Friday, February 25, 2022

Mayhem Wines offer a vintage comparison

Photo: Mayhem's Terry Meyer Stone
The white wines from the 2020 vintage, most of which were released last year, clearly showed what an impressive vintage that was. Now, 2020 reds have begun to show up, confirming that it was a great year. Mayhem Wines has just released comparable Cabernet/Merlot blends from 2019 and 2020. Both are drinking well but the 2020 is a standout.
What were those vintages like? It happens that LaStella Winery of Osoyoos has published an excellent review of Okanagan vintages from 2005 to 2020. “We celebrate the fact that we make wine in a region where vintage variations play an important role,” the winery writes. “Atypical growing seasons are a nightmare for commercial wineries interested in making consistent but boring wines. For us, however, it defines our interest in wine. We look forward to seeing what Mother Nature gives us to work with each year. It is the effects of each vintage on the finished wine that urges us to start verticals of our favourite wines, then follow their evolution and discuss their merits at tastings with friends. Some vintages are all about grace, while others favour power and of course there are ones where they showcase that fine balance of grace and power.”
Here is how LaStella sums up the 2020 and 2019 vintages:
2020: Consistent. Low Yields, concentrated fruit. Red wines of power and structure, and white wines with extra richness and dimension. 1616 growing degree days (slightly above average, yet the heat all came after mid-June). Until mid-June, 2020 was one of the, if not the single coolest conditions on record. After that though, it was average or slightly above average temperatures. Flowering/fruit set time met rain and windy conditions which resulted in fewer bunches per vine and smaller more concentrated berries. Yields were 30-40% down than average! August and September saw one or two small scattered fires for a day or two. Nothing major. Nice Indian summer of hot days and cold nights. Long picking window. Warm October. No real maladies to speak of at harvest time. Small harvest but clean and concentrated fruit. Generally speaking, all the wines can benefit from cellaring, which is rather great news since both 2018 and 2019 made for earlier drinking style wines.
2019: Variable. Thinner-skinned reds didn’t do as well. Red wines of lighter extracts for early-term drinkability. 1598 growing degree days (almost the same as 2017 and on par with the 10-year average, yet numbers are just that, numbers!) More on this below. September rains put a damper on fruit concentration and retarded phenolic ripeness. Since the tannins were not perfectly ripe, we opted for a lighter extract as to not get bitterness and green notes. Yields were lower but don’t think this equated to more concentration, since the low yields came partially due to 1) Cold winter did some damage to the buds and naturally lowered yields, 2) mildew and some rot required lots of sorting. Lastly, with an abrupt finish to the season in early October, there was no chance of secondary fruit set to ripen and be used.
While LaStella was writing about its own wines, the comments lined up with my impression of Mayhem’s two Cabernet Merlots. If you can lay your hands on the two wines, be sure to compare them side by side. The fruit, like LaStella’s fruit, comes from the South Okanagan. The Meyer Old Block Pinot Noir 2020, also reviewed here, reinforces my view that 2020 was a fine vintage. Mayhem’s Fortified Gewürztraminer 2019 is another matter. Adding spirits to the wine has blurred the vintage character of this unusual wine. This is at least the second vintage of this wine – a wine that sometimes reminds me of White Port. Meyer and Mayhem are related wineries. Mayhem is a collaboration between Terry Meyer Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards and her brother, JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards, along with their spouses.
Here are notes on the wines.
Meyer Old Block Pinot Noir 2020 ($40.44 for 333 cases). This is for those consumers who like a generous Pinot Noir (which is most of us). The Old Block refers to a one-acre block of an unknown clone that was planted in 1994 on the winery’s McLean Creek Road Vineyard. The gently-destemmed fruit begins a cold soak in small open-top fermenters. Fermentation begins with indigenous yeast and is allowed to peak at 30◦C. The wine is aged in French oak (33% new) for 11 months. The wine has aromas and robust flavours of cherry, strawberry and spice. The texture is full and the flavours are concentrated. The finish persists. 92.
Meyer NV Méthode Traditionelle Extra Brut ($34.88 for 500 cases). The fruit for this wine was harvested in 2016 and 2017. The combined batches were aged 18 to 24 months. This base wine then was bottled for secondary fermentation in the summer of 2018 and left on the lees 28 months before being disgorged. No dosage was added. The blend is 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir. The wine has fine bubbles which give a creaminess to the texture. The aroma and flavour show the classic brioche notes imparted by the lees. Fruit flavours, while a bit mute, reflect apples and citrus. 89.
Mayhem Cabernet Merlot 2019 ($21.74 for 233 cases). This is a blend of 72% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 11 months in French oak (40% new). The wine begins with aromas of blueberry and spice, with slightly herbaceous note. On the palate, flavours of cherry, blueberry and red currant mingle with oak spice. 88.
Mayhem Cabernet Merlot 2020 ($N/A for 755 cases). By releasing this wine along with the 2019, Mayhem has inadvertently educated consumers to look for reds from 2020, clearly a superior vintage. The blend is 89% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, aged 11 months in French oak. The aromas just jump from the glass, with notes of cassis, dark cherry and blueberry. That is echoed on the rich and satisfying palate, where the fruit mingles with spice, plum and chocolate. 91.
Mayhem Fortified Gewürztraminer 2019 ($31.30 for 83 cases of 500 ml bottles). The juice for this wine was fermented to 24 Brix to allow the aromatics to be expressed. It was then fortified to 18% alcohol with grape spirit and was aged for 23 months in neutral oak barrels. Six months of that aging was done outside in the Okanagan summer heat. The wine is lightly gold in colour and begins with aromas of tropical fruit and ripe pears. The palate delivers the spice and lychee flavours of the varietal. Even with raisin notes and the hint of alcohol on the long finish, the wine is remarkably fresh. I would pair this wine with full-flavoured cheese. 92.

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