Writer and wine columnist John Schreiner is Canada's most prolific author of books on wine.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Painted Rock's 2018 Red Icon and friends
Photo: Painted Rock's John Skinner
The wines from Painted Rock Estate Winery have never disappointed this reviewer, nor – I suspect – any of Painted Rock’s customers.
This was one of the producers included in my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. The text focussed specifically on the winery’s flagship wine, called Red Icon. The text provides insights in why that wine, and all of the others, are among the Okanagan’s best.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
Few Okanagan wineries are as greatly influenced by Bordeaux consultant Alain Sutre as John and Trish Skinner’s Painted Rock Estate Winery. Alain’s advice to them covers the full scope of winemaking, from viticulture and barrel selection to blending the winery’s flagship Red Icon.
“I will tell you how Alain found me,” says John. “Alain heard about me from the nursery in Bordeaux. I had contacted the nursery directly because I wanted to get very specific clones. A year later, Alain showed up at the vineyard one day when we had just planted. He introduced himself and said, ‘I love what you have planted here, but no one in the Okanagan knows how to blend these clones.’ That was the beginning of the journey.”
John needed such expertise to fully realize his wine-growing ambitions. Born in 1958, he had been a successful Vancouver investment adviser. His growing passion for wine triggered a decision to retire from the investment business at 50 and take up wine-growing. In 2004, after a careful study of potential vineyard sites, he bought a 24-hectare (60-acre) former apricot orchard near the Skaha climbing bluffs. The site was shaped to produce an ideal southwestern vineyard exposure that he began planting in 2005.
He had a clear vision for his wines. “This journey is not about making a Bordeaux blend,” he told Alain. “This is about making an Okanagan wine with clones I sourced from Bordeaux.” Alain, he discovered, was on the same page. The consultant has had a hand in making Okanagan wines at other distinguished producers including Osoyoos Larose and, latterly, Culmina Family Estate Winery.
To date, Alain has blended every vintage of Red Icon. The blending decisions reflect the strengths of the Painted Rock vineyard in any given vintage. “Our 2012 Red Icon is kind of an inverted Bordeaux blend because it leads with 31% Malbec,” John says. “It’s Okanagan.”
The blends vary from year to year and are somewhat unorthodox, with higher percentages of both Malbec and Petit Verdot. In most Okanagan red Meritages, Petit Verdot is a minor portion of the blend, bringing a touch of spice. Not so at Painted Rock. “I have never tasted a Petit Verdot like this,” Alain once said, advocating that the variety play a significant role in the blend.
The varietals all have roles to play. The Cabernets provide structure; Merlot fleshes out the mid-palate; Malbec brings bright flavour notes. “Petit Verdot,” John says, “is the attack and the finish.” While the components move around from vintage to vintage, Red Icon is united in style year after year by its harmony, as John discovered when tasting a vertical of the first five vintages. “Those five wines, all different blends, were all quite similar because they were complete wines,” he explains.
Here are notes on current releases.
Painted Rock Merlot 2017 ($34.99). This wine, which was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new), is age-worthy but is already drinking well. It begins with aromas of black cherry, plum and mocha. On the palate, it delivers flavours of dark cherries, plums, black currants and spice. The finish is long. 92.
Painted Rock Syrah 2018 ($39.99). This is a rich, bold wine with aromas of fig, dark plum and black pepper. Those are echoed on the palate, mingled with dark fruit flavours, cracked black pepper and a hint of earthiness. 93.
Painted Rock Red Icon 2018 ($59.99). The blend is 56% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec and 8% Petit Merlot. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). 94.