Friday, March 20, 2015

Steller's Jay Brut: a wine for all seasons

A few years ago, Constellation Brands decided to elevate Steller’s Jay Brut, the former Sumac Ridge flagship, into a standalone brand.

The rationale is that top sparkling wines come from sparkling wine houses. Now, if only Constellation would build a luxury Champagne cellar in the Okanagan!

Having indulged in some improbable daydreaming, I will agree that Steller’s Jay is one of the iconic wines of the valley.

Steller’s Jay Brut emerged from sparkling wine trials begun in 1985 by Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters and his winemaking team. That vintage was not released. It was said that Harry drank it all. He is a great lover of sparkling wine, and has quipped that is what he drinks while deciding what wine to have for dinner.

The first commercial Steller’s Jay Brut was a blend of 1987 (85%) and 1985 (15%) wines. The cuvée was 70% Pinot Blanc, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir. The wine, which was named in honour of British Columbia’s official bird, was released in July, 1989 after just two years on the lees. Most subsequent vintages have benefited from three years en tirage.

The cuvée has always included Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Pinot Blanc, while not a traditional sparkling wine varietal, contributes subtle fruitiness to the wine. The proportion was reduced to about 40% of the cuvée as more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir became available. The wine is balanced to have a crisp and fairly dry finish. A typical blend has 10-12 grams of residual sugar and seven to nine grams of acidity per litre.

Consumers think that Champagne-style wines, perhaps because they are perceived to be expensive, are limited to celebratory consumption. In fact, a wine like Steller’s Jay is for all seasons and for a wide variety of foods.

I chose to assess the 2009 with lightly-spiced Thai food. The combination was effective. Why not have it more often than New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and your birthday? It costs no more than other good tables.

Steller’s Jay Brut 2009 ($25). The wine begins with toasty and lightly citrus aromas, leading to fruity flavours with hints of nuts. The wine is creamy on the palate, with a lively mousse, but it finishes crisply. 91.

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