranillo and Albariño, and two Italian varietals, Dolcetto and Teroldego. Current releases from the winery include the latest vintage of Albariño.

Here are notes on the wines.

Stag’s Hollow Albariño 2018 ($21). The moderate alcohol (12.5%) ensures that the wine is light and refreshing. It begins with aromas of citrus, peach and melon. On the palate, there are flavours of peach, honeydew melon and white grapefruit. The finish is tangy and dry. 91.

Stag’s Hollow Blanc de Noirs 2018 ($25). This is 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Gamay Noir. In the glass, it presents with a golden hue lightly tinged with pink. It begins with aromas of peach and strawberry which are echoed on the palate. Partial barrel fermentation has given this wine good texture and a touch of spice and almond on the finish. 90.

Stag’s Hollow Syrah Rosé 2018 ($22). This is 92% Syrah, 8% Viognier. A portion of the Syrah was from a vineyard in Osoyoos with a block dedicated to rosé. The hand-picked grapes were crushed, with just 30 minutes of skin contact. Another portion was bled from the winery’s Syrah/Viognier co-ferment after eight hours of cold soaking. The color is  pale pink/bronze. On the nose, there are aromas of strawberries and plum, leading to flavours of stone fruit, citrus and strawberry. The finish is dry, with a touch of warmth from the 13.3% alcohol. 89.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Desert Hills releases fine 2018 wines

Photo: Jessie (left) and Randy Toor

Along with its peers, Desert Hill Estate Winery has begun releasing wines from the 2018 vintage.

“They are fantastic,” suggests winemaker Anthony Buchanan. “It was a real good vintage. Everything turned out well. There is lots of acidity and the wines are very well balanced.”

A recent tasting with him and Desert Hill’s principals confirmed that assessment. It also confirmed that the winemaking talents of Anthony, who has been at Desert Hills since late 2015, have raised the bar at this well-established winery on Black Sage Road.

The winery, which opened in 2003, is operated by twins Randy (the winery president) and Jessie Toor, born in 1964 in Punjab, brother Dave and Randy’s son, Rajen, who is becoming a winemaker.

The Toor family initially purchased an apple orchard on Black Sage Road in 1988, which they converted to vineyard in 1995. Today, they own five vineyards totalling 85 acres. They sell some of their production while making 12,000 cases a year for Desert Hills.

Anthony (left) once operated a Victoria hair salon before switching careers in 2010. Trained in winemaking and viticulture at Washington State University, he previously worked at Church & State Winery and Eau Vivre Winery & Vineyard before joining Desert Hills. He also produces small lots for his own boutique label, Anthony Buchanan Wines.

The impact he is having at Desert Hills ranges from innovations in the cellar to drier finishes on such whites as Gewürztraminer. This year, the winery is purchasing a concrete kvevri, a fermentation vessel based on the designs used for winemaking on Georgia. One object is to enhance the texture of the wines.

He has also tweaked the style of the Desert Hills Gamay Noir, the red for which the winery already has a stellar reputation. In Anthony’s view, previous vintages were too big due to practises in the vineyards.

“I found the wine too extracted and too ripe, too high in alcohol,” Anthony says. “The fruit profiles have been really nice but they have been too bold. To me, that is not Gamay.”

By picking the fruit a little earlier and by taking significant extra pains with the winemaking, he has achieved a more elegant wine.

“What happens is you get this fruit-driven, nicely balanced wine,” he says. “It has all the Gamay characteristics without being that light nouveau style. It expresses the fruit and the terroir. It has good acidity. That has been the focus – to bring it back to a Gamay style of wine while still keeping our customers happy.”

Here are notes on current releases from Desert Hills.

Desert Hills Pinot Gris 2018 ($21.90). This is a wine with remarkable purity of fruit, both in the aroma and on the palate. There are aromas and flavours of apple and citrus. The texture is generous and the finish persists. 91.

Desert Hills Unoaked Chardonnay 2018 ($19.90). This is a crisp wine with aromas and flavours of apple. There is a pleasant mineral note on the finish. 90.

Desert Hills Cactus White 2018 ($17.90). This successful blend has been in the winery’s portfolio for almost a decade. The blend for this vintage is Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. It begins with spicy aromas leading to a medley of fruit flavours, including lychee and honeydew melon. It is balanced to finish dry. 91.

Desert Hills Viognier 2018 ($24.90). This is a wine with aromas of apricot and peach. Stone fruit flavours dominate the honeyed richness of the palate. The finish is persistent. This is a superior South Okanagan Viognier. 93.

Desert Hills Gewürztraminer 2018 ($23.90). Here is a good dry Gewürztraminer with spice and ginger and lychee on the nose and palate. 91.

Desert Hills Helena Rose 2018 ($21.90). The blend is 66% Merlot, 34% Gamay Noir. The wine presents in the glass with an appealing pink hue. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, cranberry, watermelon and rhubarb. The bright natural acidity makes the wine crisp and refreshing. 91.

Desert Hills Gamay Noir 2018 ($22.90). This fruit driven wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and plum. The texture is fresh with bright acidity. There is a spicy note on the finish. 91.

Desert Hills Merlot 2015 ($24.90). The wine has aromas of black cherry and cassis mingled with a hint of smoke. The earthy finish gives the wine a rustic personality. 89.

Desert Hills Cabernet Franc Reserve 2015 ($28.90). This is an intense and full-bodied wine with aromas of black cherry and blackberry. These are echoed on the rich and brambly palate. 93.

Desert Hills 2014 Syrah 2014 ($36.90). This is a classic full-bodied Syrah, with aromas of pepper and deli meats. The palate mingles meaty notes with figs, dark fruits and black pepper. 92.

Desert Hills Mirage 2014 ($36.90). This is the winery’s iconic red. It is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot and 5% of Syrah. This is a rich and satisfying wine with aromas of black cherry, plum and spice, echoed on the palate. The blend was put together by Anthony Buchanan who, for the first time, added Syrah to Mirage. It was a great idea. 94.