Our second day in Osoyoos was planned well in advance, it being our official wedding anniversary. Knowing a fast-paced wine tour would not provide the appropriate atmosphere, I had arranged only two winery visits for the afternoon leaving us with a relaxing morning to explore our resort and the town itself. Shortly after noon we headed up to the Golden Mile to our first appointment, with enough time available for a short stop at Italian-inspired winery LaStella. This small winery produces several top-notch wines, with a focus on Merlot, and prides themselves on having some of the lowest yields in the valley. Having tasted a couple vintages of their pinnacle “Maestoso Merlot” I can see why it receives accolades such as this: “It’s a massive wine that coats the glass like a tailored jacket…”
LaStella’s tasting room just north of Osoyoos is staffed by enthusiastic and fun-loving members of the team with an eye towards detail. The varietal-specific tasting glasses were of the highest quality, and changed regularly to ensure purity of samples: it conveyed a great deal of respect for the customer that impressed me immediately. To my surprise even the expensive Maestoso was sampled, and it continued to impress, along with the Allegretto Merlot I had come to purchase. One of the benefits of visiting the winery in person was apparent as a limited number of back-vintage bottles of 2006 Allegretto were available for sale alongside the current 2007 vintage. Allegretto in hand and dreams of Maestoso in mind we continued on our way to Road 13 Vineyards in the hills above the valley floor, where I hoped to see the new Executive Lounge and try some of the old favourites and new blends that are always racking up more awards.
Little did we know that as we pulled up to the quaint castle in the hills that is Road 13 that we were about to be treated to some of the best hospitality in the Okanagan! A touching individualized welcome sign at the front door was only the first hint of the excitement that General Manager Donna Faigaux had in store for us. We were quickly whisked off to the newly-opened lounge adjoining the public tasting room where we marvelled at stunning views across the valley through floor to ceiling windows as we sipped delicious Sparkling Chenin Blanc. As the very friendly staff arranged a full Riedel tasting flight on our private table Donna returned with beautiful trays of bread and cheese, marinated vegetables, and curried preserves. With nearly the entire spacious lounge to ourselves and a gamut of Road 13’s top Jackpot Wines arrayed in front of us my wife gushed that she felt like a celebrity – just what I was hoping for on this special day!
While we nibbled on our rather extensive “light lunch” owner Pam Luckhurst stopped by to welcome us. Despite the busy weekend there was no sense of haste in the lounge; Pam appeared relaxed and encouraged us to take our time enjoying the many wines she was happy to share with us – I could not have imagined a better way to spend the afternoon! Among the wines were the delicate 2009 Jackpot Riesling – “supremely well balanced” with only a hint of petrol on a nose that favours stone fruit – and the 2008 Jackpot Chardonnay, which was a Gold medal winner at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards. Despite being fully oaked and showing pleasing aromas of smoke and baked bread, the Chardonnay still retains fresh fruit and vanilla notes. The 2008 Jackpot Pinot Noir was a lot of fun to taste, as it interacted so extensively with our food that each bite and sip was a unique experience. The cherry and leather flavours seemed to invigorate the curried onion confit when the wine followed, but when aged Gruyere preceded the wine the cheese maximized the bright fruit characteristics of the Pinot Noir. Next up it came time to sample the 2007 Jackpot Syrah, and we were blown away by the aromas of fresh ground sausage and spice! The taste of the Syrah is not nearly as meaty as the smell, but sausage notes are still present in this eye-opening wine. Blue cheese and hot peppers were excellent pairings, and I’m sure carnivores would find the appropriate match as well; the tasting notes suggest lean gamey protein but I can’t help but wonder how a quality chorizo would fare as well.
We left the lounge both supremely relaxed and invigorated and were sure to profusely thank everyone we met on the way out. Fortunately both Donna and Pam were available to see us off and we were able to thank them again for the amazing hospitality. We left with a few more bottles to bring home, including the hard-to-come-by 2008 Sparkling Chenin Blanc and (now sold-out) 2010 Old Vines Chenin Blanc, along with some of the new 2009 Rockpile red blend (primarily Merlot and Syrah) – already winner of a Gold medal at the 2011 All Canadian Wine Championships.
Our next appointment was at Tinhorn Creek, to include dinner at the new Miradoro Restaurant. After a bevy of photographs of Tinhorn’s beautiful vineyards and winery we were treated to a sit-down tasting of the varietal series wines, plus a sample of the top-tier white blend – Oldfield Series 2Bench White (2010). If I could select a “house white” to serve on a regular basis I think it might be the 2Bench White; it is a complex and deliciously layered blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, and Muscat. We thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 vintage earlier in the month, and the 2010 is very similar (it being exactly the same blend), loaded with mouth-watering flavours of fresh fruits and vanilla & cream. Among the varietal wines the new Cabernet Franc (2009) was a highlight: it is very ripe and warm, and the tannins could handle aging quite well, plus the 14.8% alcohol will keep it preserved for some time! Another new release was the 2008 Pinot Noir: it was given an additional year of bottle aging over previous vintages, but still shows a fair amount of tannin in addition to earth and dark cherry flavours.
We followed our tasting with a tour of the winery itself, and marvelled at the seemingly enormous two-storey stainless steel tanks that Sandra Oldfield would later dismiss as “not that big”! One particularly memorable experience was stepping into the barrel room and inhaling the most soothing air I have ever remembered smelling – the cool and clean aromas of oak and red wine were so alluring it was challenging to continue on our way to Miradoro! We managed to drag ourselves away from the barrels for what turned out to be a stunning view of the entire valley from the wraparound glass balcony in the restaurant, where we relished in the vegetarian-friendly menu and extensive wine list. I enjoyed a delicious heirloom tomato salad paired with Tinhorn Pinot Gris while my wife raved about her equally beautiful beet salad. She elected for the tomato and squash pizza while I was happy to see “pizza funghi” on the menu, paired with Tinhorn Cabernet Franc of course. Our desserts was equally tasty and tasteful – chocolate cake for her and tiramisu for me. Overall the food was prepared with great care and high-quality ingredients, and the service was that almost invisible type of subdued excellence you don’t even notice until your perfect meal is over; it was the ideal relaxing culmination to our day.
Cellar Highlights – Sunday’s lucky finds and cherished gems:
LaStella Allegretto (2006 & 2007): Knowing I wanted a bottle of this unique Merlot (grown on its own rootstock – quite a rarity) I was pleasantly surprised to find the previous vintage for sale in the shop as well. The 2007 vintage is quite positively reviewed, and John Schreiner feels this “dark and brooding” wine could cellar for quite a while, as opposed to the more approachable 2008 (coming out soon).
Road 13 Jackpot Pinot Noir (2008): One of the wines we enjoyed in the Executive Lounge this small lot (393 cases) Pinot Noir was a hit with various foods. The previous vintage was named Best of Category at the 2010 Okanagan Spring Wine Festival and this newer wine has already received Bronze at the All Canadian Wine Championships earlier this year.
Road 13 Jackpot Syrah (2008): Even fewer cases of Jackpot Syrah were produced than Pinot Noir, and those 294 will probably go fast. The intriguing flavour profile found in the 2007 vintage was enough to prompt a purchase to see how the 2008 turns out. Given the maintenance of vineyard practices and winemaking it should continue to be an entertaining wine to share – we know a few carnivores who would have no trouble coming up with an epic food pairing!
Cassini Malbec (2009): Few Okanagan wineries produce varietal Malbec on a consistent basis – it can be challenging to ripen and make best use of – so I tend to snap it up when I see it. The 2008 from this young winery won Silver at both the Canadian Wine Awards and the All Canadian Wine Championships, and the 2009 is the first of Cassini’s bigger reds coming out this year (with Syrah, Merlot, and the Maximus blend to follow I hope). It won’t last long at the winery – only 85 cases were made – so I’m glad I got mine when I had the chance!
Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc (2009): Another delicious wine in a long series of successful, approachable, and economical Cab Francs from Sandra Oldfield and her team. We got two bottles to bring home for friends, safe in the knowledge that more was on its way in the September Crush Club shipment. It is usually quite widely available in stores (thanks to 5,000+ cases made) and is a very reliable food pairing for any season (burgers and pizza in summer, and stews and hearty pasta in the winter, etc.).