Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Noble Ridge celebrates its 20th vintage this year

Photo: Proprietors Leslie and Jim D'Andrea (courtesy of Noble Ridge)
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery is celebrating its 20th vintage in 2023 with as many celebrations as can be packed into a busy summer. Check the winery’s website to find an event that works for you if you are visiting the Okanagan Falls wine region this summer. Proprietors Leslie and Jim D’Andrea purchased a small vineyard here in 1986. The vineyard holdings subsequently were expanded to 24 acres, supporting a production growth from 540 cases in 2003 to 7,500 cases currently.
The portfolio now encompasses three tiers of Chardonnay along with other white blends; topflight sparkling wines, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and red Meritage blends. The surprise is that most, if not all, of the wines, are estate grown. The topography of the two Noble Ridge vineyards is such that the winery can mature Cabernet Sauvignon on one steep, south-facing slope and Pinot Noir and other Champagne varieties on a cool northerly exposure. A currently-released trio of wines celebrates the versatility of the vineyard. Here are my notes.
Noble Ridge Rosé 2022 ($24.99 for 460 cases). This delicately pink rosé is made with Merlot grapes that were given just two hours of skin contact. It has aromas of apple and rhubarb leading to flavours of strawberry and watermelon. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Noble Ridge Pinot Noir Reserve 2019 ($34.99 for 376 cases). This wine is made with clones 113, 114, 115 and 777. The bunches were destemmed, crushed and cold-soaked for five days before undergoing a warm ferment. The wine was aged 14 months in French oak (10% new). It is a dense, brooding wine with aromas of dark fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black olives, plums and spice. The finish lingers. 92.
Noble Ridge Meritage Reserve 2020 ($42.99 for 900 cases). The blend is 74% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Malbec. The wine was fermented warm and aged 14 months in barrel – 70% French, 30% American and, with 27% being new oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, blueberry and cassis. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum and blueberry. The polished texture and the seamless balance are typical of the 2020 vintage. 92.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Hillside's 2016 Mosaic and friends

Photo: Hillside winemaker Kathy Malone
My 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries, aimed to identify the most collectible wines then being made in British Columbia. Hillside Winery’s Mosaic, first made in the 2003 vintage, had been raised to that status after Kathy Malone took over as winemaker in 2008. Here is an except from the book:
Hillside’s Mosaic was conceived when an ambition and a need intersected in 2003. Eric von Krosigk, Hillside’s winemaker at the time, wanted to make a premium wine that blended all five of the major Bordeaux red varietals. Hillside’s management needed a wine that made a statement. “Hillside wasn’t necessarily famous for making good statements,” says Ken Lauzon, who was the winery’s general manager back then.
The first three vintages were primarily blended with grapes from the South Okanagan. Hillside only began planting its Hidden Valley Vineyard, now an important source for Merlot, in 2002 in the hills above the winery. Since 2006, however, Mosaic has been made entirely with Naramata Bench grapes. “Before I came here, I would not have thought that was wise,” says winemaker Kathy Malone. She came to Hillside in 2008 from Mission Hill, where she had worked primarily with South Okanagan fruit, not Naramata grapes. She is now one of the strongest advocates of the Naramata terroir. “I love the type of ripeness we get on the Naramata Bench,” she says. In the 2010 and 2011 vintages, Hillside lost one source of Naramata Bench Cabernet Franc. Rather than compromise on the winery’s commitment to terroir, Kathy made those two vintages with no Cabernet Franc in the blend. That varietal returned to the wine in 2012 when Hillside secured a new source.
The 2006 vintage was the first Mosaic to win a gold medal (at the Northwest Wine Challenge). While fermenting just Naramata fruit brought the first upgrade to Mosaic, subsequent advances also reflected winemaking changes. Early vintages spent only nine months aging in French and American oak barrels. By 2008, barrel-aging had been extended to 13 months. Now the wine spends at least 14 months in barrel, all in French oak, and more than a quarter of the barrels are new. While Mosaic has evolved, it has always been structured to age. Current vintages are expected to improve in the cellar for at least 10 years.
Since that was written, Kathy has also begun producing single vineyard wines, some of which – like the Howe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – are offered primarily to Hillside’s wine club. Here are notes on three of Hillside’s current releases.
Hillside Viognier 2021 Heritage Series ($28 for 320 cases). The grapes for this wine were destemmed and given 18 hours of skin contact. Seventy per cent was fermented in French oak (27% new) and matured there for six months, with lees stirring; the other 30% had a long cool ferment in stainless steel before it was all blended. At first, there is a bready note from the lees in the aroma. That is soon overtaken by floral aromas along with notes of apricot. On the palate, there is a medley of tropical fruit flavours including guava, ripe pineapple and apricot. The finish lingers. 92.
Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Howe Vineyard ($50 for 170 cases). It is believed that the first Cabernet Sauvignon on the Naramata Bench was planted by Hillside’s original owners, just south of what is now the Howe Vineyard. This medium-bodied wine was aged 19 months in French oak (14% new), which seems to account for the polished texture. The wine has aromas of black currant and dark cherry with a hint of pepper. On the palate, dark cherry flavours mingle with blackberry and cocoa. Perhaps because the alcohol is just 11.8%, the wine is fresh and elegant. 90.
Hillside Mosaic 2016 ($60 for 462 cases). The blend is 42% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 16 months in French oak (27% new). The extended bottle age before the wine was released allowed this Mosaic to develop very appealing aromas of cassis, cherry and mocha which is echoed on the palate. This is a polished wine drinking very well right now but with the structure to age to the end of this decade. 95.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Little Engine's no compromise wines

Photo: Proprietors Steven and Nicole French
When a package of samples includes Pinot Noirs from a topflight producer, I invite a friend with exceptional knowledge of Pinot Noir to taste with me. Because a recent selection of six wines from Little Engine Wines included four Chardonnays, we decided in the spirit of Burgundy to taste them as well. It was a good decision. This Naramata Bench winery is an exceptional producer and the wines were a delight to taste, impressing both of us. Here is an excerpt for the 2020 Okanagan Wine Tour Guide to provide background on Little Engine.
The wines of Little Engine have three designated quality tiers: Silver, Gold, and Platinum. In the winery’s first vintage, 2014, owners Steven and Nicole French elevated just 10% to Platinum and left 60% as entry-level Silvers. The intention, however, is to get to 60% Platinum as quickly as viticulture and winemaking can support that quality. “Our family motto is ‘Dreams don’t come true—dreams are made true,’” Steven says. After all, the winery’s name was inspired by the 1930 children’s story The Little Engine That Could.
For Steven and Nicole, Little Engine is a career change from the energy business in Alberta. Both were born in 1969: Nicole in London, Ontario, and Steven in Winnipeg. “We finished university [in London] and moved to Calgary and stayed there for over 20 years,” Steven says. In 2011, they bought acreage near Penticton, where their sons attended hockey school. The following year, when the fruit trees were removed, they began planting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. Deciding to launch a winery, they made Little Engine’s first two vintages at another winery until Little Engine’s production facility was completed in 2016, amid about 2 hectares (about 5 acres) of vines right beside Naramata Road. To make the wine, they recruited Scott Robinson.
Scott, who was born in New Westminster, earned a degree in kinesiology and worked in that field for several years while his interest in wine grew. By 2005, he began juggling that with part-time work at Township 7. When he decided to commit to winemaking, he went to the University of Adelaide in 2008 and worked at leading wineries in New Zealand and Australia. He returned to the Okanagan to become the winemaker at La Frenz Winery and then, with a partner, to launch Stable Door Cellars in 2014. When that partnership ended, he was snapped up by Little Engine. The owners describe Scott as an “absolute perfectionist.” That fits Steven and Nicole’s philosophy. “We won’t compromise anything,” Steven says. Perfectionism has its price. Little Engine wines are expensive, reflecting the cost of keeping yields very low to produce intensely flavoured wines. The big and bold house style, especially with the red wines, has found such a strong following that many are sold out by the end of the season.
Here are notes on the wines.
Little Engine French Family Release Chardonnay 2022 ($38 for 460 cases). This wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel. It has the crispness and freshness of Chablis, with aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. 91.
Little Engine Silver Chardonnay 2021 ($39 for 634 cases). This wine was fermented 71% in barrel (none new) and 29% in stainless steel; and aged eight months on the lees with battonage. The wine announces itself with dramatic aromas of stone fruit and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and nectarine, with an intriguing note of salinity on the finish. 91.
Little Engine Gold Chardonnay 2020 ($62 for 755 cases). The vineyards were cropped at three tons an acre, resulting in a wine of great concentration. The wine had a long, cool fermentation in French oak and was aged 17 months in French oak (53% new). Golden-hued, the wine begins with buttery oak aromas. It is lush on the palate, with well-integrated oak framing flavours of stone fruits. There is a long finish with hints of spice. 96.
Little Engine Platinum Chardonnay 2019 (Wine club only; 180 cases). This wine also had a long, cool ferment in French oak barrels. It was aged 17 months in French oak (58% new) with regular stirring. The oak is slightly more pronounced in this wine, framing flavours of overripe apricots. The finish lingers. 94.
Little Engine Silver Pinot Noir 2020 ($47.50 for 805 cases). The destemmed grapes went into one-ton fermenters and were allow to cold soak on the skins for seven days and then fermented with indigenous yeast. Total maceration time was three weeks. The wine was matured in French oak barrels (none new) for 14 months, undergoing spontaneous malolactic fermentation. The wine has intense and vibrant fruit aromas and flavours, including cherry, cranberry and blackberry. There is spice on the persistent finish. 93.
Little Engine Gold Pinot Noir 2020 ($69 for 744 cases). This wine is comprised of eight clones (115, 667, 777, 828, 943, 91, Swan and Mt. Eden, all estate-grown). The grapes are destemmed into one-ton fermenters and, after a six-day cold soak, are allowed to ferment with indigenous yeast. The wine is pressed off near dryness and tank settled before going into French oak (28% new) for 15 months. Concentrated in texture, the wine begins with aromas of plum and fig. On the palate, there is plum and dark cherry mingled with spice on the finish. 95.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Maverick's new releases showcase the 2022 vintage

Photo: Winemaker Andrew Windsor (courtesy Maverick Estate Winery)
Since taking over Maverick Estate Winery early in 2020, winemaker Andrew Windsor and winery president Jan Nelson have built effectively on the winery’s excellent reputation for quality. Four current releases showcase the 2022 vintage, which Andrew and numerous other winemakers believe is one of the best yet in the South Okanagan.
Andrew and Jan are backed by Bob and Barb Shaunessy, the former majority owners of Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery. Andrew and Jan had met the Shaunessy couple at Tinhorn Creek, where Andrew, with a master’s degree in oenology from the University of Adelaide, spent several years as chief winemaker. The Shaunessys are backing a strong team. Maverick was already an outstanding winery under the original owners. Now, the winery has the additional investment to advance it to another level both in volume and in quality.
The original estate vineyard, where planting began in 2009, has 7.4 acres under vine. Under its new owners, Maverick acquired 77 acres on the side of the mountain south of the winery and is developing additional vineyards there. The first 15 acres, at an elevation of 520 to 600 meters, were planted last year. Another 10 acres will be planted this year at elevations of 370 to 410 meters. “We planted the bulk [of the upper vineyard] to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc,” Jan says. “We added in a half-acre each of Vermentino and Tempranillo. This may be the only Vermentino in BC.” The lower vineyard will be planted to red varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a half-acre each of Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. The winery also leases three vineyards in the South Okanagan. With these and the new plantings, Maverick is positioned to expand significantly from the 3,900 cases it produced in 2019.
Here are notes on the four wines from 2022.
Maverick Sauvignon Blanc 2022 ($23.98). This wine was fermented in both stainless steel and French oak, and aged for six months. It is an excellent expression of the varietal, with aromas of guava, lime and pineapple leaping from the glass. On the palate, tangy flavours of lime mingle with savoury herbal notes. The finish is bright, refreshing and very long. 94.
Maverick Pinot Gris 2022 ($22.98). This wine was fermented and aged six months in stainless steel. A small portion was fermented in neutral French oak to achieve a rich texture. The wine begins with aromas of pear and spice. The wine has flavours of pear, nectarine and apple. The finish is persistent. 92.
Maverick Rosé 2022 ($26.98). This wine is made with Syrah and had 12 hours of skin contact to give the wine a vibrant coral hue. The aroma is delicate and floral but the flavours are assertive: pink grapefruit, cherry and citrus. There is a pleasing hint of pepper on the long finish. 92.
Maverick Carbonic Syrah 2022 ($34.98). This wine is whole-clustered fermented. The point of carbonic fermentation is to encourage fermentation within each berry, accentuating aromas and flavours. This wine begins with intense aromas and flavours of pepper mingled with tapenade. There is an impression of fizz on the palate. The texture is soft. I would recommend drinking this young and lightly chilled. 91.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Poplar Grove adds a low-alcohol rosé

Photo: Winemaker Stefan Arnason
Poplar Grove Estate Winery in Penticton has joined the producers of low-alcohol (and non-alcoholic) wines. This is a segment of the wine market that has been growing in response to the demand from consumers who are counting calories or who have been spooked by the neo-prohibitionist campaign against drinking. These consumers still enjoy the taste of wine (and beer). More and more producers are serving this market.
Poplar Grove, which is run by Tony Holler and his family, has an extensive portfolio. The winery’s website currently has 24 wines in bottles (including multiple vintages) along with two wines in three-litre boxes. As an aside, boxed wines have also risen in popularity. The New York Times recently published a review of ten boxed wines from around the world that it judged better than average. Poplar Grove has both Pinot Gris and Rosé in its boxes. The winery happens to be one of the Okanagan’s major Pinot Gris producers, both in volume and in quality, so much so that the winery plans to expand its own acreage of the most widely planted white in British Columbia.
The winery is also an important player in the rosé market. In addition to its boxed rosé, it has three in bottle, including the low-alcohol wine launched this spring as Rosé Nouveau. Poplar Grove’s veteran winemaker, Stefan Arnason, described making the Nouveau “as an educational journey that has undoubtedly shaped aspects of our future winemaking.”
Both the Nouveau and the regular Rosé are made with similar varietals. The grapes had about three hours of skin contact before being pressed and fermented cool at 15◦C, a technique that preserves the fruitiness. The varietals for the Nouveau were fermented separately and then blended. The finished wine for the Nouveau was membrane-filtered to reduce the alcohol to eight percent, compared with the regular rosé’s 12.5%. Both wines were finished dry. The third rosé in Poplar Grove’s portfolio is Lakeview Rosé 2022, a single vineyard rosé made with Malbec grapes and priced at $30 a bottle. I have not had a chance to taste this wine. Only a handful of wineries in B.C. have enough Malbec to even think about making a rosé. It speaks to the demand for rosé wines that Poplar Grove would have three, plus the boxed wine.
Here are notes on two of those wines.
Poplar Grove Rosé 2022 ($21.65). This is 40% Merlot, 36% Malbec, 17% Syrah, 4% Pinot Noir and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine presents with a delicate (but not anaemic) rose petal hue, and with aromas of strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb. There is more of the same on the palate, which is juicy and refreshing. 90.
Poplar Grove Nouveau Rosé 2022 ($25.99). The blend is similar to the other rosé. The colour of this wine is a bit darker and more dramatic in the glass. There are aromas and flavours of strawberry and watermelon. Perhaps because the alcohol is lower, there is a little less concentration on the palate – but that is hardly a fault in a rosé. 90.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Mirabel takes on the world

Photo: Mirabel proprietors Dawn and Doug Reimer
Think of Mirabel Vineyards as a slice of Burgundy, but in Kelowna. The steeply sloping vineyard has six acres of Pinot Noir, planted in 2006, and 1 ½ acres of Chardonnay planted in 2018. For more background on the winery, here is an excerpt from the 2020 edition of The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
In 2005, Dawn and Doug Reimer moved to Kelowna in search of a site for their dream home. The property they bought overlooks a golf course and the city. But the apple trees on the slope spoiled the view for Doug until he planted Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay later). He decided to launch Mirabel Vineyards after several leading Okanagan wineries produced stunning wines from his grapes. “We were waiting to see what this terroir would really produce,” Doug says. “If it produced something we were excited about, then we want to take ownership and put our name on it.” The Reimers are Winnipeg natives. Doug, who was born in 1955, is a member of a renowned trucking family. His father, Donald, started Reimer Express Lines in 1952 with one truck. A successor company, Reimer World Corporation, now employs 3,000 in Canada. “We have always loved wine, but that is not how I got interested in growing it,” Doug says. “When we bought the property, we had such a beautiful piece of property, but we thought we could do more than grow apples and pears. They don’t pay very much, and they don’t look that good.”
To make the wines, with 2015 the first vintage, the Reimers hired consulting winemaker Matt Dumayne and used the custom crush facilities at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery at Summerland. In 2018, when Mirabel licensed a production facility on its vineyard, David Paterson from nearby Tantalus Vineyards was engaged to make the Mirabel wines and direct work in the vineyard. Doug has a singular focus. “We are trying to establish what will be a superior Pinot Noir in all of Canada, and knock down some doors in Oregon as well,” Doug says. “I love Oregon Pinot Noir. I have done extensive travelling in the Pinot Noir areas in Oregon. Maybe that is where our love started. We love the Burgundians as well. I did not want it to taste like Okanagan. I wanted it to taste like ‘world level,’ although people talk of sense of place.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Mirabel Rosé of Pinot Noir 2022 ($N/A for 210 cases). This wine sets out to impress with appealing packaging: a heavy clear bottle with a glass stopper to display a fashionably pale rosé. It begins with aromas of strawberry and watermelon. The flavours surprise with more intensity that the hue suggests: raspberry, strawberry, with an herbaceous note. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.
Mirabel Reserve Chardonnay 2021 ($N/A for 375 cases). The fruit for this wine is from the Naramata Bench. The wine was aged 10 months in French oak. This is a delicious wine, with aromas of vanilla and pear that are echoed on the palate, along with flavours of peach and citrus. 94.
Mirabel Pinot Noir Reserve 2019 ($59 for 200 cases). This elegant and harmonious wine is already drinking well but has the bones to age like a complex Burgundy. It begins with aromas of cherry and blackberry mingled with toasty notes. The silky palate delivers flavours of cherry and plum with a touch of forest floor on the finish. 94.