Saturday, July 7, 2012

Wines for a summer party

Photo: Grapes ripening on the vine

The trio of wineries presented here includes Mission Hill, perhaps the best known of the Okanagan wineries, along with Therapy Vineyards, a rising star on the Naramata Bench, and Backyard Vineyards, a fairly new Fraser Valley label.

These wines were originally going to be tasted not only by me but also by my neighbours at our annual block party. The foul weather recently has led to a two month postponement of the party. That’s too long to sit on these wines, so I have gone ahead to taste them now.

Backyard operates under the umbrella of Neck of the Woods Winery in Langley. Formerly known as Glenugie Winery, the winery was purchased from the founding family several years ago by real estate developers Ewen Stewart and Trent Blackwell.

They also own a vineyard near Abbotsford and plan a second winery there, which will be called Backyard Vineyards. The application was recently filed with the city of Abbotsford.

The wines being released now are establishing the brand. Many of the wines are made with Okanagan grapes. The Glenugie and the Backyard vineyards in the Fraser Valley grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Merlot. A significant amount of the Fraser Valley fruit is being turned into sparkling wine under the direction of Mark Wendenburg, who formerly made the award-winning Steller ’s Jay Brut at Sumac Ridge Estate Winery.

Therapy occupies the original location of Red Rooster Winery. When the latter winery moved to larger buildings on Naramata Road in 2004, the property was acquired by a group of Alberta and British Columbia investors. They came up with the name, Therapy, because they found the scenery over the vineyards to be therapeutic.

Almost all of the Therapy labels are inspired by psychoanalysis and by Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis.

Mission Hill releases its wines in four tiers. The Five Vineyards tier is the lowest-priced tier, with the Reserve wines one rung up in price.

Here are my notes.

Backyard Vineyards Nosey Neighbour White 2011 ($14.99). This is a blend of 61% Pinot Gris, 17% Riesling, 17% Siegerrebe and 5% Gewürztraminer. The Siegerrebe gives this wine a floral aroma and quite fruity, spicy flavours. Think of crossing fresh apples with rose petals. This is a good apéritif wine. 88.

Backyard Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17.99). Once again, the style leans to flinty austerity (think of Graves), with herbs and citrus on the nose and a touch of herbs and grassiness on the palate. 86.

Backyard Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($19.99). This red, along with the next two, are made with Okanagan grapes since it is next to impossible to ripen these varieties in the Fraser Valley. This Cabernet begins with aromas of mint, blueberry and vanilla. On the palate, the tannins are ripe but firm enough to allow some cellaring. There are flavours of black currant and vanilla. 87.

A word on cellaring these reds: Backyard currently uses synthetic (plastic) closures. I would not trust these closures for storing wines for more than three years.

Backyard Vineyards Merlot 2010 ($16.99). This wine begins with aromas of black currants, with a hint of coconut that likely reflects the barrels it was aged in. On the palate, it is still tight, with dry tannins that need time to soften. When they do, they reveal bright red berry flavours. 86.

Backyard Vineyards Syrah 2010 ($24.99). Here is a wine with excellent varietal expression: white pepper, plum and black cherry aromas and flavours. It is a full bodied red. With breathing, the cherry flavours pop out vividly amid the pepper and vanilla notes. 88.

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Pinot Gris 2010 ($19.99). The winemaker aimed for complexity here, fermenting 10% of the juice in new French oak and leaving the wine on its lees for four months. The result is a fleshy wine with toasty notes on the palate and flavours of ripe pears. 88.

Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve Riesling 2011 ($19.99). This expressive wine begins with appealing aromas of lemon and lime. On the palate, the flavours of lime and grapefruit are crisply focussed, with good intensity. The bright acidity and the spine of minerals add to the wine’s laser-like focus. This is good now but also will develop further complexity with a year or two of bottle age. 91

Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2011 ($14.99). Here is a wine for seafood – crisp, with aromas and flavours of apples, and with a backbone of minerals. 87.

Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($14.99). This is 91% Sauvignon Blanc, 9% Sémillon. Light in body, this is a refreshing white with aromas and flavours of lime, grapefruit rind and herbs and with a racy acidity. 88.

Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2011 ($15.99). The style is deliberately different from the Pinot Gris. The emphasis here is juicy freshness with flavours of citrus, pear and peach. 88.

Mission Hill Family Estate Five Vineyards Pinot Noir 2010 ($19.99). This is a charmer, with aromas of strawberries and cherries which follow through to the silky palate. 88.

Therapy Vineyards Freudian Sip 2011 ($17 for a production of 2,388 cases). This is a blend of 54% Pinot Gris, 27% Riesling, 12% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Sauvignon Blanc. The appeal starts with the floral and herbal aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of orange, apricot and papaya. The tangy finish is crisp and refreshing. 90. 

Therapy Vineyards Artist Series Riesling Kerner 2011 ($20 for a production of 204 cases). This blend is 75% Riesling, 25% Kerner. This is a juicy, off-dry white with citrus aromas. The residual sugar balances the acidity, lifts the aroma and enhances the flavours of lime and apricot. 88.

Therapy Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($20 for 337 cases). The freshness of the aroma reminded me of an early morning meadow. The wine is light and delicate, with a touch of lime on the palate. 88.

Therapy Vineyards Alter Ego 2011 ($24 for 510 cases). This blend is 45% Pinot Gris, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Viognier and 5% Chardonnay. Each variety was fermented separately in stainless steel and then given some time in barrel. The final blend also had three months in oak. The oak treatment is evident mostly in the rich texture of this complex white, with its flavours of ripe pear and herbs. The finish is dry. 90.

Therapy Vineyards Chardonnay 2010 ($22 for 305 cases). Twelve months in French oak have given this wine toasty notes on the aroma. It has flavours of pear, citrus and coconut and a full texture. The oak treatment, however, does not overwhelm the fruity flavours. 89.

Therapy Vineyards Pink Freud 2011 ($17 for a production of 930 cases). This rosé is 78% Merlot and 22% Pinot Noir. A fellow taster spent six months in the south of France some years ago. This wine took her back to fond memories of drinking rosé! It has appealing aromas of raspberry and plum, with flavours of raspberry, cherry and cranberry. There are layers of juicy flavours but the finish is dry. 90.

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