ONE of our favourite tastings of the year is an action-packed hour or so spent with Quails Gate winemaker Grant Stanley.
We'll get to the wines shortly but much of my enthusiasm stems from the fact that Grant - aside from being a superb winemaker and one of the most personable guys in the industry - is refreshingly down to earth. In short, he calls a spade a spade.
After nearly a decade in B.C. (and extensive prior experience in New Zealand and Oregon) he's gained an invaluable cool-climate perspective. When 2010 arrived he figured it couldn't get any worse.
And then 2011 hit.
"What happened?" he asked himself.
The growing season, one of the coolest on record, resulted in many harvesting well into the end of October.
"We picked three weeks late, across the board," says the winemaker, who says he just couldn't believe the lack of ripeness and sugars, and low numbers all round.
"It was relentless to watch, very challenging. And more work on all levels," he says. "Eventually, we had to pull the pin . . . before the snow flew!"
Despite that, however, Stanley says: "It's incredible how the wines have actually turned out, with great varietal expression."
In fact, "everyone's raving about the 2011 whites, especially the aromatics. without a doubt the lower alcohols contribute to that expression, so who would have thought so much slightly on the edge of unripe would
And appealing they are, indeed. Here's a trio of whites and a rosé, any one of which - when the hot weather eventually does arrive (or even before!) - would be a happy addition to your fridge.
- Quails Chenin Blanc 2011. We love this wine as much for the story behind it as for how it tastes. Back in the days when everyone was going gaga over Chardonnay, Quails Gate considered dropping the varietal, but in recent years its popularity has risen, in part thanks to Stanley's approach - adding a dash of 8 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and a little neutral barrel-fermented Chenin, that delivers surprising complexity finished in a highly appealing dry style. This crisp wine also delivers great texture and mouthfeel, with bursts of lemon lime and juicy acidity that just cries out for a dozen oysters on the half shell; 91 points. BCLS $18.99.
- Quails Gate Dry Riesling 2011. The Alsace clone yields more floral, less limey notes, suggests Stanley, but it still explodes with a burst of lemon zest on the broad, quite textured palate, though not as puckering, he says, again with great, juicy acid fruit balance. The winemaker suggests to put it down and wait a while for it to develop. You might have a problem doing that, however; 90 points. BCLS $16.99.
? Quails Gate Rosé 2011. No doubt, there'll be a lot of rosés out of the Okanagan for 2011, says Stanley. Maybe. But, guaranteed, this Gamay with a splash of Pinot Gris will be one of the best. Pretty salmon in the glass it has some candied notes on the nose that don't come through on the overall dry palate. Definite rhubarb and strawberry notes with an appealing savoury, dried herb note and a touch of spice to close. And such a deal at BCLS $14.99; 90 points. Cracked crab please. And maybe a case.
- Quails Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris 2011. There was a time when the future for Chasselas didn't look that promising. But the success of this very appealing off-dry blend has prompted the winery to plant another three acres. Stanley has embraced a more off-dry style, with aromatics enhanced by the Pinot Gris. Let it open in the glass and the zesty notes give way to more tropical tones.
Great as a sipper but also very seafood friendly; 89 points. BCLS $18.99.