Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Blue Mountain releases single vineyard Chardonnays

Photo: Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety
In 2017 Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars began making premium Pinot Noirs from selected blocks in its vineyard. After five decades of wine growing, the proprietors of the winery had come to identify exceptional sites within its large vineyard. Now from the 2020 vintage, Blue Mountain has released two Chardonnays from vineyard blocks also judged to produce exceptional wines. “With the single vineyard bottlings, we are trying to put in bottle a wine that expresses the site itself, not the hand of the winemaking,” Blue Mountain winemaker Matt Mavety told me in 2019, when the Pinot Noirs were released. “We have been working over the last 10 vintages to remove some of our input or our stamp on the wines, to allow more of the site to show through. Not that at any time we were heavy handed but there was room for refinement.” I expect those comments would also apply to the two Chardonnay blocks.
Identifying special vineyard blocks reflects the exacting viticulture practised by the Mavety family. “Over the last 13 years we have made changes in our viticulture and cellar management practices, striving to produce high quality wine that reflect the site in which the grapes are grown,” the winery writes. “2023 marks 52 years of farming on our estate and 32 years of making wine. The strong focus on viticulture across the site allows for an increased representation of individual terroir when the grapes reach the winery. A deliberate refinement of the winemaking process has allowed Blue Mountain to more clearly capture the identity of each of the vineyard blocks.”
Blossom Slope, as one of the Chardonnays is labeled, comes from the vineyard’s Block 17. “A westerly exposure for Block 17 creates a warm site for the 30-year-old vines, the basis for Blossom Slope,” the winery writes. The other Chardonnay is labelled Alluvium Reflection and comes from Block 32. “Planted in 1990, Block 32 is fondly referred to as ‘The Fan’,” the winery writes. “The vines are westerly facing, catching the later morning and afternoon sun … The surrounding rock mass plays a role in heat retention at night. The mineral deposit and mainly gravel soil add to the strength and ease of Alluvium Reflection.”
Here are notes on these exceptional wines.
Blue Mountain Blossom Slope Chardonnay 2020 ($50). The grapes were fermented with yeasts native to the estate. Fermentation was in new to three-year-old French oak barrels; the wine was also aged in those barrels for 18 months. The wine begins with aromas of citrus which continues to the palate to mingle with notes of spice. Fresh acidity produces a lively and crisp finish. 97.
Blue Mountain Alluvium Reflection Chardonnay 2020 ($50). The grapes were fermented with yeasts native to the estate. Fermentation was in new to three-year-old French oak barrels; the wine was also aged in those barrels for 18 months. Light gold in hue, the wine begins with aromas of citrus mingle with herbal notes. The creamy palate delivers flavours of stone fruits. The finish is quite persistent. There is something cerebral to the personality of this sophisticated wine whose flavours stay on the palate for many minutes. 100.

Friday, April 21, 2023

At Kitsch Wines, small is beautiful

Photo: Winemaker Ruth King (courtesy of Kitsch Winery)
Trent and Ria Kitsch, who opened this Kelowna winery in 2016, have refocussed in the past year to produce wines only from grapes grown in the East Kelowna Slopes sub-appellation. The winery’s two vineyards are in the East Kelowna Slopes and are planted primarily to Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, varietals well-suited to this cool climate terroir. Ria explains: “After a couple of low-yield years in the vineyard, along with some adventure/family prioritizing for Trent and me, we decided in 2022 to reduce production and focus only on fruit from our vineyard.”
Graham Pierce, who had previously been the winemaker at Black Hills and Time Winery before coming to Kitsch as general manager, moved last summer to take over the cellar at Ruby Blues Winery on the Naramata Bench.
The 2022 vintage at Kitsch was made by Ruth King, a Boston-born and California-trained winemaker now resident (with her husband and three children) in East Kelowna. “For the last 13 years, she has been in the wine industry in one capacity or another,” Ria writes. Ruth has a winemaker’s certificate from the University of California at Davis as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture from the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. In the Okanagan, she has been a harvest winemaker for Sandhill Wines; student co-ordinator for Vinica Education Society and a wine researcher and consultant with Terroir Consulting. Currently, she splits her time between making Kitsch wine and managing the Sustainable Winegrowing BC program.
“We are overjoyed to have such a talented woman at the helm of these delicious wines,” Ria writes. Here are notes on current releases.
Kitsch Pinot Noir Rosé 2022 ($28 for 375 cases). This wine is made with the fruit of an 11-acre 2020 Pinot Noir planting on East Kelowna Road. Five different clones were planted. This wine begins with a delicate light pink hue and delicate aromas and flavours of raspberry and cherry. With seven grams of acidity and almost no residual sugar, the wine has a dry and well-defined finish. 90.
Kitsch Pinot Gris 2022 ($25 for 233 cases). Refreshing and crisp, this wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of tree fruits with a hint of lime around a backbone of minerality. 90.
Kitsch Riesling 2022 ($29 for 227 cases). This wine will be released in August. This wine begins with aromas of lemon and grapefruit, which is echoed on the palate. The wine is dry with bright acidity mingled with a spine of minerality. This is Riesling should be cellared a few years to bring out all of its complexity. 92
Kitsch 7 Barrel Chardonnay 2020 ($35 for 151 cases). To put it simply, this is a terrific wine. It was fermented with indigenous yeast and was aged six months in French oak. It presents in the glass with a lovely light golden hue. Aromas of butter, vanilla, orange and apple jump from the glass. The palate is richly textured, with flavours of nectarine and orange. The finish will not quit. 94.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Covert Farms releases its Grand Reserves

Photo: Gene Covert (courtesy Covert Farms)
Covert Farms Family Estate is one of the South Okanagan’s longest-established and most successful farming enterprises. It was established in 1959 by Californian-born George Covert. He had succeeded there as a wholesaler and shipper of fruits and vegetables until he chanced to hear about the Okanagan and its potential. The square mile of property he bought on promontory north of Oliver soon became a major producer of grapes, vegetables and tree fruits. His grandson, Gene, operates the farm today, having transformed it entirely to organic production, notable for biodynamic and regenerative agricultural practices.
In spite of the property’s long history, a winery was established here only in 2006. “Our wines are crafted using 100% estate-grown grapes with minimal intervention and natural fermentation where possible,” the winery explains in a note with the current releases. [The wines] “are certified salmon safe and vegan. White wines display a purity of fruit and crisp natural acidity coveted by growers, while our low-yielding farming results in terroir-focussed, artisan reds that are luscious and age-worthy.” Here are notes on current Grand Reserve releases.
Covert Farms Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2021 ($50 for 75 cases). This wine was barrel-fermented for 45 days and aged nine months in first and second fill French oak. Half of the wine was allowed to go through malolactic fermentation. This is a rich and elegant wine, beginning with aromas of pear and apple. The palate has flavours of pear, apple mingled with vanilla. The finish lingers. 91.
Covert Farms Grand Reserve Roussanne 2017 ($43.90 for 44 cases). This wine fermented for 35 days and then was aged 10 months sur lies in neutral French oak barrels. The wine presents with a light golden hue. It begins with aromas of stone fruit and vanilla. On the palate, there are flavours of apricot and peach. The flavours are remarkably bright for a six-year-old wine. The texture is rich and the finish lingers. 91.
Covert Farms Amicitia 2019 ($29.80 for 900 cases). This is a blend of 35% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot and 2% Syrah. The wine was fermented for 25 days in open-top fermenters, with daily punch downs. It was aged 14 months in barrel. It is a harmonious blend, with aromas of black currant and spice. On the palate, flavours of black currant mingle with black cherry, blackberry and leather. The tannins are long and the finish lingers. 90.
Covert Farms Grand Reserve Pinot Noir 2020 ($40.80 for 225 cases). This wine begins with aromas of spice and cherry. The palate is packed with flavour: cherry, plum and cocoa. The finish lingers. 92.
Covert Farms Grand Reserve Syrah 2020 ($58.90 for 125 cases). The wine was fermented 28 days in open top fermenters, with daily punch downs and then aged 21 months in French oak. This is a big, bold wine. Aromas of deli meats and pepper are mingled with dark fruits. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, black pepper, cocoa and pepper. 92.
Covert Farms Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($63.80 for 171 cases). The wine was fermented for 26 days in open-top fermenters and aged 20 months in French oak. A whiff of oak mingled with dark cherry, plum and spice. On the palate, dark cherry and red licorice are mingled with dark chocolate and tobacco. 91.

Okanagan Falls wineries strut their wines

Photo: Blasted Church vineyard overlooks Skaha Lake
The wineries in the Okanagan Falls sub-appellation bill themselves as The Heart of the Wine Country. Hats off to whoever came up with that clever tag line for the cluster of wineries around of close to Skaha Lake. Fifteen wineries from that group recently presented their wines at a spring release tasting in Vancouver – the first major Vancouver tasting of the season. There are about 25 wineries in this sub-appellation, depending on where the borders are drawn. Those wineries not at the tasting would have assorted reasons for their absence. At least two wineries were so badly impacted by smoke taint in 2021 that they released no wines from that vintage.
There were wines from 2020 and 2022 at the Vancouver tasting. I detected no smoke taint in the 2021 wines on offer, perhaps with one exception; in that case, the toasty flavour was negligible. Most of the 2021s were very good indeed. In a normal year, the terroir of this sub-appellation produces quality grapes. The 2022 vintage was a case in point: a big harvest of quality fruit. A note of caution: it obviously is too early to talk about the quality of 2023; but the quantity will clearly be down. There has been serious winter damage, although less so in the Okanagan Falls than further south where there was less climate moderation, if any, from lake effect.
I only had the time (and stamina) to taste at half of the tables at the Okanagan Falls tasting. I also skipped some first rate wineries that generally send me samples (Meyer Family Vineyards, Mayhem Wines and Stag’s Hollow Winery). But here are notes from the tables where I was able to stop.
Black Market Wine Company This is one of four wineries in the Kaleden region, a region that deserves to have its own sub-appellation. Owners Rob Hammersley and Michelle Shewchuk (above) operated Black Market for six years as a virtual winery until they were able to buy a 4 ½-acre producing Conviction Ridge Vineyard near Kaleden, planted to Bacchus, Merlot, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Rob was going to pull out the Bacchus until he discovered how popular and versatile the varietal is. 2021 Nothing To Declare ($35 for 785 bottles). This is an ancestral method sparkling wine made with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The wine was fermented with natural yeast, bottled before it had finished primary fermentation, and left on the lees 4 months before being disgorged. The wine is delicious: crisp with flavours of crab apples and strawberries. The mousse is lively. 90. 2022 Bacchus ($24 for 225 cases). This is a lively wine with tropical fruits in the aroma and on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 92. 2022 Omerta Cabernet Franc Rosé ($26 for 200 cases). Delicately pink in hue, the wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry, rhubarb and pomegranate. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90. 2020 Syrah ($35 for 136 cases). This wine, which was aged 21 months in French and American barrels, is made with fruit from an Osoyoos grower. There is pepper on the nose and the palate, along with flavours mingling cola, cherry and deli meats. 91. 2020 Syndicate ($35 for 250 cases). This is the winery’s flagship Bordeaux blend made with Merlot (38%), Cabernet Franc (28%), Petit Verdot (17%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (17%), with fruit from Kaleden, Oliver and Osoyoos. Each varietal was fermented separately and aged 21 months in French oak (40% new). It is a bold, rich wine with aromas and flavours of black currant, dark cherry and chocolate. 92.
Blasted Church Vineyards
This winery, which opened in 2000, anchors a western-sloping vineyard on a height of land overlooking Skaha Lake. While that vineyard supplies much of the fruit for Blasted Church, the winery also sources grapes from growers in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valley. Winemaker Evan Saunders (above) produces one of the largest and most interesting portfolios in British Columbia. 2020 Hatfield’s Fuse ($20 for 5,400 cases). This is likely the winery’s most popular white. It is a very complex blend: 36% Viognier, 16% Orange Muscat, 12% Chardonnay Musqué, 9% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Chardonnay, 7% Pinot Blanc, 6% Pinot Gris, 4% Gewurztraminer, 2% Riesling. Not surprisingly, it is a fruit bomb – tropical flavours explode on the palate. The finish is crisp and lingering. 90. 2022 Viognier ($24). Some 30% of this fermented in new French oak, which is nicely integrated with the medley of stone fruits and tropical fruits on the palate. 92. 2018 Merlot ($34 for 932 cases). There is five per cent Malbec in this blend. After a long maceration on skins, the wine was aged in barrel for 20 months. It has aromas and flavours of plum, blackberry and spice. 90. 2019 Syrah ($32). The wine begins with floral aromas mingled with pepper, echoed on the palate with flavours of spice, fig and plum. 91. 2018 Small Blessings Cross to Bear ($40 for 200 cases). This is 100% Cabernet Franc, with fruit from four vineyards. The wine was aged 22 months in barrel, primarily French. The wine has aromas of blackberry and coffee that leads to flavours of blackberry, raspberry and plum. The tannins still have enough grip to suggest aging this wine in bottle a few more years. 92. 2021 Small Blessings Mourvèdre Syrah Grenache ($40 for 300 cases). The varietals were co-fermented and aged in barrel (third fill, fourth fill and neutral) for 16 months. The wine is fresh and juicy, with aromas of red berries and flavours cherry, plum and spice. 92.
Bonamici Cellars
In 2012, winemaker Philip Soo partnered with wine marketer Mario Rodi (above) to found Bonamici Cellars. It operated as a virtual winery until they bought property in 2016 on Rolling Hills Road, south of Okanagan Falls. Here, they have planted a vineyard and opened a winery and tasting room. 2021 Pinot Grigio ($20). Crisp, fresh and fruity in the style appropriate to Grigio. There are aromas and flavours of pear and citrus. 90. 2021 Rosé ($22). This is a blend of 40% Merlot and 30% each of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. Delicate in colour, the wine is packed with flavours of cherry and plum. 91. 2019 Merlot Cabernet Franc (Wine club only). This is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc. The aromas and flavours are intense, delivering cassis and dark fruit with an appealing hint of cloves on the finish. 91. 2020 Belviaggio ($45). The winery’s flagship red, this is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese. Once again, there are clove flavours on the palate mingled with dark fruit. 91.
Lakeboat Vineyard & Winery
Calgarian Tara Matheson and winemaker Mireille Sauvé (above) opened this Kaleden winery in 2022 after salvaging the former winery on this property – Topshelf Winery which had struggled ever since opening in 2011. The vineyard has been renovated and expanded; a well-equipped processing facility has been added, along with a sunny tasting room. The best news is that the wines are very well made. 2021 Pinot Gris ($21.95). Crisp in texture, this has aromas and flavours of pears and peaches mingled with Granny Smith apples. 91. 2021 Chardonnay ($26.95). Very subtly oaked, this wine has a creamy texture but manages to be crisp and refreshing. The orchard fruit flavours linger on the long finish. 91. 2020 Pinot Noir ($29.95). This is a seductive wine with aromas and flavours of red cherry and strawberry. 92.
Liquidity Wines
This winery (above) was established in 2008 but a group of Vancouver and Calgary business people. A tasting room and a bistro opened in 2013. The winery was acquired several years ago by Mission Hill’s Anthony von Mandl. Last summer, he installed a New Zealand-born and trained winemaker, Amy Paynter. She succeeded Alison Moyes who had moved to Red Rooster Winery. The strength of these wines is a credit to the ability of both winemakers. 2022 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($30 for 575 cases). This wine was fermented 70% in stainless steel and 30% in a concrete tulip, adding texture. Delicately pink in hue, the wine has flavours of strawberry mingled with a hint of grapefruit. On the palate, the wine is fresh and zesty. 92. 2021 Estate Viognier ($30 for 630 cases). This is a wine with a laser-like focus that makes the palate site up and take notice. There are aromas and flavours of stone fruits. The finish is crisp and lingering at the same time. Fermented in stainless steel and French oak, this is a complex and delicious wine. 93. 2020 Reserve Chardonnay ($55 for 350 cases). Fermented in French oak, this is an elegant wine with aromas and flavours that mingle citrus and peach with vanilla. 92. 2020 Estate Pinot Noir ($35). There are dark cherry flavours mingled with blackberry and spice. The wine has classic silken textures. 92.
Nighthawk Vineyards
This winery was opened in 2015 by Daniel and Christy Bibby. Their son, Dakota, took over the cellar a few years later from a consulting winemaker. The winery and the vineyard are on Green Lake Road, perhaps a bit off the beaten path for wine touring. The wines and the lakeside locale (above) are worth the trip. 2020 Lux de Vinea ($38). This is a traditional method sparkling wine that is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. It was aged on lees for 21 months. The wine is crisp and dry, with a brioche note in the aroma and with flavours of citrus. The Latin name means “light of the vineyard.” 91. 2018 Gewürztraminer ($21). This is a concentrated Alsace-style Gewürztraminer with aromas and flavours of lichee and ginger. 90. 2022 Rosé ($N/A). This is 100% Pinot Noir. The juice was on the skins for 12 hours, extracting a delicate pink hue. The wine has delicious flavours of strawberry and raspberry, with a lingering finish. 91. 2018 Cabernet Franc ($36). The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (35% new). It has aromas and flavours of black currant, blueberry and chocolate. 88.
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery
Winery owners and former Calgarians Jim and Leslie D’Andrea will be celebrating Noble Ridge’s 20th vintage this year. The winery takes its name from the hilltop Okanagan Falls property the D’Andreas bought in 2001 after an extensive search in France and Ontario for vineyard properties. The 25-acre hilltop (above) was already growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. They added Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. In 2006, they acquired a second vineyard across the road. NV The Fizzy One Frizzante ($18). This is an unassuming but delicious bubbly made with 62% Kerner and 38% Pinot Gris. The wine has loads of tropical fruit aromas and flavours. 2021 Stony Knoll Chardonnay ($N/A). The technical specifications are not yet on the Noble Ridge website. The previous vintage, now sold out, was fermented almost entirely in stainless steel. There seems to be a little more oak here, with vanilla complementing the mandarin orange flavours. 90. 2021 Noble Ridge Meritage ($26.99 for 2,500 cases). This is a blend of 69% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The wine was aged 12 months in barrel (24% new). The wine is bold, even intense, with aromas and flavours of black currant, dark cherry, plum and dark chocolate. 90.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Syrah specialist Rust Winery surprises with a Gamay

Photo: Rust Winery with deliberately corroded exterior
The current releases from Rust Wine Co. features the usual glorious selection of Syrahs; but there is also one unexpected wine – a 2022 Gamay. The wine recalls a Beaujolais Nouveau, but made with more finesse than most Nouveau wines, which often are simple, grapey wines. They are released in late November every year as six- to eight-week-old juveniles and are meant to be consumed by the following Easter. Like a Beaujolais Nouveau, the Rust wine is made with Gamay grapes, with at least partial whole berry fermentation. That is a technique meant to accentuate the fruity aromas and flavours. Unlike Beaujolais, the Rust wine was aged four months in neutral oak. On release, this is a more mature wine that can be cellared into the summer. It will still have the youthful characteristics of a Nouveau but with a little more complexity.
Rust is a sister winery to Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, with access to some of the same vineyards. However, Rust winemaker Ryan de Witte has been given the latitude to develop a portfolio of wines
quite distinctive from Mt. Boucherie. The four different Syrahs each vintage alone are a good reason for joining the wine club. The winery’s technical sheets do not disclose the volumes of each wine but I suspect the quantities are limited. The labels also are distinctive. The winery, which is just off the highway and midway between Oliver and Osoyoos, is clad in steel deliberately made to develop a bloom of rust. The wine labels all mirror the colours of rust. Here are notes on the wines.
Rust Riesling 2022 ($25). The fruit is Clone 21-B Riesling from a 1990 planting in the Lost Horn Vineyard near Okanagan Falls. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and spent five months on the lees. The alcohol is a moderate 10.5%. The 25 grams of residual sugar are well balanced with 9.8 grams of acidity. There are aromas and flavours of lime and green apple, with a lingering finish. 92.
Rust Gewürztraminer 2022 ($25). Made with fruit from vines planted in 1973, this is an intense and serious Gewürztraminer in the style of good Alsace Goo. The juice was on the skins for four days and was fermented in stainless steel. There is ginger and lychee on the nose and on the palate. The texture is rich and the finish is dry. 91.
Rust Chardonnay 2021 ($35). The fruit for this wine is from the Lost Horn Vineyard in the Okanagan Falls sub-appellation. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in barrel and was aged 10 months in French and European oak (40% new). The wine begins with aromas of apple and citrus leading for flavours of peach and apple. The toasty oak notes are very subtle. 90.
Rust Gamay 2022 ($30). The fruit is from the Lazy River Vineyard in the Similkameen, from a 1996 planting. Aromas of red cherry and plum jump from the glass. On the palate, the wine is soft and fruity, with bright red cherry and pomegranate flavours. The late Harry McWatters described wines like this as “guzzable.” A light chilling lifts the fruit. 91.
Rust South Rock Vineyard Syrah 2020 ($44). The fruit is from a 2002 planting of Clone 877 in what is now the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation. The wine was fermented with 25% whole clusters and was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak (33% new). It is a rich and satisfying wine, with aromas of plum, dark cherry and pepper. There is more pepper on the palate along with flavours of plum mingled with deli meats. 93.
Rust Syrah Lost Horn Vineyard 2020 ($44). The fruit is from a 2016 planting of Clone 877. The wine was fermented with 25% whole clusters and was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak (33% new). This is a brooding, earthy wine that needs decanting to open up fully. There are aromas of dark fruits leading to flavours of fig, dark cherry, leather and a hint of pepper. 91.
Rust Lazy River Vineyard Syrah 2020 ($44). The fruit is from a 1999 planting (Clone 877) in a vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. The wine was fermented with 25% whole clusters and was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak (33% new). This is a bold, ripe wine with aromas and flavours of fig, pepper, black olives and deli meats. 92.
Rust Ferreira Vineyard Syrah 2020 ($44). The fruit is from a 2002 planting (Clone 877) in the Ferreira Vineyard just outside of Oliver. The wine was fermented with 25% whole clusters and was aged 18 months in French and Hungarian oak (33% new). The wine begins with aromas of spice and dark berry fruit. On the palate, flavours of dark cherry and plum mingle with pepper. 92.
Rust South Rock Vineyard Zinfandel 2020 ($44). The fruit is from a 2002 planting on what is now the Golden Mile sub-appellation. The wine was aged 18 months in French and American oak (40% new). There are very few Zinfandels grown in British Columbia. This wine holds its own against top Zins from California. It begins with aromas of blueberries and blackberries. On the palate, there are flavours of blueberry, blackberry, cherry, plum and spice. 93.
Rust South Rock Vineyard Solus 2020 ($88.88). This is a blend of 38% Merlot, 32% Zinfandel, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Gewürztraminer. The wine was aged 18 months in French and American oak (61% new). The production technique for this wine was usual. The Gewürztraminer in the blend was the fermentation starter. Each of the other varietals were added when they were harvested, in what the winery calls a “rolling co-fermentation.” The objective was to retain the expression of a single vineyard wine; the fruit is all from the South Rock Vineyard. This is a bold and generous wine, with aromas of dark cherry, plum and spice. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry, blackberry, black currant, chocolate and leather. Long, ripe tannins give the wine a polished texture with a long finish. 94.