Monday, 9 May 2011

Mission Hill Blind Tasting

A few months ago I took note of several Mission Hill Reserve tier wines in my cellar, and realized that with just a few more I would have the entire series of varietals: thus an idea was born. Inspired by a tasting of the entire Tinhorn Creek portfolio I had attended some time ago, I hoped that with some searching and sleuthing I could facilitate a similar event at home: a blind tasting of every varietal from the same tier of wines from a single producer. I eventually got my hands on the elusive Viognier and Pinot Blanc, and before I knew it the collection was complete. I invited a few interested friends and we made a night of it, with some surprising results, and an even greater appreciation for the intricacies of winemaking!


I opened and bagged all the wines, pleased that none appeared corked, then randomly sorted them and assigned each a letter designation for note-taking. The overall goal was to see how accurate we could be as a group in discerning the varietals, but also to better appreciate the unique characteristics of each wine without nearly as many preconceived notions as would exist in a fully labelled environment. We began with six whites, and finished with the four reds, ironically in a very sensible order despite the randomization, as detailed below.

Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (2009): This first wine gave itself away rather quickly with some classic Sauvignon Blanc aromas, although the typical grassy, grapefruit characteristics were much more subdued than in other varietals of this type. I found it quite pleasantly floral, and very approachable – a wine for fans like my wife who tend to shy away from this grape.

Mission Hill Reserve Viognier (2008): Our initial confidence following the Sauvignon Blanc was dashed by this wine, which many mistook for Pinot Gris – having had little experience with single varietal Viognier. We all liked it quite a bit, and enjoyed the floral aromas and ripe pineapple on the palate.

Mission Hill Reserve Riesling (2009): Had the unique bottle size not given this one away relatively easily the initial nose would have done the trick with one sniff. Classic Riesling diesel aromas were present in mild to moderate amounts, although by no means as powerful as some other BC Rieslings I have tasted. The crisp acidity ensured a long finish and satisfied nods from the crowd.

Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay (2007): Our confidence increased with this one as most felt it was easy to call it Chardonnay given the golden colour and toasty, popcorn aromas. It was tasty and buttery on the palate with nicely balanced use of oak. The current release of this wine comes from the 2009 vintage, and I’m told the winemaking style has changed over time to yield a more fruit-forward, tropical flavour profile in newer vintages. I’m sure the newest version will be equally delicious, just in a different way.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Blanc (2008): Definitely the dark horse in the competition – many of us had little experience with single varietal Pinot Blanc, as it is often primarily featured in blends. The tropical notes had us guessing at Viognier, and many accolades followed; this was probably the favourite wine of the night, especially once its true identity had been revealed to surprise us. Our experience led us to suggest a pure Pinot Blanc tasting may be necessary in the near future to gain a greater appreciation for how this versatile grape can express itself in British Columbia.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Gris (2008): The final white was unfortunately the least favourite, and many felt guilty guessing it was Pinot Blanc only to learn it was Gris instead. It was by no means bad, but seemed slightly over-oaked and austere, without many unique characteristics standing out beyond that. The newer 2009 vintage is only 7% fermented in oak, as opposed to the 17% found herein; I would like to try it relatively soon while the memory of this one is still fresh in order to give this wine a second chance to impress.

Mission Hill Reserve Pinot Noir (2008): Although fairly dark in colour it was still obviously a Pinot Noir, with classic berry and somewhat earthy characteristics. The raspberry and strawberry aromas were enjoyable and the consensus was quite positive.

Mission Hill Reserve Shiraz (2007): Some of us mistook this Shiraz for Merlot after tasting through the final reds, as it was actually very mellow and round. It was delicious overall, juicy and quite well balanced and structured, but got overshadowed in some respects by the Merlot that followed.

Mission Hill Reserve Merlot (2007): The Merlot that masqueraded as a Shiraz, with lots more pepper on the palate than expected. Surprisingly, this is the only one of these reds still available, as all the rest have moved on to subsequent vintages. I would love to try this one again with some rich food to complement its power.

Mission Hill Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (2007): Being ten bottles in at this point, our notes began to degrade, but I can remember this last wine being all-around good without recalling many specifics. It was probably the most elegant of the reds, and really represents good value for this difficult-to-ripen (in BC) variety. With price coming in at only $22 I’m encouraged to seek out what remains of this vintage – and to try the 2008 – to have on hand as a house Cabernet.


Ultimately the group settled on some consensual favourites: the Viognier and Pinot Blanc in particular were well loved, and the Merlot won a very close-knit race amongst the reds, with which we could find fault in none. With the exception of a rare stumble by the Pinot Gris the whole line-up was judged to be of consistent quality and satisfaction. It’s worth noting that every white in the Reserve tier comes in under $20, and the reds range from $22-$25; all represent good value and solid dependability. Barring major changes in winemaking style I would feel relatively confident picking up any of these wines from future vintages without second thoughts. Bravo Mission Hill!

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