Sunday, April 17, 2016

Desert Hills hires winemaker Anthony Buchanan

Photo: Winemaker Anthony Buchanan

Six samples arrived recently from Desert Hills Estate Winery near Oliver, a solid producer whose wine are always anticipated.

It was only when I had tasted the wines and started organizing my notes that I discovered I had tasted and rated four of these in a blog last fall.

So I referred back to that blog to see if I had scored the wines any differently. Either the wines are consistent or I am consistent, but my scores were identical. Below, I repeat those four wines. The two samples not reviewed before are marked with a star.

Something else is new at Desert Hills: Anthony Buchanan, who had been the winemaker at EauVivre Winery in the Similkameen, has taken over from George Phiniotis, whose career was sidelined by an accident last year.

EauVivre outlined his biography in a 2013 announcement when they hired him: “Anthony is a graduate of the Professional Enology Certificate Program through Washington State University and the Winemaking program at Okanagan College. He has also completed Sommelier and WSET training as well as Vineyard Management training. He has worked at Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, Church & State Wines, Soaring Eagle Estate Winery and Paradise Ranch/Bench 1775 Winery.”

 “I love the wine industry,” Anthony was quoted as saying. “I love the artistic side and creating wines that people love to savour. I enjoy the challenge of constantly looking for ways to innovate and evolve the various winemaking processes.”

He should certainly have those opportunities in spades at Desert Hills. Proprietors Randy and Jessie Toor farm about 70 acres of prime vineyard on the Black Sage Bench. The wines are produced in a recently expanded winery, significantly larger than it was when Desert Hills opened in 2003.  

Here are notes on those six wines.

Desert Hills Gewurztraminer 2014 ($22.90 for 1,300 cases).  This wine has strong varietal definition, with aromas of ginger and orange marmalade. On the palate, the fruit flavours are intense, with spice and lychee. The texture is lush and the finish is quite persistent. The wine is balanced to finish dry. 90.

Desert Hills Viognier 2014 ($24.90 for 650 cases). The wine begins with appealing aromas of apricot and cantaloupe. The palate has intense fruit flavours that include honeydew melons, citrus and apples. The finish is crisp and refreshing. Fermenting this wine cool, at 15C, preserved the fruitiness. 90.

Desert Hills Gamay 2014 ($19.90 for 2,600 cases). Few wineries in the Okanagan have such a major commitment to Gamay Noir. Usually regarded as the junior partner to Pinot Noir, it produces some very drinkable wines. This is a bold, juicy red with aromas of black cherries. On the palate, there are ripe, spicy flavours of cherry and mocha. The finish lingers. 91.

Desert Hills Syrah 2011 * ($36.90 for 904 cases). Dark in colour, this wine begins with earthy, spicy and meaty aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of figs, plums, black olives and espresso coffee with a hint of black pepper on the finish. 90-91.

Desert Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012 ($29.90 for 500 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cassis, cherry and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant with hints of leather and tobacco. The wine, which was aged 14 months in French oak, has disciplined age-worthy tannins. Decant this for current drinking. 90.

Desert Hills Mirage 2011 * ($36.90 for 450 cases). This is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. The individual wines are aged 18 months in French oak before being blended. The result is and elegant and complex wine with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and chocolate with a slight suggestion of bell pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and other vibrant red fruit, along with vanilla, chocolate, black coffee and licorice. The tannins are polished and the finish is long. 92.

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