Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black Sage reds show off great 2014 vintage

Photo: Winemaker Jason James

Several years ago, Black Sage Vineyard was spun off from Sumac Ridge Winery to become a standalone brand, beginning with wines from the 2010 vintage.

The current releases are from the 2014 vintage. In the opinion of many, that was one of the best vintages yet in the Okanagan this century.  

The notes accompanying the wines include a harvest report. “The summer of 2014 was particularly hot in the Okanagan Valley for extended periods, and stretched out into the fall with warm days and nights,” the report says.

“This seemed like perfect weather for grape growing, yet the heat did provide some challenges for our vineyard team,” the commentary continues. “Harvest was delayed for the Merlot grapes to reach peak flavour development and slightly higher alcohol levels, while varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz thrived in the heat on Black Sage bench.”

The varieties reviewed here were picked in late October, with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon. The season gave the winery the luxury of picking fully ripe grapes in early November. There is no variety that benefits from a long hang time like Cabernet Sauvignon.

The quality of these five wines, all made by winemaker Jason James, certainly solidifies Black Sage Vineyards as a standalone brand. There is enough volume of the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that the wines are available across Western Canada. The Shiraz and the Zinfandel are available at Sumac Ridge and selected private wine stores.

“This new family of wines will showcase what happens when the right vines are planted in the right location,” Constellation wrote in a brochure when the new brand was unveiled.

Black Sage Vineyard, a block of 115 acres on the east side of Black Sage Road, was planted in 1993 by Sumac Ridge partners Harry McWatters and Bob Wareham. At the time, it was the single largest planting of Bordeaux red varieties in the Okanagan. Conventional wisdom still questioned whether the vines would survive in the Okanagan.

Several years ago, after Harry retired from Sumac Ridge, the vineyard was divided. His half, then called Sundial Vineyard, was sold earlier this year. The new Chinese owner is building a new winery there.

The other half of the vineyard, along with the Black Sage name, stayed with Constellation.

In 2005 Constellation also developed a 45-acre vineyard nearby. It was originally called the Thorpe Vineyard but has since also been renamed Black Sage.

That was a fortunate viticulture decision. The original Black Sage Vineyard suffered serious damage in the 2008 and 2009 winters. The winters were hard and early. It did not help that a neighbouring vineyard had installed wind fans which shoved cold air onto slightly lower Black Sage Vineyard.

“Black Sage is extremely hot but also extremely cold in the winter,” said Troy Osbourne, the vineyard manager. “We tried to figure out whether we can fix it with earthworks, and how much would it cost, and is it going to work in the end. We realized it would not be viable. We would create one big flat area that still would be frost prone.  So the way to do it would be with wind machines.”
As a result, the vines, protected with wind machines, are productive again, season after season, growing the fruit that made the Black Sage Vineyard name legendary in Harry’s day. The Shiraz and presumably the Zinfandel in the group of new releases is from the 2005 planting.

Here are notes on the wines. All were tasted over two days and most were richer on the second day. That shows these wines have the structure to develop to a peak in about five years. Prices do not include tax.

Black Sage Vineyard Merlot 2014 ($22.99). This wine was aged 14 months in barrel – 65% French, 35% American – of which 20% was new oak. The wine begins with aromas of cassis, black cherry and vanilla. The palate has good concentration, with flavours of plum, black cherry, black currant and blackberry. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2014 ($24.99). This had the same barrel treatment as the Merlot. The wine begins with spicy, brambly aromas, leading to flavours of cherry, blackberry and raspberry with undertones of spicy oak. The texture is firm. 91.

Black Sage Vineyard Shiraz 2014 ($20.89). This was aged 14 months in barrel – 65% American, 35% French – of which 20% was new. The wine begins with aromas of black pepper, black cherry and vanilla. The ripe flavours include plum, cherry and chocolate with a touch of spice. The finish lingers, with savoury game notes. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Zinfandel 2014 ($23.49). This wine had a barrel treatment similar to the Shiraz. It begins with brambly aromas of red berries, cherries and red licorice, leading to flavours of plum and blackberry. Long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 90.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($24.99). The barrel treatment is similar to Merlot. This is an elegant and satisfying wine. It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and spice, leading to flavours of black cherry and black currant. A hint of oak lingers on the long finish, mingled with ripe tannins. The surprise came on retasting the wine on the second day, when the tannins had developed a bitter edge, threatening to overwhelm the fruit. I would recommend enjoying this as soon as you decant it. 90.

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