I actually visited Naramata last during my recent trip to the Okanagan, but will review its wineries first given the quality and familiarity I have with many of them.
Leading the way is what, in my opinion, is the best overall winery in B.C. (and maybe in Canada). I have been following their wines for almost ten years and La Frenz continues to go from strength to strength each year, almost regardless of the vintage. This visit, I chose to taste a selection of red wines (as well as the Rose), as I have already purchased many of the white wines. I won’t review those in this blog, but for the record the 2009 versions of the Viognier, Semillon, Small Lots Riesling and Small Lots Sauvignon Blanc (ranging in price from $19 – $22) are once again outstanding. All could easily sell for $10 more a bottle! My personal favourites are the Riesling (which finishes just off dry) and the Semillon, both of which have ageability (although are so delicious I haven’t been able to keep them that long!).
Interestingly, all the still wines have single vineyard designations this year, something that was done without any “across the board” price increases. The 2009 Rose Rattlesnake Vineyard ($18) was my first choice to taste. My wife and I fell in love with last year’s wine, which was made from Syrah. This year’s is a combination of Merlot and Pinot Noir — a strange mix — but is almost as good as last year! Deep pink (almost red) in colour, it is explosively fruity with ripe strawberries and little or no oak. Medium bodied, full of ripe strawberry and cherry fruit and bone dry, it is the perfect wine to drink in the summer out on the deck. And at that price, it is very competitive with other Roses from B.C.. I expect to go through half a case by the end of the summer (which is as long as anyone should drink rose).
Now on to the reds. First up, the 2008 Tempranillo Zeller Vineyard ($22) is a rarity for the Okanagan; I think only one or two other wineries make wine from this Spanish grape, which I enjoy most in Alexandro Fernandez’s Pesquera. La Frenz’s version is lighter (probably from younger vines) but the fruit is completely ripe with no greenness. The oak is supple, supplying a light overtone of vanilla to the earthy, peppery black currant fruit. It has a little tannin in the background, so it will be interesting to see what develops over the next few years.
Next up was the 2008 Merlot Rattlesnake Vineyard ($25) and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive before tasting it. The winemaker’s notes had talked about caramel and chocolate notes in the wine, which is a style of Merlot I don’t really like; I wondered if the less than optimal 2008 weather might have had an impact on the ripeness of the fruit. But once I tried it, any concerns melted away! A deep reddish/purple colour, there is a nice vanilla/ cherry /plummy nose, followed by a fully ripe mouthful of black plums wrapped up in a lush blanket of vanilla (and maybe a touch of chocolate). The oak presence is supportive, not overwhelming, letting the fruit come through. While not as big a wine as a few from the past, it is still beautiful and will drink well over the next 3 – 4 years. And at that price, it may be the best Merlot in B.C., certainly as good or better than wines selling for $30 and above elsewhere.
My final tasting choice was La Frenz’s flagship wine the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoran Vineyard ($28). Again, the tasting note has mentioned chocolate and coffee, so I wondered…but once again no need to worry! A dark purple wine, it has a lovely nose of vanilla, black cherries and black currants. It is very smooth and rich in the mouth, with hint of mint adding complexity to the black currants and soft vanilla. Sometimes the oak can dominate this wine when it is young, but not this baby…she is a beauty now and will be that way for up to five years. Again, this may be the best Cabernet Sauvignon from B.C. that is made in the California style i.e. emphasizing fruit over wood and herbs and tannin. It also avoids that “big red wine” problem so many in the Okanagan seem to have, as the tannins are well-integrated here and support — rather than overwhelm — the fruit.
I didn’t have a chance to taste the Montage, Reserve Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Grand Reserve, Malbec or the sweet wines. However, I have had all of them (except the Grand Reserve and Malbec) in the past and have been impressed. All are worth a try if you get the opportunity.
So once again, La Frenz shows why it is still “king of the hill”, not just in Naramata but across B.C.!