Question: What is the buzz on Château Pétrus being aged in space?
Answer: Yes a case of 2000 Château Pétrus was part of a study experiment on “growing plants” included on the recent trip by the International SpaceX capsule. Jane Anson of Decanter tasted a returned bottle this month and is quoted as saying “more floral aromatics – tannins were a bit softer and more evolved.” Interesting but a lot ado about nothing so far. Will have to wait for further studies and lab analysis. Not practical at all to age wine in space presently. Fascinating though! We already know that winemakers (especially Champagne) are aging wines underwater because of the conditions of no light, no oxygene, and different pressures. Obviously the environment of outer space could have some influence. Also didn’t like their choice of Petrus and 20 years old one. Didn’t need to be shaken up in space at that stage of its life. Very expensive wine and a quite unique “blue clay” terroir property. Merlot is OK but that variety is more about textures. Would have preferred a choice of a more reasonably priced younger vintage of cabernet sauvignon (even with cab franc & merlot in a blend) to see if the usual structured early big tannins had softened plus the exciting tertiary aromatics had developed sooner than the old 10 year Bordeaux guideline.
Your scribe has been an avid follower of Chris and Beata Tolley back to 2004 when they first acquired an old orchard on the east bench of Osoyoos British Columbia near the US border. Their original name was Twisted Tree but they changed it in 2011 to Moon Curser Vineyards. They together with meticulous vineyard manager Brian Dorosz have cleverly experimented with a number of innovative grape varieties that have proved so successful. Big fan from the beginning of their super Roussanne-Marsanne white blend that is rich and developing real complexity with some bottle age. Recommend the current 2019 (Gold at the 2020 All Canadian Wine Championships) at $27. Amazed last year by the lasting power of their honey-apricot 2007 under the Twisted Tree label bought for $21.90 at 14.2 abv with 48% ripe Viognier (25.4 Brix), 44% Roussanne (23.4B) & only 8% Marsanne (24B) with 20% barrel fermented in American oak & 80% in Stainless Steel. The newer vintages (leaving out Viognier now made as a separate variety) are superior but this early one showed the amazing potential for this blend to other producers in the southern Okanagan. Also admire the fresh 2019 “little rascal” Arneis (also tried Corvina) – the only producer of this Italian white variety in Canada!
The winery cleverly focuses more on reds that suit the hotter climate and specific terroir of East Osoyoos. Border Vines (first called 6 Vines) is a popular Bordeaux five grape blend using Carmenere (also made as a single variety feature as is the Malbec & Petit Verdot) rather than Merlot. Both Cabernets are liking the conditions of the growing place here as is the Syrah. It is the more unique varieties that have become such a hit lately from fruity Dolcetto to elegant Tempranillo to intensely structured Touriga Nacional (another of their many Golds). One grape that has been really catching my attention over the past decade is Tannat, a more robust tannic variety found in the Madiran region of France and also Uruguay. Smartly planted by the Tolleys in 2005 it has proven age worthy indeed both as a distinct single variety and in their fantastic limited production blend with 50% Syrah called Dead of the Night. Tried the current release of 2018 at $40 which impressed me for the big depth of textured intense fruit. However the real treat last week was the amazing aged 2009 at 14.2 abv that had matured into something memorable – a lush smooth rich complex “spicy plums” wine sharing both Tannat & Syrah characteristics to the very best advantage. Liked the use of new French oak (65%) for the Tannat and new Hungarian (25%) for the Syrah providing excellent balanced structure in the final resulting wine blend. A real winner! Superbly matched by a take out order of BBQ ribs from Joey restaurant. Always wondering what is a great wine pairing with BBQ foods? No more. Seek out the Moon Curser Dead of the NIght blend for a try or one of their other excellent big reds. Eye opener indeed and not that scary!
Question: Which vintages from Piedmont in the last decade would you recommend for long term cellaring?
Answer: Yes the nebbiolo grape in Piedmont especially from Barolo & Barbaresco is becoming quite the collector’s item during the last decade. Pretty good run of top vintages recently. Still a very big fan of those classic 2010 especially for Barolo (no Produttori del Barbaresco cru was made this year), purity of 2013, some underrated 2014 in Barbaresco (much more rain in Barolo) and outstanding balanced late ripening vintage 2016. Any top property from those years are recommended as good candidates for your cellar.
Climate change extremes seem to be resulting in more bush and forest fires causing smoke taint in the grapes and maybe the wines. It seems to be now a global issue with more fires and smoke reported from so many regions including Australia, South Africa and California. It seems to be difficult to pin down the possible effects of grapevine smoke exposure in the wine made from them even though spectroscopic tests and other often delayed lab techniques are helping somewhat. For example Napa Valley has lots of recent experience with both the 2017 & 2020 vintages suffering from this dilemma. As proprietor Doug Shafer has stated “smoke taint is a tricky adversary” and not knowing when it might turn up later on in his Shafer Vineyards 2020 vintage decided not to harvest anything. What an agonizing heart break decision to make to ensure only the highest quality. Bravo!
Fires and smoke have been an issue in the Okanagan vineyards of British Columbia for some time. The first major one was back in 2003 which came so very close to the vineyards of CedarCreek in Kelowna then owned by the Fitzpatrick family who discarded some grapes. It was even written up in the Wine Spectator on October 11 posted here advising that “only four of the Okanagan Valley’s 54 wineries were evacuated; one St. Hubertus, lost its winemaking facility and tasting room.” 2003 was also a very bad year for wildfires in Australia and extreme temperatures in France including Bordeaux. More recently 2015 and bad but early fires 2017 followed by 2018, 2019, 2020 have seen more frequent Summer fires and resulting smoke threats. University of British Columbia are continuing to study the matter and are always looking for best possible answers including a protective spray to reduce the volatile phenols measured in smokey grapes. Stay tuned.
Over the last months your scribe has tried many 2003 reds from the Okanagan. The heat and high growing degree days total of 2003 was beneficial to the grapes ripening and the length of the growing season also helped a lot. Some seem perhaps a touch smoky but that may be because of the use by some wineries of heavily charred wood barrels (and American oak in those days). Most were delightful drinking with a depth of clean ripe fruit helped by bottle age. The star for me is 2003 SANDHILL SYRAH Small Lots Program of 248 cases from Phantom Creek Vineyard at 14.5 abv released at $29.99 signed on the back label by grape grower Richard Cleave and winemaker Howard Soon. No wonder as this wine won Red Wine of the Year at the 2005 Canadian Wine Awards with the 2006 Canadian Wine Annual by Wine Access write-up stating: “leaves no doubt that the southern Okanagan is a shiny new platform for syrah. Crossing the aromatics of northern Rhone with the beefcake expression of Australian shiraz, it is full-bodied, dense yet elegant black red. Expect ripe black cherry, fig, black olive, Okanagan “garrigue” and pepper on the nose and finish. Some heat, and excellent to outstanding length.” Well put and still has intense complex flavours singing with a braised local lamb shank!
Two other close runners-up are 2003 Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir Family Reserve (first vintage of winemaker Grant Stanley – now at Spearhead – arriving in time for the crush with departing Ashley Hooper) matched with a chicken & peppers recipe of New York Chef David Pasternack + another big top 2003 Syrah from Burrowing Owl Vineyards also paired with a lamb shank & versatile farro. This wine won in 2005 a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence in BC Wine. Well done. If you are lucky drink up some memorable 2003 BC reds!
Question: I enjoyed a not to be forgotten pinot gris wine at a lauded restaurant in Budapest during my 2019 visit but can’t remember the name. Can you help?
Answer: I will try. Can’t assist with the producer. However, the grape variety was undoubtedly Szurkebarat the local name for pinot gris meaning “grey monk”. The best wines are produced from grapes grown on the northern slopes of Lake Balaton near Badacsony on ideal volcanic soils containing chalk. My best guess would be that your memorable wine was named Badacsonyi Szurkebarat. A good one! Hope this might help.