Monday, March 21, 2011

LaStella and Le Vieux Pin's new releases

Photo: Severine Pinte-Kosaka

Making good wines from a great vintage is a matter of routine.

The Okanagan’s 2010 vintage, on the other hand, was a difficult one – the type of vintage in which the winemaking cream rises to the top.

Thus it was that I approached, with considerable anticipation, a tasting of wines from Le Vieux Pin and LaStella (sister wineries) that included several 2010 wines.

Adding to the anticipation was the change in the winemaking team that occurred last summer when Severine Pinte-Kosaka, a French winemaker, took over at LaStella, complementing James Cambridge at Le Vieux Pin. Judging from this tasting, it is a strong team. Their 2010 whites are excellent.

The vintage was scary, starting with a late and cool spring, followed by a cool summer. Most growers began dropping some crop to that the vines would ripen the remaining grapes. The unusual (for the Okanagan) rain in early September set up ideal conditions for mildew and rot. The weather turned after mid-September to produce a long, dry autumn that basically saved the vintage. Given the prevalence of rot, most wineries had to sort their grapes carefully, ensuring that only healthy fruit was crushed.

Overall yields were down but the fruit, when healthy, delivered vibrant flavours. The 2010 wines from meticulous producers are surprisingly good.

This was undoubtedly the most challenging of James Cambridge’s four vintages at Le Vieux Pin. A graduate of the Niagara College winemaking program, James began his career at the Creekside winery in Ontario and then worked at the Henry of Pelham winery before moving to the Okanagan. Here he spent a few years at Summerhill Pyramid Winery before taking over at LVP.

Severine Pinte-Kosaka’s winemaking career in the Okanagan began with the 2010 vintage. Born in France in 1973, she has a master’s degree in viticulture from the winemaking school at Montpellier. Her husband, Michael, is a Vancouver native who was running Butterfields and Robinson tours in France. Severine has had some Canadian experience, having worked briefly at Langley’s Domaine de Chaberton Winery and also in Ontario before returning to France and kicking her career into high gear in Bordeaux and then in Languedoc. Among other posts, she spent 10 years as head winemaker for a large co-operative producer.

All along, she kept a close watch on what was happening in the Okanagan because she and her husband visited British Columbia regularly. She met one of the owners of LaStella and Le Vieux Pin in 2007 and stayed in touch.

She moved to British Columbia in 2010 with her husband and their two children. “The Okanagan is a wonderful place for raising children,” she says. She was available in August that year when the winemaker’s position came open at LaStella.

Next month, the wineries will start releasing 2010 wines along with wines from earlier vintages. Here are notes on some of those new releases, with retail pricing; restaurant pricing is a little lower.

LaStella Leggiero 2010 ($25). This unoaked Chardonnay is inspired by the style of northern Italian Chardonnays. (The mandate of LaStella is to lean stylistically toward Italy while Le Vieux Pin leans to Rhone-style wines). This wine, with a release of only 330 cases, begins with appealing aromas of flowers, apples and bananas. On the palate, the citrus and apple flavours have a clean, crisp, and laser-sharp focus. The finish lingers. 90.

LaStella Vivace 2010 ($25). With a production of 630 cases, this is a Pinot Grigio that nails the Italian style precisely. The wine is light and fruity with aromas and flavours of citrus and fresh pears. The hint of residual sweetness, balanced by good acidity, adds to the charm. 88.

LaStella Moscato d’Osoyoos 2010 ($19.90 for 500 ml). The winery is releasing 450 cases (half litre bottles) of this elegant aperitif, a blend of three Muscat varieties. Light in alcohol at 9% and finished with slight effervescence, this wine begins with attractive floral aromas and has spicy fruit flavours, with a refreshing tang on the finish. 90.

LaStella Allegretto 2008 ($45). The winery is releasing 188 cases of this wine, a ripe Merlot from Osoyoos vineyards. The intense and concentrated fruit flavours recall black currants and lingonberries, with an overtone of jam on the nose. 90.

LaStella Allegretto MMVII ($45). This is the previous vintage. LaStella is stopping the use of Roman numerals on its front labels after receiving some flak from the regulators. Does no one study Latin anymore? The winery released 240 cases of this wine. It is a dark, brooding Merlot with notes of chocolate, black cherry, tobacco and oak and with firm tannins. This could be the wine to cellar while drinking the 2008. 88-90.

Le Vieux Pin Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($35). The appeal of the LVP wines begins with labels that include all the essential information. The consumer learns that the grapes for this came from Osoyoos and Oliver vineyards that produced an average 3.3 tons an acre (low tonnage implies intense flavours). This dramatic white has aromas of lime, grapefruit and guava that explode from the glass. It delivers those flavours powerfully, finishing with notes of herbs, spices and even white pepper. This is one of the most expressive Sauvignon Blancs to come from the Okanagan. Some 430 cases are being released. 92.

Le Vieux Pin Vaïla Rosé 2010 ($28). Pinot Noir for this wine was harvested on November 4 (2010 was also a late vintage) and juice for this rosé was drawn off after 24 hours on the skins. The wine, with a 340-case production, begins with an attractive salmon pink hue. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, rhubarb and pink grapefruit and has a refreshing tang on the dry finish. 90.

Le Vieux Pin Merlot 2008 ($35). This is the final Merlot from LVP as the winery makes the transition to Rhone varieties. Some 350 cases are being released. This is an appealing Merlot, plump and fleshy with blackberry and black currant flavours. 90.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah 2008 ($45). This is the inaugural Syrah from this winery. Most of the 487 cases being released in April have already been allocated. The wine has the classic notes of pepper in the aroma and flavour, along with black cherry and plum. As well, the flavours are richly meaty and earthy in the Rhone style. 89-91.

As the year moves along, look for Le Vieux Pin to release a 2009 Viognier-Marsanne ($35), in the winery’s migration to a portfolio biased to Rhone varieties.

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