Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Gray Monk duo of year-end releases

Photo: Winemaker Jen Oishi (courtesy Gray Monk Estate Winery)
This is the time of year when the most sparkling wine is consumed, unless, like me, you enjoy bubble in every season. I would drink the Gray Monk Odyssey White Brut 2018 on any occasion. Gray Monk Estate Winery in Lake Country is one of the Okanagan’s pioneering wineries. Founded by George and Trudy Heiss, it will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2022. The Heiss family sold the winery in 2017 to Andrew Peller Ltd. The winery, which is now in a grand building that could be a chateau in Europe, remains a destination stop for the many wine tourists who come to Lake Country each summer.
Monk’s Blend is a new addition to the portfolio, made with grapes grown in the South Okanagan, where Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are classic blends with such wineries as Burrowing Owl. Producers in Australia and California may have been leaders in creating these blends. The blend works because Cabernet Sauvignon contributes structure while Syrah brings flesh and fruit to the party. Arguably, this blend can be more satisfying that many Meritage blends but not as suitable for aging. Winemaker Jen Oishi’s blend for the sparkling wine is clever. The Chardonnay Musqué brings fruity aromas and flavours while the Riesling and the Pinot Blanc add structure and acid.
Jen Oishi was born and raised in the Okanagan, immersed in the Okanagan way of life. Growing up surrounded by orchards and vineyards peaked her interest in the wine industry. After completing her degree in Microbiology from the University of British Columbia, Jen joined the Gray Monk team in 2011. It was here that she was able to pair her love of science with the artistic side of winemaking. Here are notes on the two wines.
Gray Monk Odyssey White Brut 2018 ($26 for 1,330 cases). This traditional method is a blend of 53% Chardonnay Musqué, 30% Riesling and 17% Pinot Blanc. The secondary fermentation was in bottle and the wine rested on the lees in bottle for 18 months before being disgorged. The wine has quite active and creamy mousse. It begins with aromas of brioche and fruit. On the palate, there are peach mingled with lemon and green apple. The finish is dry. 90.
Gray Monk Monk’s Blend 2020 ($17.99). This is a blend of 73% Syrah and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. Each varietal was fermented separately and aged both in stainless steel and in French and American oak barrels (mostly two and three years old) for eight months. The wine begins with aromas of plum, cherry and spice from the barrels, all of which is echoed on the palate. There is a hint of pepper and licorice on the finish. The tannins are soft and silky. Serving this wine very slightly chilled accentuates the fruit. 90.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Cassini Cellars made powerful reds in 2018

Photo: Adrian Cassini in the winery cellar
The fall release of 2018 vintage red wines from Cassini Cellars at Oliver is impressive, to say the least. I scored every wine above 90 points. Of course, I have a bias. I enjoy big reds and those are the sort of wines made by Adrian Cassini, the winery’s owner, especially in a vintage like 2018.
In his notes on the vintage, Adrian writes: “The 2018 growing season began three weeks later than normal, and cooler than average temperatures resulted in delayed budding and flowering of the vines. With Autumn arriving earlier than expected, grapes were left hanging longer in order to develop the fruit flavours, powerful tannins and a firm acid backbone that will give the wines from this vintage a long life.” He supplemented his viticulture with winemaking techniques designed to enhance the intensity of the wines. “Temperature control for slow fermentation, extended skin contact and pneumatage twice a day give [these wines] rich colour and extraction with great complexity and balance.” Pneumatage is winespeak for various techniques of pumping the fermenting wine over the cap of skins during fermentation to extract colour and flavour.
Adrian’s winemaking extends to bold barrel-aging regimes. His flagship wine, Godfather Red, is aged 24 months in new French oak. Long barrel aging allows the oak flavours to integrate with the wine. While one tastes the oak in Adrian’s reds, the flavours are muted, with chocolate and spice notes rather than harsh wood. Here are my notes on these delicious reds.
Cassini Cellars Quattro 2018 Collector’s Series ($37 for 1,300 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. The varietals were aged in new and two-year-old barrels (80% French, 20% American) for 14 months. The blend was assembled two months before bottling. The wine begins with aromas of black currant, blueberry and cherry, with a hint of toasted oak, all of which is echoed on the palate. The tannins are subtle, with a firmness of texture that suggests this wine will age. Decant for early drinking. 91.
Cassini Cellars Nobilus Merlot Collector’s Series 2018 ($40 for 300 cases). This bold red (15.4% alcohol) was aged 24 months in new French oak. It is an age-worthy wine that benefits from decanting. It begins with aromas of cassis, spice and oak. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant and plum mingled with sweet oak. 92.
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Franc 2018 Collector’s Series ($40 for 275 cases). The winery believes that Cabernet Franc “could be a signature red for Canada.” A big, ripe red (15.3% alcohol) makes the case well. The wine was aged 24 months in new barrels (80% French, 20% American). It begins with intense brambleberry aromas (blackberry, raspberry and black currant) leading to flavours of black cherry, blackberry and cocoa. The finish is long and satisfying. 91.
Cassini Cellars Malbec 2018 Limited Edition ($40 for 200 cases). This wine, new to the Cassini portfolio, was aged 14 months in new and two-year-old barrels (70% French, 30% American). It begins with aromas of spice, blackberry and cherry. Rich in texture, the wine delivers flavours of cherry and plum with hints of tobacco and vanilla. 92.
Cassini Cellars Maximus 2018 Limited Edition ($45 for 450 cases). This is a big (15.5% alcohol) blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 14 months in new two-year-old barrels (80% French, 20% American). It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and cocoa. On the palate, there are flavours of rich, dark fruit mingled with oak. The finish is long. 93.
Cassini Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 The Aristocrat ($45 for 300 cases). This elegant yet powerful wine, selected from the best eight barrels out of 45, begins with aromas of cassis and red berries. Two hours of breathing allowed this tightly structured wine to reveal flavours of black currant, plum, black cherry, black olives and mocha. A classic age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon. 92.
Cassini Cellars Godfather Red 2018 ($80 for 75 cases). This is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Merlot, aged 24 months in new French oak barrels. It is a concentrated wine with power and longevity. It begins with aromas of cassis, cherry and chocolate. On the palate, flavours of plum, fig and cherry are integrated with vanilla and oak. 95.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Fort Berens releases three vintages

Photo: Winemaker Alex Nel (Credit Brad Kasselman)
The fall releases from Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet were made by two different winemakers and have set a high standard for the new winemaker, Alex Nel.
“Over the last few years, we have had a few transitions in winemakers,” co-founder Rolf de Bruin observes. South African born and trained Danny Hattingh was Fort Beren’s winemaker from the 2014 vintage through the 2018 vintage before leaving to set up a coffee business in the Okanagan. Ontario-trained James Cambridge, who had been the founding winemaker at Fort Berens in 2012 before going to Backyard Vineyard in the Fraser Valley, returned to the Lillooet winery in early 2019. He left after the 2019 vintage to deal with a family matter.
“We were very fortunate to find Alex Nel through an international search,” Rolf says. Alex is also from South Africa. He graduated in 2008 from the renowned Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute (where Danny also trained). In addition to doing harvests in New Zealand and California, Alex was the winemaker and brewmaster at Cederberg Wines, a family-owned South African winery highly rated for wines from its high-altitude terroir. “Having worked with Danny, we knew that South African winemakers are highly educated, often with work experience around the globe,” Rolf says of the decision to recruit Alex. “There was a great fit, as Alex worked in a remote area in South Africa, which made the move to Lillooet seem like a step toward a more urban lifestyle.”
The decision to hire Alex was made in March 2020. Due to the Covid pandemic, Alex was unable to leave South Africa until December 2020. “Luckily, Danny Hattingh was willing to jump back in for the 2020 vintage,” Rolf says. “Alex took over in January 2021 to finish the wines for bottling.” And he started the 2021 Fort Berens vintage by pruning the vines last spring. He comes with a strong track record that includes a trophy at the Global Fine Wine Challenge for the Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2020 and a Top 100 at Decanter Wine Competition for the Cederberg Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. “Alex has made several changes to our winemaking protocols to further raise the quality of the wines,” Rolf writes in a letter accompanying the new releases. “Our white wines are made extremely reductive, combined with aromatic yeasts and cold fermentations to produce fresh, lively white wines with great aging potential.”
As for the red wines, Alex directed that the grapes be picked selectively within each block as the grapes were ready. In the winery, the grapes had a one-night cold soak before fermentation. The wine had as much as 20 days on the skins after fermentation to produce more intense colours and fine tannins. Fort Berens also enhanced its barrel aging program. The winery purchased an additional 60 barrels so that all the reds will be aged in barrel for at least 15 months. As well, the winery is moving away from American oak to French oak, with Alex selecting very specific coopers. “Going forward,” Rolf writes, “anticipate red wines that are more integrated with the oak for a softer, richer more integrated wine.”
The wines in the fall release are from the 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages, representing the craftsmanship of Danny Hattingh and James Cambridge. They have set a high bar for Alex. Here are my notes.
Fort Berens Chardonnay 2020 ($20.99 for 715 cases). Most of the fruit (71%) is from the estate vineyard; the rest is from a Peachland vineyard. Twenty per cent of the wine was fermented in new and neutral French oak barrels, with the rest fermented in stainless steel. That accounts for the fruit-forward character of this dry, medium-bodied Chardonnay. It begins with aromas of citrus and apple. On the palate, there are flavours of apples and stone fruits. 89.
Fort Berens White Gold 2019 ($29.99 for 209 cases). The Chardonnay for this reserve wine is all from the winery’s Dry Creek Vineyard at Lillooet. The wine was fermented in French oak barrels and aged six months in French barrels. The wine begins with aromas of apple, vanilla and butter. Rich on the palate, the wine delivers luscious flavours of peach, apple and butter. The oak is subtle and the fruit is the star. 92.
Fort Berens Riesling Reserve 2019 ($27.99 for 198 cases). The intensity of this elegant Riesling is explained by the fact the vines in this special block in the estate vineyard were cropped less than a tonne an acre. The grapes were whole cluster pressed and then fermented cool for seven weeks in stainless steel. The wine had 18 months bottle age before release. It begins with aromas of lemon and lemon zest. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon, raisins and apricot. The 18.9 grams of residual sugar, well balanced with bright acidity, add to the concentrated flavours. The wine is drinking well but will also age well. 92.
Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2019 ($29.99 for 522 cases). The fruit for this wine is from a Naramata vineyard. The wine was aged nine months in neutral French oak barrels. It is a bright and cheerful wine, with aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry and raspberry. 90.
Fort Berens Pinot Noir Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 218 cases). The fruit is from the winery’s Dry Creek Vineyard. After whole cluster fermentation with native yeast, the wine was aged nine months in French oak barrels and a further 24 months in bottle before release. The wine begins with cherry, strawberry jam and spice. With a classic silken texture, the medium-bodied wine delivers flavours that echo the aromas. 91.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc 2019 ($28.99 for 652 cases). The wine is made primarily with estate-grown fruit harvested fully ripe late in the season. The wine was aged 15 months in seasoned French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of spicy, brambly fruit leading to lively flavours of cherry and red currant. The wine is full-bodied with a long finish. 91.
Fort Berens Cabernet Franc Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 247 cases). A portion of the grapes went into the fermenting tank as whole clusters; the remainder were destemmed and whole berries went into the tank. The fruit was left to cold soak for four days before spontaneous fermentation began. The wine was aged 14 months in barrel. The wine begins with a rich brambleberry aroma. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, blackberry, blueberry with a hint of chocolate on the lingering finish. 93.
Fort Berens Meritage 2019 ($27.99 for 21,272 cases). This is a blend of 88% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc, each fermented separately and then blended. The wine was aged separately in seasoned French and American oak barrels. It begins with aromas of spice and red fruit, leading to flavours of cherry and blackberry. Medium-bodied, it is soft and juicy on the finish. 90.
Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2018 ($36.99 for 330 cases). The blend is 57% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. A portion of the Cabernet Franc was in the passimento style, to further concentrate the flavours. This is drama in the glass: bold aromas of cassis, blueberry and cherry are echoed by the abundant fruit on the palate. The finish lingers and lingers. This is an elegant and sophisticated wine. 94.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Intrigue Winery adds reserves to its portfolio

Photo: Roger Wong of Intrigue Wines
Recently, I have enjoyed the first live music concerts in two years, obeying the mask mandate by wearing an attractive mask from Roger and Jillian Wong’s Intrigue Winery in Lake Country. To the best of my knowledge, Intrigue is one of two Okanagan wineries (Burrowing Owl is the other) that produced a limited number of masks last year. I also have a Burrowing Owl mask which is also worn on occasion. Other wineries may also have masks for their patrons, given their promotional value. It was no surprise that Intrigue had masks. Jillian works for Doctors of BC and would be finely attuned to the value of mask wearing during this endless pandemic. I can report that the Intrigue mask is comfortable – no small thing when sitting through an hour or two of music or on the many other occasions when masks are now necessary.
Wearing the mask reminded me that I tasted Intrigue’s wines this summer. Somehow, my notes were overlooked amid the crush of other samples. I apologize to Roger if some of his wines are now sold out. This year’s releases from Intrigue included several reserve wines. For the decade since the winery opened in 2009, the portfolio has consisted primarily of value-priced wines. It could be that Roger also had his hands full making wine at Gray Monk Estate Winery. He severed that relationship two years ago and now devotes himself entirely to Intrigue and its expanding production. It could also be that Roger has been able to source more premium grapes. The grapes in the Reserve Red are from a vineyard in Oliver. The Lake Country vineyards farmed by Roger and his partners, Ross and Geri Davis, are dedicated to varietals other than the big reds that come from Oliver.
Here are notes on the wines.
Intrigue Social Rosé 2020 ($17 for 3,776 cases). The blend is astonishing for its complexity: 37% Riesling, 25% Pinot Gris, 15.4% Gewurztraminer, 12.2% Merlot, 8.2% Rotberger, 2% Pinot Noir, and 0.2% Malbec. The wine is fashionably pale, beginning with delicate aromas of raspberry and watermelon. On the palate, there is fruit salad: strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and grapefruit. The acidity balances the residual sweetness. 88.
Intrigue Focus Riesling 2020 ($20 for 215 cases). This is a fresh, crisp Riesling with aromas and flavours of apples, lime and stone fruit. The grapes are from the Wong Vineyard near Oyama. 90.
Intrigue I Do 2020 ($20 for 2,537 cases). The blend is 52% Riesling, 29% Gewurztraminer, 15% Merlot, 2% Pinot Gris, 1.7% Kerner, and 0.6% Ehrenfelser. This is a fun wine – pink in hue with active bubbles. It has aromas of grapefruit and raspberry and flavours of strawberry and watermelon. The bubbles give it a pleasant creamy texture. 88.
Intrigue Rotberger Rosé 2020 ($21). Rotberger is a rare German varietal specifically for rosé. The colour is delicate. On the nose, there are aromas of raspberry and watermelon which are echoed on the palate. The finish is dry with a tangy refreshing note at the end. 91.
Intrigue Reserve Chardonnay 2020 ($23 for 300 cases). Sixty per cent of the wine was fermented in French oak and the remainder in stainless steel. Partial malolactic only, preserving the focussed fruit that makes this a refreshing wine. It has aromas and flavours of apple, melon and white peach with a light buttery note. 90.
Intrigue Reserve Red 2018 ($45 for 430 cases). The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 8% Syrah, 5% Merlot, with all the fruit from Oliver area vineyards. The wine was aged 18 months in barrel. This is a ripe, full-bodied red, beginning with aromas of black currant, spice and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum, fig and spice with a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. 93.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Chronos releases wines from superb 2020 vintage

Photo: Winemaker Lynzee Schatz
Penticton-based TIME Winery, which was founded by the late Harry McWatters, has now rechristened itself as TIME Family of Wines and has rebranded much of its portfolio. The wines at the heart of the portfolio now are released under the Chronos label. Chronos is the name of a Greek god associated with time, among many other things. There currently are six wines under the Chronos label. The most colorfully named wine is a red blend called Ouroboros. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Ouroboros as “a circular symbol that depicts a snake or dragon devouring its own tail and that is used especially to represent the eternal cycle of destruction and rebirth.”
The McWatters Collection tier has been retained for the ultra-premium wines, representing the legacy of Harry McWatters. Evolve Cellars continues as the value brand, with refreshed labels and two new wines – a white blend called Spontaneity and a red blend called Momento. This is just one of the changes at the winery, now under new ownership. In addition to the winery’s location in a former movie theatre in downtown Penticton, a satellite tasting room has opened at District Wine Village near Oliver. As well, the winery has purchased a vineyard in Osoyoos. It is planted with 4.16 acres of Merlot, 2.86 acres of Syrah, 0.79 acre of Grenache and 0.61 acre of Petit Verdot. Some of this fruit was available for the winery’s 2021 vintage.
The current releases are primarily from the 2020 vintage. That has proven to be one of the best Okanagan vintages in the past decade. It gave winemaker Lynzee Schatz to show off her skill. Here are notes.
Chronos Riesling 2020 ($27.99 for 300 cases). The winemaker divided the grapes, which came from The View vineyard in East Kelowna, into two lots. They were fermented in two different tanks, at different temperatures with different yeast strains. One lot was fermented to dryness while the other lot was stopped while residual sugar remained. The lots were then blended into a wine of considerable complexity. Bright acidity is balanced with moderate residual sugar. The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and stone fruit with a nice spine of minerality. 90.
Chronos Sémillon 2020 ($29.99 for 225 cases). The fruit, which came from an Oliver vineyard, was whole-bunch pressed, with 54% fermented in stainless steel and 46% in oak. This is a lean and focussed wine with aromas and flavours of lime, lemon and quince. The finish is dry and lingering. 90.
Chronos Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($27.99 for 250 cases). Fruit from the Silver Barrel Vineyard near Okanagan Falls was harvested in two different picks. Winemaker Lynzee Schatz fermented each lot separately. Fruit from the top of the vineyard produced tropical flavours while fruit from the lower part of the vineyard displayed grassy flavours. Lynzee believes the blend is “a perfect balance.” The wine is intense and vibrant, with aromas and flavours of lime and pineapple mingled with herbal notes. 91.
Chronos Chardonnay 2020 ($29.99 for 240 cases). The wine, with fruit from Mirror Lake Vineyard near Oliver, was fermented entirely in stainless steel. No malolactic fermentation was allowed, further preserving the pristine fruit flavours and aromas. The wine begins with aromas of apple and pineapple, leading to flavours of apple and peach. 91.
McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2020 ($34.99 for 675 cases). The fruit for this wine is from two Osoyoos vineyards. The wine was fermented in French oak (20% new), with lees stirring and full malolactic. The oak is so well integrated that rich fruit remains the star. The wine begins with aromas of apple and brioche. On the palate, there are flavours of baked apple mingled with butter and ripe peach. The finish is exceptional. 93.
Evolve Momento 2018 ($23.99 for 500 cases). This easy-drinking red is a blend of 47% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot and 7% Syrah. Each was aged separately in French and American oak for 14 months before blending. The polished tannins give the wine a soft texture. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry and cherry. On the palate, there are flavours that echo the aromas. 88.