Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kettle Valley wines at Naramata Bench tasting

Kettle Valley Winery's Old Main Vineyard

At the end of the fifth annual Naramata Bench Association tasting in Vancouver, vintner Robert Van Westen waved his hand around the room and asked me: “How is the quality?”

The irony is that I never even reached his table. There was just not enough time to taste thoroughly at each table. One cannot taste Naramata Bench wines like a butterfly because – to answer Rob’s question – the quality is high and getting better all the time.

A case in point is Kettle Valley Winery. Kettle Valley’s wines have always been interesting but they have seldom shown as much finesse as they have in recent vintages.

Kettle Valley came out of the blocks in 1992 with some of the biggest and most intense wines in the Okanagan. Owners Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts liked to leave their grapes hang for the extra bit of flavour and sugar. Then they made wine by leaving the fermenting juice in contact with the skins, making sure they extracted all the flavour their vineyard practises had captured. That even applied to Kettle Valley whites. This was the only winery that dared to ferment some of its Gewürztraminer in barrels.

“We’ve backed off a little bit,” Tim told me.

The change in style is most obvious with the white wines. These are now being released in the spring after vintage, for the most part, when they are full of fresh, exuberant fruit. The Kettle Valley reds are still bold and full-flavoured but also show a polished elegance.

Here are some of my tasting notes on Kettle Valley's current releases.

Kettle Valley 2008 Viognier ($24). This is a white where the flavours have a laser-like focus of citrus and mango with fresh acidity and a finish that never ends. 90 points.

Kettle Valley 2008 Gewürztraminer ($18). This is a delicious wine, with flavours of pink grapefruit and lichee and an aroma of spices and rose petals. Tangy and refreshing. 90.

Kettle Valley 2008 Riesling ($24). Kettle Valley’s only low-alcohol wine (9.8%), this is a charming off-dry German style Riesling that would the perfect refreshment on a lazy summer afternoon. 87

Kettle Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($22). A good expression of the variety, this tangy wine shows flavours of grapefruit and lime that linger on the palate. 88

Kettle Valley 2008 Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc ($22). This is a complex blend; the Sémillon was in oak, the Sauvignon Blanc was made in stainless steel. The finished wine combines the zesty fruit of the Sauvignon Blanc with the rich texture and flavours of its partner in this 50-50 blend. 87

Kettle Valley 2005 Adra Station Reserve Chardonnay ($30). Partially barrel-fermented in French oak, this wine was held back to mature into a richly-textured Chardonnay. The flavours suggest baked apples and apricots with a hint of spice on the finish. 88

Kettle Valley 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve ($35). This is a big, ripe Pinot Noir, generously oaked. It taste now of plums and vanilla. The wine deserves to be cellared a few more years so that it can show off all its potential. In fact, every Kettle Valley red has the structure that rewards patience in the cellar. 88

Kettle Valley 2006 Merlot ($24). This is a satisfying Merlot, with ripe tannins and flavours of black currants and blackberries. 88

Kettle Valley 2006 McGraw Estate Merlot ($35). Made with grapes from a low-cropped vineyard, this is a wonderful expression of Okanagan Merlot. The aromas include vanilla, coconut and spice and recall a Christmas cake. The wine is full-bodied and brooding, with layers of figs and other dark fruit. 90.

Kettle Valley 2006 Malbec ($35). This is a vivacious wine that flirts with you, with its spice and pepper aroma and its bright red berry fruit. 90

Kettle Valley 2006 Old Main Red ($35). This is the winery’s flagship red Bordeaux blend – a big, earthy red with flavours of plum and fig and chocolate, and with liquorice on the finish. The structure is firm and the wine has just begun to open up. Drink this between 2011 and 2016. 92

Kettle Valley 2006 Rock Oven Red ($35). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The latter variety adds an interesting not of leather and earth to the red berry flavours. It also softens the tannins, adding to the satisfaction of this wine.

Kettle Valley 2006 Shiraz ($35). The wine begins with a hit of white pepper on the nose. It is a concentrated red with earthy flavours of plum and black cherry. 88

Starboard 2006 ($20 for 375 ML). This is Kettle Valley’s take on Port, made with Petit Verdot and Malbec. It is a rich wine, tasting like a plum pudding, with a long elegant finish. A very good wine. 92

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