Friday, September 8, 2017

Bench 1775's fruit-packed wines

Photo: Bench 1775 winemaker Val Tait

A recent package of wine samples from Bench 1775 Winery on the Naramata Bench display the impressive winemaking of Valeria Tait, the general manager and winemaker here.

This winery has a lot going for it, not the least being a tasting patio with an excellent view over vineyards and Okanagan Lake. Val Tait, however, may be its best asset.

Val, a noted viticultural consultant in the Okanagan, joined the winery in 2013, partnering with Jim Stewart, one of the former owners. The winery was sold the following year to low profile immigrant investors who maintained Val in her role, recognizing her depth of experience.

Born in 1964, she has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master’s in integrated pest management. She started working at the Summerland research station on plant viruses and then developed her independent consulting business with grape growers in the early 1990s as new vineyards were being planted. “I was lucky to get in on the industry when it was starting to grow,” says Val.

At Bench 1775, she has reorganized the winery and quickly upgraded viticulture. “We have to be impeccable in the vineyard,” she vows. “It’s such a beautiful site and it has such great potential.”

The 7.5-hectare (18.5-acre) vineyard’s features include a lengthy private beach on Okanagan Lake. “There are very few wineries in the world that are on the water,” Val says. “It is like we are working on a vacation site.” Indeed, one of the privileges to members of the Bench 1775 wine club is access to the beach.

Here are notes on the wines.

Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($24.90 for 1,100 cases). This Sancerre-style wine begins aromas of herbal spices and lemon. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit, lemon and white peach. The wine is crisp, with an underlying minerality for structure. 91.

Bench 1775 Viognier 2016 ($24.90 for 900 cases). This wine is 84% Viognier, with the addition of 9% Pinot Grise, 3% each of Muscat and Riesling and 1% Gewürztraminer. The wine has appealing floral aromas along with apricot, lime and lemon rind. The fleshy texture delivers flavours of ripe peaches, apricots and guava. The finish is lingering. This is a deliciously fruity wine. 91.

Bench 1775 Brut Rosé ($21.90). This is 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. The wine puts on a great display in the glass, with a pale bronze hue and fine active bubbles. The aromas of apples lead to a delicious fruit bowl of flavours – apples and nectarines. It is a lovely and refreshing sparkling wine. 91.

Bench 1775 Pinot Noir 2014 ($24.90). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of cherry mingled with chocolate. It is juicy on the palate, with a silky texture supporting flavours of cherry and strawberry. 88.

Bench 1775 Malbec Nouveau 2016 ($24.90). According to the back label, this Beaujolais Nouveau styled wine was a “pet project” of the winery’s French intern. The wine is bursting with fruit. The aromas are spicy and floral with notes of cherry. The fruit is bright and vibrant and the texture is juicy. The winery recommends serving this chilled. 88.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc clone 214 2013 ($27.90 for 580 cases). Only the Bench 1775 wine club can buy this superb red.  It is a big, ripe wine with layers of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and mulberry. 92.

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