Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quails' Gate's 2010 Spring Release Wines

Photo: Vineyard at Quails' Gate

Tony Stewart, who runs family-owned Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, accompanied the winery’s spring releases this spring with some interesting comments on the 2009 growing season.

The Stewarts have more history with Okanagan vintages than most wine growing families. Richard Stewart, Tony’s father, was a founding member in 1961 of the Association of British Columbia Grape Growers, a grower lobby group.

Two years later, he began planting what is now the Quails’ Gate Boucherie Vineyard in West Kelowna. The following year, he and Calona Wines, partnered to develop one of the first vineyards on Black Sage Road.

Last fall, when a sharp frost snapped across the Okanagan at Thanksgiving, Tony Stewart could report that this was the earliest on record – “arriving a full two weeks ahead of our father’s earliest severe frost memory of October 26.”

Normally, one would expect a devastated vintage from an early frost which killed the leaves on the vines and stopped grape maturity in its tracks. “Fortunately, due to the unusually warm days in the summer and a very favourable September all varieties achieved or exceeded target ripeness,” Tony said in a covering letter with the wines.

After that early frost, he worried that a brutal winter would follow. That was not the case, however. There was a mild winter and an early spring. It looks like the 2010 vintage “is off to a great beginning.”

The winery’s spring release wines actually cover three vintages, all of them excellent, judging from the quality of these wines. Here are my notes.

Quails’ Gate 2009 Rosé ($14.99). The winery has released 3,200 cases of a thoroughly delicious dry rosé made with Gamay grapes. It has juicy flavours of strawberries and rhubarb with an intriguing hint of spice on the finish. Great value for one of the Okanagan’s best rosé wines. 90.

Quails’ Gate 2009 Chasselas-Pinot Blanc-Pinot Gris ($17.99). One of the winery’s most quaffable whites, this is 50% Chasselas from some old vines in the winery vineyard. The blend also includes 35% Pinot Blanc and 15% Pinot Gris. This is a big volume blend at 9,200 cases and, with a moderate 12% alcohol, is an ideal summer and luncheon white. Refreshing and light, it has flavours of citrus, melons and apples, with a juicy texture on the palate and just a hair of sweetness. 89.

Quails’ Gate 2008 Chardonnay ($$18.99). The winery has released 5,460 cases of this attractive wine. Sixty-five percent was barrel-fermented (only 20% of the barrels were new) and the remainder was fermented in stainless steel. This gave winemaker Grant Stanley the opportunity to blend a fruit-forward wine with only subtle oak, in a style deliberately different from the winery’s reserve Chardonnay. There are notes of citrus on the nose and the palate. The hint of oak and of the lees fleshes out the wine which, nevertheless, finishes with a clean, focussed and refreshing crispness. 90.

Quails’ Gate 2008 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay ($29.99). The winery released 2,150 six-bottle cases of this, its premium Chardonnay. All the stops were pulled out to make this wine: fruit from older vines fully barrel-fermented in French oak (50% new) and put through complete malolactic fermentation. The result is a rich wine, toasty and buttery on the nose, with flavours of peach, tangerine, butterscotch and with a finish that goes on forever. The wine is drinking well now but also has the structure to age for several more years, in the manner of a fine white Burgundy. 92.

Quails’ Gate 2008 Pinot Noir ($24.99). If anyone knows how to grow Pinot Noir in the Okanagan, it is the Stewart family, which has been growing it since 1975. The vineyard now boasts multiple clones, giving the winemaker superb blending options. This wine, of which 7,424 cases is released, begins with an appealing and brilliant ruby hue. The aromas suggests black cherries and raspberries, influenced by the smoky, toasted hints of French oak (only 15% new). On the palate, there are ripe flavours of spicy cherry. The texture is the classic velvet of good Pinot Noir. 88.

Quails’ Gate 2007 Merlot ($24.99). This wine (7,960 cases releases) is a remarkable example of good farming, with 90% of the fruit coming the Quails’ Gate vineyard on the slope of Mt. Boucherie and only 10% from the much warmer terroir of Osoyoos. Yet this is a fine, ripe wine with lifted berry aromas surging from the glass. On the palate, there are appealing flavours of blackberry with a hint of vanilla from the 18 months of barrel aging. The fine ripe tannins supported concentrated flavours and textures of a red that will cellar well for at least five more years. 88-90.

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