Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Different Take on Northern Rhones - WBW71

It would seem that I had a jones for Rhone varietals - particularly the reds - long before I ever knew what they were. Even thirty some odd years ago when I'd just started buying wine (I started at a very young age), I remember thinking that $5 Cotes du Rhone was the wine to grab if I wanted to look for a special event wine.

Many years later, when I'd graduated from homebrew to decent wines, the primary wine of choice was inevitably an Aussie Shiraz.

Even today, despite the fact that I lead a far more balanced life of wine, I still find myself reaching for Rhone varietals - be they called Syrah, Shiraz, Grenache, Garnacha, Mourvedre, Monastrell, even Mataro - or blends thereof. Accordingly, I was pleased to see this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday topic as suggested by Tim Elliott at Winecast. "Rhones Not From the Rhone" is something that I can really wrap my tongue around - despite the fact that participating in WBW71 is going to confuse the addition of wines to The List (the raison d'etre for this blog) even more, seeing as how I haven't even caught up to the wines we've finished prior to WBW70.

It will be worth it though as Boo and I probably have more Shiraz and/or Syrah in our "cellar" than any other single varietal and, if you add in all the new Mourvedre or Grenache wines showing up on the shelves - not to mention the blends - I could stay a happy man for some time on a desert island.

I figured we'd invite the lovely and talented Elzee over for dinner and pop a couple corks. It's particularly nice that I can work another two Okanagan Valley wines into WBW.

Most people probably think hot climate when they muse about Rhone varietals and I doubt many of those folks think Canada's Great White North as being up to that climate call. It's with great personal pleasure, however, that I can say the Okanagan is proving to be a fine source of Syrah. Our weather may not push quite enough heat units to ever be a force when it comes to Grenache or Mourvedre - although just this weekend I did try a pre-release sample of the first GSM to ever be produced in BC (Red Rooster's Golden Egg - watch for it in postings to come) - but Syrah is another thing. Indeed, it is now the fourth most planted red varietal in BC.

The Okanagan's ability to produce a fine Syrah was likely best advertised by the fact that, back in 2006, it was the region's Jackson-Triggs 2004 Proprietor's Grand Reserve that won the Rosemount Estate Trophy for the best Shiraz/Syrah at the prestigious London International Wine & Spirits Competition. It was the first time that a North American Syrah won the trophy that had previously been monopolized by Australian and South African wineries. The rumour around these parts was that the judges had gone into the competition thinking they'd award an Aussie producer that was pulling back on some of the aggressive, big fruit that the Aussies had made their name on. Funny thing was that the wine they picked as displaying that blend of Old and New World was actually from Canada.

Unfortunately, I don't have any of that wine hanging around. As soon as the trophy was awarded, that vintage disappeared from any shelves I ever perused. I do, however, have the following:

754. 2006 Church & State - Coyote Bowl Syrah (VQA Okanagan Valley)

This wine may not have won the Rosemount Trophy but it didn't do too badly on its own. In 2009, it won Double Gold at the Wine Press NorthWest annual competition and was awarded an elusive Lieutenant Governor's Wine Award - one of only twelve wines to be chosen in any given year out of all the wine produced in BC. Both dense and intense, with a gorgeous bouquet, it was nicely balanced, without being over the top on any front.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the pedigree of the wine. Bill Dyer, the ex-Napa and long time Okanagan winemaker and consultant, had joined up with the team at Church & State in 2004 and he was now showing his firm hand in the rebuilding of the winery. Anyone familiar with BC wine will recognize his name as being the winemaker that helped establish Burrowing Owl as one of the early cult wineries (such as we may have them) in the province.

As is the case with many other wine regions, Viognier is becoming a bit of a favourite in the Okanagan. It is now the seventh most planted white varietal in the province and production is increasing with every passing year. There were a couple of BC prize-winning Viogniers that I could have opened, but I thought I'd go in a different direction and try the only Okanagan wine that I know of that features two of the other stalwart white Rhone varietals.

755. 2009 Twisted Tree Rousanne/Marsanne (VQA Okanagan Valley)

When Twisted Tree replanted the old tree fruit farm with vines, they wanted to take a stab at growing varietals that weren't so common in the Valley. In addition to Tempranillo and Tannat, they planted the three principal white Rhone grapes - despite the fact that very few of their future customers would have ever heard of Rousanne or Marsanne. Indeed, even though I've heard of the two grapes, I can't say as I have much of an experience with or knowledge of them. None of our dinner gang knew what to expect. So, I actually pulled out Jancis Robinson and the Oxford Companion to Wine and read aloud during our initial sips.

We were all pleasantly surprised with the wine. The vines are still young - only in their fifth leaf for this vintage - but they were already producing a nice full wine with plenty of stone fruit and minerality. I saw that 12% of the wine was aged for four months in American oak and, although you could notice the oak, it was nicely integrated. Thankfully, for my taste, there was no hint of an overpowering oak monster making an appearance.

The only problem with the wine is that there were only 387 cases of it made. Good thing no one knows what to make of it because I think there is still some available if you look hard enough.

Thanks to Tim for a fun topic. I'll look forward to seeing where everyone else gets their Rhone on.

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