During this continuing pandemic your scribe has been delighted by many glorious bottles of wine. The biggest wonder experienced has been my unexpected surprise and great admiration for a superb 2011 Sandhill Small Lots Viognier. Always have been a long time admirer of their Small Lots reds bursting with innovation (Barbera & Sangiovese) and icon quality age ability (Bordeaux blends & Syrah). The whites not so much. However was impressed on release with this fresh balanced cool climate vintage 2011 so put a few bottles away to see how they might develop. Generally not the biggest fan of Viognier alone because the ripeness needed to express this variety results in high alcohol usually in excess of 14 degrees. Remember a visit to Daydreamer Wines in Naramata in June 2018 with winemaker Marcus Ansems MW and my excitement at his “Rachel’s” Viognier 2016 picked under 24 Brix fermented in French oak and brought in at 13 bursting with “apricot yoghurt”. There is a growing success in BC for preferred white Rhone blends by many wineries led by winemaker Severine Pinte with her Le Vieux Pin AVA using impressive Rousanne, Viognier & Marsanne plus innovative Moon Curser Vineyards Afraid of the Dark similar white blend.
The success of the Sandhill Small Lots program has been due to the brilliance of winemaker Howard Soon (now retired and Master Winemaker at Vanessa Vineyard). He had the foresight to produce these special vineyard lots with an eye to the future. He says “We discover unique and distinctive barrels that deserve very special attention.” This 2011 Viognier came from the Southern Okanagan in BC in Osprey Ridge Vineyard of grape grower Robert Goltz who deservedly gets recognition on the back label. They acknowledge that “Viognier requires ample heat to ripen well” but notice the alcohol is only 12% with a production 1102 cases. The wine descriptor note says “Brilliant straw in colour our Viognier offers peaches and floral notes on the nose with luscious fruit on the palate.” This is all true but it offered so much more with age. Still a youthful colour plus that fantastic balance remained after 9 years keeping the wine so fresh & vibrant yet with so much drama on the nose and palate. Sensations ranged from biting into a really ripe peach to the more subtle nuances of apricot, tangerine, oranges, nectarines, pears, almost tropical fruit pineapple, roses, brioche, cantaloupe melon, mango, hazelnuts, honey, mint, and a touch of saffron & ginger. There was a textbook floral elegance with minerality and attractive enticing softness. Amazing complexity and not strong but so drinkable and enjoyable now. What a sublime matching for steelhead salmon and home-made kadaifi nests of shredded phyllo stuffed with eggplant, ricotta, and pecorino. The trend now is you are not supposed to age viognier but to drink it immediately on release most fresh. This experience brought back fond memories of dining at La Pyramid in Vienne France founded by Chef Fernand Point considered a father of modern French cuisine with older Chateau-Grillet. In the seventies and eighties their wine list featured the world’s most extensive vintage collection of historic Chateau-Grillet similar to classic Condrieu 100% viognier in style but with their own appellation by long time owners the Nayret-Gachet family but now since 2011 under the ownership of the Pinault family (Chateau Latour). The older the vintage the more expensive the Chateau-Grillet at La Pyramide during those days. Check out the Chateau-Grillet excellent website which lists their 2011 vintage as concentrated near 13.5 alcohol. Compare what an amazing endorsement for future aged Viognier and other Rhone white grapes in British Columbia this 2011 Sandhill Small Lots is. Just get the soil choice right for the vines and find that perfect balance in the grapes. Congrats Howard and many thanks for this memorable revelation!
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