Friday, May 17, 2013

Moon Curser vineyards, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

A few weeks ago I had the sincere pleasure of being invited to the first annual Renaissance Wine Merchants portfolio tasting in Gastown; a neighborhood of distinction and heritage in Vancouver, BC. (

Now I've always been a fan of the Renaissance line-up; cutting edge Cab-Sauv blends from California, clean Pinot Noir from New Zealand and excellent expressions from the BC wines they carry... but my friend and colleague who invited me asked me to try something "A little different"

Oh! I'm intrigued... what would be different at one of these affairs?

He pours me an ounce or two of a deep, dark, seductive wine and waits for me to wander off in my own thoughts (which invariably happens when I judge wines). "Holy Shit!" says I - "that's f***in amazing."

"What is that?" I stammer.

"A Tannat-Syrah blend" says he.

Ok - I have to admit. That is different!

"From BC" he continues.


My friend helps me lift my jaw off the floor.

"You're shitting me." I demand.

He pours me another ounce of the Ambrosia and I lean in to listen to the story; the story of a guy in the I.T. field and his wife from accounting who decide to make wine.... sorry? Where's the punchline?

Oh no - this is the honest story says he! They loved wine, were looking at what to do with the rest of their lives, and decided to make wine. But! But they didn't want to make wine like everyone else. 

Well... if this is any example then they are most certainly not like everyone else. Actually, come to think of it - I did try one of their other wines a year or two ago and was so impressed that I simply had to write about it. ( Riiight@! I remember now. But this wine is really something else! So I, as any self-respecting wine journalist, Twitter the winery that night and told them that I would love to write an article on their current work.

They sent me the following wines and I was, truly, impressed. Not everything in the line-up was to my particular taste and it may not be to yours, but these wines are crafted with precision and speak articulately of their terroir.

2012 Afraid of the Dark
91+ points
Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne
  • visual:    clear; pale straw core with watery rim
  • nose:    clean; medium+ to fully intense and youthful aromas; fresh papaya, Mandarin orange and ripe melon, small white and yellow meadow flowers
  • palate:    clean; dry, medium+ crisp Meyer lemon acid, medium body, medium+ alcohol (14.1% ABV), fully intense and youthful flavors in-line with the nose; bright citrus tones are quickly washed away by ripe exotic fruit layers, nuances of soft flowers abound but all is held together by a brilliantly precise minerality. Excellent balance and structure, medium+ length
  • conclusion:   a stunning example of Okanagan Crozes-Hermitage, for lack of a better explanation. This blend was made famous by the French, but now a BC winery is re-defining it for a fraction of the price. Imminently approachable, enjoy 2013-2017++
  • FOOD PAIRING:   though seafood is a natural pairing, Hermitage is far from the ocean, much like Osoyoos. Think regional! Clay oven baked chicken, mustard and savory herb rub, ratatouille, fried olives and fresh crusty peasant-loaf

BC is the home of Riesling and Gewurztraminer... sure we craft a few world-class Chardonnay, but they're few and far between. But Roussanne? Marsanne? We are one of the most extreme wine-growing regions in the world - a far cry from the chiseled valleys of the Northern Rhone where wine-making has a heritage measured in millennia (yes - thousands of years) and these varietals are best known. I later called Chris Tolley, winemaker and half of the equation that is Moon Curser vineyards

I asked Chris "Man - what made you think of this blend for BC?"

Chris told me that , truthfully, when they first started they didn't really know what they were doing. Oh sure - Chris and his wife Beata had gone to school in New Zealand, earned their stripes in vineyards in Australia and here in North America... but they didn't really know. Chris figures that if he had known beforehand how much work this white blend was going to be - perhaps he would have tried something else. After only speaking to him for an hour, I realized that he probably still would have done it. Just to prove that it could be done - and done well.

2010 Petit Verdot
90+ points
  • visual:   clear; deep plum core with bright violet rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ intense youthful aromas of spicy stewed blackberries and blueberries, bright violets/dark floral tones, mineral undertones
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+to full red currant acids, full tight/grippy tannin, medium body, medium+ alcohol (14.4% ABV), medium+ intense youthful flavors much in-line with the aromas; the berry tones really sing with the precision of the minerality, good focus with an ultra-fresh finish. Good balance and structure with medium length
  • conclusion:   a unique expression of the Okanagan Valley, this wine expresses varietal with great clarity if not depth or layering. The vines are still young though, and each subsequent vintage should bring more and more to the wine. Too young to enjoy now without double-decanting, drink 2015-2020
  • FOOD PAIRING:   these ultra-bright acids want fat and the huge tannin crave beef. Consider beef Stroganoff with caramelized pearl onions and fresh farfalle pasta... 

Chris explained to me that 2010 wasn't a particularly great year for the vines of BC; this made the winemakers' work a little harder (and he wasn't the first to tell me this nor, I imagine, the last). Because of the lack of sunshine, and thus ripening of the grapes, there was less intense fruit notes in the wines. For me, personally, I prefer a wine like this; it allows minerality to strut it's stuff a bit more. I like tasting the earth as much as the fruit and love it when a wine can find that sense of harmony. 

Truth be told though, many consumers enjoy overactive fruitbombs. There's nothing wrong with that - indeed, what a sad place the world would be if we all had the same palate (or sense of fashion!)

2010 Syrah
92+ points
$25++ (only available at the cellar door)
  • visual:   clear; deep plum core with cherry/violet rim
  • nose:   clean; fully intense and developing bouquet of spicy dark fruit; layer upon layer of peppercorns (red, black, white, green), a hint of Thai chili, warm oak, light caramel, cherries and cherry blossoms
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium (well integrated) black currant acid, medium+ chewy/fleshy tannin, medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (14.4% ABV), fully intense and developing flavors in true unison with the nose; bright berry notes hit the palate full force, moderately by cohesive oak, earth tones, and that south Okanagan pure minerality. Very good to excellent balance, great structure and full length on the palate
  • conclusion: a world-class wine! Easily the equal of any Syrah/Shiraz of this price-point from anywhere in the world... better value then most regions can provide. Enjoy this now, but will reward slight cellaring... drink 2013-2020 and possibly beyond
  • FOOD PAIRING:   classy wine deserves classy food, and what could be classier then pizza! But not the $5.99 pizza of our teenage years, consider grass-fed grilled steak pizza with fresh local arugula, shaved Asiago and caperberries... the grass-fed beef has a bit of "funk" to it that will be muscle to this wines finesse, the arugula has a bit of sharpness that is in-line with the Syrah pepper, the Asiago provides the saltiness and the caperberries are your new olives for grown-up evenings!

This was one of the absolute stars of the show for me! I am not the biggest Syrah fan (Bordeaux is my big passion) - but I've been fortunate enough to taste some true gems from around the world. This could become one of them one day, and is already competitive, dollar-for-dollar, with just about any other Syrah/Shiraz. Anywhere.

2011 Contraband Syrah
89+ points
  • visual:    clear; deep plum core with slight cherry/violet rim
  • nose:    clean; light+ to medium youthful aromas of bright red cherries and raspberries with a strong red and black peppercorn undercurrent/mingled with dark floral tones
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium red raspberry acid, medium grippy tannin, medium- body, medium- alcohol (13.9% ABV), medium- intense and youthful flavors starting with bright red berries and moving quickly to dark tea/wood tones then back to a tart cranberry/red raspberry finish. Good balance and good structure with medium+ length
  • FOOD PAIRING:   never underestimate the lowly pot-roast my friends!!! In France, where Syrah originates, they might call it pot-au-feu but no matter what you call it, it's packed with meaty flavors and tons of richness that will foil this wines active acid with ease and grace. Consider slow-cooked Hopcott Farms** pot-roast with garlic fried parsnips  creamed leeks and mashed turnips (tatties to my Scottish friends)
(I specifically mention Hopcott Farms in Pitt Meadows, BC as they are one of the bastions of great, locally raised and butchered beef in Western Canada.   )

So you may be raising an eyebrow at why I scored the more expensive wine less? Truth be told - I don't like jumped-up fruitiness. Others may love it - and will - and will score higher. The construction of the wine is completely professional, but I missed the great expression of earth and minerality that I got in the 2010. I imagine that a year or two in bottle will tame the fruit enough to allow these secondary notes to emerge more fully.

Chris explained to me that with the "Contraband" the winery really kicks the drive for quality into high gear: more pruning in the vineyard, more careful sorting at the trays, more French oak (as opposed to mild Hungarian/Eastern European), lees stirring, longer aging potential... it's a world of difference in wine-making for an extra $4/bottle. Try getting that kind of value from Old World producers!

2011 Cab-Sauv
89-90 points
  • visual:   clear; medium+ garnet core with ultra bright cherry-plum rim
  • nose:   clean; medium intense youthful aromas of bright red berries (raspberries, currants, strawberries), savory underbrush (aka sous-bois in France), some warm leather and oak tones with a eucalyptus finish
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense red raspberry acid, medium+ to full chalky tannin, fully intense and youthful flavors much in line with the nose; bright red berries burst on the palate with freshness and immediate appeal, the savory tones follow lead by a south Okanagan herbaceousness and a textbook CabSauv menthol/eucalyptus finish. Good balance and very good structure with medium length
  • conclusion: full of life, this is a rare example of Cabernet Sauvignon that I would not cellar. I would enjoy this as it is now - bursting with life. Best (in my opinion) 2013-2015, drink 2013-2018
  • FOOD PAIRING:   A classic pairing with your Tuesday night bbq slow-braised and thickly glazed molasses bbq ribs, roasted corn-melon and cilantro salad, hot buttered cornbread and steamed green beans/okra
2007 Twisted Tree Tannat
89+ points
(Twisted Tree is the former label for Moon Curser vineyards)
$ ? *(not for sale - from the Moon Curser wine library)
  • visual:   clear; medium+ ruby core with light cherry rim/slight bricking
  • nose:   clean; medium+ intense and maturing notes of warm caramel mocha, old leather, ripe plum compote, dark rose hips
  • palate:    clean; dry, full+ red currant acid, medium- silty tannin, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (14.9% ABV), medium intense and developed flavors much like the nose; the palate opens with a bang! pow - layers of ripe red and black berries; Saskatoons, cherries in every shade... did you know the vineyard used to be home to 5 acres of cherry trees?... followed by that warm Osoyoos earth, leathery cigar tones and finishing with slightly bitter espresso.
  • conclusion:   I would drink this now if I had a few bottles in the cellar; the acid is still quite high but I don't envision the concentration lasting much longer. It most certainly will not develop further. Enjoy 2013-2014/5
  • FOOD PAIRING:   with the bracing acidity, I would pair this first course with pate and let the two become the best of friends! Jacques Peppin's country-styled pate with spicy sauteed grapes, toasted currant and millet loaf

Chris and Beata certainly sent me a full selection of wines to develop my knowledge of both their portfolio and their terroir. The first people in BC, and probably the only people in Canada, to grow Tannat - this couple knows the meaning of "adventure". It has most certainly been an adventure for them as they developed their lives from desk-job to wine-guru; from air-conditioned cubicle to the roaring furnace of the Sonoran desert...

 A business coach of mine says "It is the job of the entrepreneur to be scared everyday. A day without fear is a day without chasing after the big clients, the big break-through, the big-value for our clients."

 I respect this winery, and it's owners. Not just for bucking tradition and being willing to try something new, but also for making it work. I can't imagine the ridicule that must have taken place when they planted a varietal known best for it's offerings from Uruguay! But - they made it work. Young vines still, I must admit to being intrigued by what will be coming in the near future. As I started this article, I spoke of tasting  the 2011 Cab-Sauv - Tannat blend which is, in a word, world-class.

Much like the winery itself.
my thanks to for the photo!

I'm looking forward to your thoughts as you taste these wines for yourself...
 let me know @AStudentofWine (Twitter).

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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