Monday 10 November 2014

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Vertical

A recent evaluation of my wine collection revealed a growing vertical of Laughing Stock’s Blind Trust Red. Without any firm plans for what to do with this bounty I held on to the bottles and the collection grew. By the time the 2012 vintage was released this summer I was in possession of six uninterrupted years of this mysterious and variable wine – so named because the contents of the blend are kept hidden. With half a case at my disposal and a valuable educational opportunity at hand I invited several colleagues from Swirl Wine Store to join me in sampling some of Naramata’s finest.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust Red 2007-2012

Laughing Stock’s Blind Trust Red is similar to a traditional second wine in one sense, using the wine not selected for the more iconic “Portfolio”. The winery is clear in stating that “the barrels for Portfolio and Blind Trust are treated exactly the same for the first 15 months.” There are simply often leftover proportions once Portfolio’s taste profile and balance has been finalized. These remaining barrels are put together into a new and unique wine from which one is asked to trust the judgment of winemaker David Enns. However, in recent years the wine has taken on a bit more character of its own, by including grapes such as Syrah, not part of the Bordeaux-style Portfolio blend. Blind Trust can often be more approachable in the present than Portfolio, but it ages just as marvellously in the eyes of the winery (see this Maturation Chart), as we were about to find out.

The first vintage of Blind Trust Red was produced from the 2005 harvest, two years after the first (2003) Portfolio, now in its tenth vintage (2012). Our vertical began with the 2007, generally considered to be a very good vintage in the Okanagan. A nice whiff of vanilla was my first impression upon opening the bottle, which I double decanted along with the other five before everyone arrived. Delving into the wine with the group produced assessments of aromatic blackberry and blueberry, plus mild hints of bell pepper as well. A delightfully smooth texture revealed warm, rich flavours mirroring the nose, with accents of black licorice; an early favourite already! A few guesses ultimately led to the actual content, revealed by peeling back the foil on the neck: 50% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 22% Cabernet Franc.

From 2008 the aromatic introduction was that of black olives; it was deemed immediately more savoury on the nose, reminding many of a winter stew. Still, underneath those meaty notes some chocolate and raspberries crept through; with no peppers evident in what was deemed an improvement. The palate was slightly more acidic than the 2007, from a cooler vintage, but also seemingly sweeter with the same luxurious, well-aged character. The Merlot component was revealed to have increased substantially to 78% that year, with 13% Malbec as a pleasant surprise, and only 9% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our third bottle came from the legendary 2009 vintage, a spectacularly hot summer, despite the cool spring’s late bud-break and an early October frost, which combined to shorten the season by four weeks. Aromas of dried fruit and chocolate presented themselves immediately, with a savoury sausage undercurrent. The summer heat was apparent on the hot, nearly over-ripe palate however, which put some tasters off for being too brash and boozy. That year saw 70% Merlot joined by 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Malbec. Not a favourite thus far, prompting recollections of the more pleasant first two wines, and providing some consternation about the outcome of many other BC wines from the same vintage still awaiting my attention.

The following year, 2010 saw another relatively cool vintage similar to 2008, with harvest only getting started in mid-October (after a cool, wet September), and dragging out into November. The nose on this wine showed off spice-rack aromas and earthy character with leather hints. The palate was awash in cranberries and sour cherry, perceived as the most tart wine of the evening, and pushing 15% alcohol as well. One has to wonder how much of the overall profile was influenced by the inclusion of 6% Syrah for the first time, which we discovered alongside 62% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Malbec. A low of 1,675 cases of Portfolio were produced in 2010, and the Blind Trust followed suit, with a mere 765 cases (versus more than one thousand in every other vintage, and as many as 1,620 in 2009).

The feared 2011 vintage was next up, from the coolest season since Laughing Stock was founded, and roughly considered a poor year overall. The surprise of the night was at hand though, in a youthful, fruit forward wine that had us all raving! Aromas of mulling spices led into a delightfully lighter-bodied, lower-alcohol (13.6%) palate, smoothly textured and soft, with very nicely balanced acidity and a fresh, grapey finish. The complex blend of five varieties brought Merlot down to 47%, while Malbec jumped up to 31%, followed by 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Syrah. The 2011 vintage saw Laughing Stock’s elegant Portfolio awarded a prestigious Lt. Governor’s Award; combined with observations from this Blind Trust, we are reminded that every vintage has something to offer that may surprise!

The 2012 Blind Trust was only released this past summer – I received two bottles in my June Preferred Share Wine Club shipment. After a few ups and downs in the years beforehand, 2012 proved to be a very solid growing season, long and warm, with no major problems during harvest. Opening the bottle provided for a waft of cedar, followed by blackberry and black currant aromas after aeration, with pleasant floral hints around the edges. The palate provided for our first noticeable tannin, with bright but balanced acidity and well-rounded fruit character that’s drinking quite well given its youth. It turned out that Malbec was again a major contributor, at 32% following Merlot’s lead of 49%, with 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc rounding out the blend.

Six half-empty bottles provided fodder for several reassessments as we nibbled on the delicious food on offer: guests had provided a range of cheese and dips, pâté, home-made mushroom and beef empanadas, and even wild-harvested venison sausage! The favourites were soon obvious without discussion, as the 2008 and then 2007 bottles emptied out, followed soon thereafter by the 2011. The young but promising 2012 found itself in fourth place, while the overall assessment put 2009 and 2010 at the bottom in the formal ranking, leaving us all quite enlightened. Drinking each bottle independently over the years could have drawn out the pleasure, but would never compare to sharing them all with good friends and food in such an entertaining event.

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