Thursday, November 10, 2011

Quails' Gate raises the bar on Pinot Noir

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Photo: Picker in the Quails' Gate vineyard

The latest release from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery is a rather odd coupling again.

I grumbled last year about a similar pairing but the fact is that Quails’ Gate’s best red and its most rustic reds are ready for release at the same time.

The winery has long had a cult following for its Old Vines Maréchal Foch – so much so that it makes two such wines each year, one from its vineyard in West Kelowna and another from a vineyard near Osoyoos.

The winery also has a strong following, deservedly so, for its Pinot Noirs.

I suspect these are varietals that appeal largely to different consumers. Elegant Pinot Noir is a cerebral wine (think of people who appreciate ballet and the opera). Robust Maréchal Foch jumps from the glass and smacks you in the mouth (think of patrons of football, if not mixed martial arts).

Succeeding in the wine business, obviously, is a matter of satisfying a range of tastes. There is no doubt that Quails’ Gate is a successful winery.

Maréchal Foch is a French hybrid variety that once was widely grown in British Columbia. Most of it was pulled out in 1988 to make way for vinifera varieties. Not all plantings, however, were pulled out (and there are a number of new plantings of this winter hardy workhorse). The two blocks that Quails’ Gate owns were 46 years old and 27 years old in 2009, the vintage of these two releases.

There are few plantings of any variety in British Columbia that are that old. Vintners tend to prize old vines because the grapes usually are much more intense in flavour compared with grapes from young vines.

The trio of wines just released include both Maréchal Foch wines as well as the most polished Pinot Noir that Quails’ Gate has ever released. The winery certainly has raised the bar for Pinot Noir.

Here are my notes.

Quail’s Gate Pinot Noir Dijon Clone Selection 2008 ($55 for a production of 440 six-pack cases). Quails’ Gate grows seven or eight clones of Pinot Noir but for this wine, winemaker Grant Stanley chose what the winery considers the best and oldest (12 years) Dijon clones in the vineyard – clones 115 and 667. The result is a wine of exceptional elegance and purity. It begins with alluring cherry aromas. On the silky palate, there is layer after layer of sweet berry flavours – cherry, strawberry, raspberry. There is a backbone of fine tannins, suggesting that this wine will age well. Unfortunately, it is so seductive and charming already that very few bottles are likely to be cellared. 94.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch Reserve 2009 ($40 for a production of 2,045 six-bottle cases). This wine is from the 46-year-old West Kelowna block. The winery has been producing an Old Vines Foch from this block since 1994 when their winemaker at the time, Australian Jeff Martin, patterned the flavour profile on old vines Shiraz. This release is a typically bold, dark and brooding red with 15% alcohol. It begins with an almost meaty aroma; the spicy overtones reminded me of a good pâté. As the wine breathes, aromas of plum, fig and chocolate also emerge. On the palate, there are flavours of fig and plum, with a hint of mocha subtly supported by oak. A cut-with-your-knife wine, it demands a pepper steak. 90.

Quails’ Gate Old Vines Foch 2009 ($25 for a production of 2,072 cases).This is from 27-year-old Foch grown in the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard. Perhaps it is the extra heat or the sandy soil, but these grapes never quite develop the power of the West Kelowna Foch even if this is also 15% alcohol. No doubt, there are palates which will prefer the slightly leaner style. This wine begins with the variety’s gamey aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and chocolate with spicy fruitcake on the finish. 88.

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