Going Haywire…

This blog was originally published for/on The Wine Gang’s site….

While there are a few gems out there, and as much as they are improving, there can be no denying that dry Canadian table wines are work in progress.

So it was with fascination (I don’t mind admitting) that I accepted an invitation to dinner to taste the wines of Haywire a few weeks ago, as the people behind it were all in town and I’d received a tip-off from a local that they were worth trying.

Haywire can be found in Canada’s most westerly province, British Columbia, more specifically the Okanagan, which is a mind-blowingly beautiful part of the world (as you can see here – woah).

It consists of 120-ish miles of lakes that stretch the length of the valley. Rainfall is low, sunlight is in abundance (on average 3.5 hours more a day than Napa, we’re told) and the nights are cool to keep those all-important acid levels high.

Here, Okanagan Crush Pad has its state of the art winery and even though it’s a custom crush facility OCP is also home to two of its own brands, Narrative and Haywire.

While Christine Colleta (second from left, above) and her husband own it and long standing Canadian wine specialist David Schofield (fifth from left, above) is the face and voice of the brand, it’s not just Canadians involved here. Famous winemaking consultant Alberto Antonini is also in on the project while the day-to-day winemaker is a Kiwi, Matt Dumayne (far right with the sleeve tattoo, above).

So what do they make? “Fresh and vibrant wines,” answers David, “they’re always defined by acid, which can make or break a wine”.  They’re now also characterised, since the 2015 vintage, by using nothing but native yeasts. So far so good. At least that’s how it sounded, but did the wines stack up to the story?

Well yes, actually. We tasted a vast range of styles, kicking off with two Sauvignon Blancs, of which the second was more interesting – the Free Form White 2014. This definitely had that natural wine thing going on with its apricot richness and slight Viognier notes (this is Sauv Blanc, remember) but even so, it had plenty of freshness, tang and life to it, intriguing but very tasty too. I gave it 88.

We moved on to a Gamay Noir Rosé (88) and then a very tasty White Label Gamay 2014 (90) which was beetrooty and bright with spice and freshness. It justifiably prompted a table discussion about the potential for Okanagan Gamay. In a nutshell, the prospects are good!

Next came a pair of Pinot Noirs, the Waters & Banks Pinot Noir 2014, named after the vineyard owners, this was served with duck and had plenty of Pinot-ness to do the duck justice. Hedgerow fruit with a woody spiciness and a flicker of vanilla, it was very accomplished (90) and then the other, Canonview Pinot Noir 2013 which had 0.5% less alochol than Water & Banks, this was the prettier of the two with black cherry prettiness but it still had guts and depth to the flavour (89).

Want a slice of this exciting Canadian wine action? You’re in luck, thanks to those clever guys at Red Squirrel Haywire will be available over here later in the year. Oh – and did I mention they also make a very tasty gin under the Narrative label? I’m just hoping that will make its way over here later this year too…

www.okanagancrushpad.com

 

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Sexy Soave (yes, really)

First published on The Wine Gang’s blog site…

Let’s face it, ‘sexy’ is not the first, or even tenth word that springs to mind when someone mentions the wine style Soave. But there’s one producer that is a gigantic exception to this, PIEROPAN.

We’re no strangers to reviewing the Pieropan Soaves here on the The Wine Gang site, and we (David Williams and I) were lucky enough to be invited to dine with Andrea Pieropan last week to celebrate the new 2014 releases of his two single vineyard wines, Calvarino and La Rocca.

La Rocca is the south-west facing vineyard and its grapes are fermented in both steel and oak. It is always 100% Garganega and Andrea believes the unique soil of this vineyard for the area – a limestone outcrop – allows the Garganega to achieve sufficient ripeness for it to work by itself and not blended with another variety. The first release of La Rocca was in 1978.

The first release of Calvarino was in 1971. This is the vineyard in the heart of the traditional Soave area and is typically a blend of 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave. The former provides structure and acidity while the latter offers perfume and richness, said Andrea. Calvarino sees no oak but rests on its yeast less in cement tanks for 12 months before being aged in bottle for at least two months before release.

While the 2014s were sprightly and youthful, tasting them both was preceded by a phenomenal vertical tasting of older Calvarino and La Rocca, proving the quality, ridiculous value for money and serious ageability that comes with getting Soave right.

So what did we taste? We went young to old so kicked off with the 2013s. Not being too old it still has the characteristics that are familiar to regular Soave drinkers: zesty, salty minerality, apple roundness and a cooling freshness to finish. The Calvarino was especially zingy because 2013 was a cool vintage in the main (before the summer heatwave) and Andrea advised us that “Trebbiano di Soave loves cooler vintages.”

By the time we got to 2009 we could see the change in colour to something deeper and golden. The richness of colour was reflected on both wines on the palate with a waxy, nutty character shining through, the intensity of which increased as we moved back further and further, and especially on the 2007s because the grapes were picked especially late, towards the end of October.

The 2005 pair really stood out, the honeycomb and orange richness (but always with a searing freshness too) prompted someone in the room to enquire whether Andrea used/induced malo lactic fermentation when making these wines. MLF as the trade says for short is the process that turns the harsher malic acid like you get in apples into the smoother lactic acid like you get in milk.

His answer was a categorical “no”, for two reasons – firstly, he said if the wine was picked ripe enough there should be no reason to do MLF and secondly, he remarked that MLF makes a wine “more global” and therefore less specific to its origin. While I’ve heard that said many a time of wines made with no sulphur dioxide (‘natural’ wines, if you will) this was an interesting and new (to me) take on MLF.

Our second flight of older wines consisted of the 1999, 1993 and 1990. Each time moving into deeper and deeper degrees of waxy apples, nuttiness, dried banana chips and apricots, and all the while with this undercurrent of purity and appetite-whetting saltiness. That endless minerality (saltiness) is why – Andrea explained – Soave used to be sold as Petit Chablis before WWII.

As is there hadn’t been enough eye-rolling and lip licking at the wine feast before as we moved from delicious vintage to vintage we were surprised at the end with two final wines, the 1986 Calvarino and 1987 La Rocca. Both of which were fantastic, but the room was split in terms of their favourite. Speeaking of which, my personal favourite, both in the final pair and throughout the tasting was Calvarino. La Rocca is beautiful don’t get me wrong, it draws you in on the nose more than Calvarino, with its plush and generous floral aromatics. But on the palate Calvarino has this piercing freshness and purity that is long, long, looooong. It’s slightly cheaper than La Rocca too, because of the no oak.

To say it was kind of Andrea to show us this mind-blowing back catalogue was understatement of the century, there are only a handful of some of these wines left in the family cellar. It was a memorable night, not only in proving that Soave can age very well (and in fact not just La Rocca, as most of the cognoscenti seems to think, but Calvarino too) but also what a remarkable wine Soave can be – tasty when young, divine when old and no matter when it is consumed, very sexy indeed. So I’d better order my 2014 cases before anyone reads this and stocks run out. Ciao!

 

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Pinot Perfection

Originally published on The Wine Gang‘s website.

We wine nerds (see below) all seek Pinot perfection in our own idiosyncratic way, even when it comes to Burgundy we split hairs between villages and vineyards to satisfy our personal Pinot particulars.

Speaking of which Burgundy is where my whole wine journey began, so if anyone had said to me – before my trip to California two weeks ago – that I’d have a Pinot epiphany in California, I’m reasonably confident I would have laughed in their face.

Well, can someone hand me a large slice of humble pie right now please because it happened, I had the The Perfect Pinot Moment. Y’know, the kind of one that goes beyond appreciating the quality of it and just tugs at the heartstrings because it was so mind-blowingly delicious?

I swear the MW standing next to me shed a tear as she tasted it.

This all took place in California’s cooler spot of Sonoma but the wine responsible for all the high emotion actually came from Santa Cruz Mountains, one of California’s very first demarcated wine regions (called American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs).

More specifically, the wine was made by Arnot-Roberts, a modest and thoughtful producer that I requested to visit on this trip thanks to a tip-off from Mick Craven at Craven Wines, an Australian winemaker now based in Stellenbosch but who has spent some time on the West Coast.

Duncan Arnot and Nathan Roberts have known each other since third grade but took slightly different wine paths at first; Duncan as a winemaker and Nathan – brilliantly – as a trained cooper, until they collaborated to make their first vintage in 2002.

The guys have benefited from land and grapes that other people have discarded in California “because they couldn’t producer the powerhouse wines that people wanted.” Well those are exactly the kind of vineyards that Duncan and Nathan didwant, because it plays to their desire to make delicate wines.

And delicate they are. In fact the whole Arnot-Roberts tasting was a lesson in authenticity, delicacy and freshness. Everything from their Trousseau Noir to their Syrah had character and drinkability. The Peter Martin Ray Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 (above) especially, which comes from one of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in North America. It was replanted in 1979. It was fresh, creamy, slightly toasty, juicy, crunchy, salty, lightly spicy and had a sublime texture. Rich but elegant. I just couldn’t leave without buying a bottle, and I wasn’t the only one.

That was one special highlight from the week on the West Coast, but it was an epic week all in. Our road trip (group picture at the top) covered Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Napa, but it was in Sonoma where that long-reported-on rhetoric came to life, Californian wine really does have SO much going on.

Duncan Arnot and Nathan Roberts have known each other since third grade but took slightly different wine paths at first; Duncan as a winemaker and Nathan – brilliantly – as a trained cooper, until they collaborated to make their first vintage in 2002.

The guys have benefited from land and grapes that other people have discarded in California “because they couldn’t producer the powerhouse wines that people wanted.” Well those are exactly the kind of vineyards that Duncan and Nathan didwant, because it plays to their desire to make delicate wines.

And delicate they are. In fact the whole Arnot-Roberts tasting was a lesson in authenticity, delicacy and freshness. Everything from their Trousseau Noir to their Syrah had character and drinkability. The Peter Martin Ray Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 (above) especially, which comes from one of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in North America. It was replanted in 1979. It was fresh, creamy, slightly toasty, juicy, crunchy, salty, lightly spicy and had a sublime texture. Rich but elegant. I just couldn’t leave without buying a bottle, and I wasn’t the only one.

That was one special highlight from the week on the West Coast, but it was an epic week all in. Our road trip (group picture at the top) covered Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Napa, but it was in Sonoma where that long-reported-on rhetoric came to life, Californian wine really does have SO much going on.

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