Marichel Winery – the next King of Syrah in B.C.?

Dropped in on Marichel Winery as part of wine tour a couple of weeks ago and was once again very impressed by the wines being produced by Richard and Elisabeth Roskell.  It is a relatively new, small winery on the Naramata bench overlooking the lake, but some combination of vines, soil, sun exposure and — of course! — winemaking is quickly showing that this is one to watch closely.

Marichel has gone from just two wines last year to four this year, and all are very impressive (but made in tiny amounts). The 2009 Wild Thing Viognier gets it name from the fact that is fermented with wild yeast.  A tricky and potentially risky proposition (the outcomes range from unique aroma and flavour profiles to fermentation that simply “stops” if the yeast doesn’t work that well), it has worked out very well for this wine.  Light yellow, with lots of floral aromas so characteristic of this white grape from the Rhone Valley, it is medium body, citrusy and bone dry. At $15, it is a killer deal, but there were only 97 cases made.  It’s a “drink over the next 6 months” kind of wine.

Their regular 2009 Splitrock Viognier is like the “papa version” of the previous wine. Darker yellow, even more floral on the nose and quite full-bodied, almost like a red wine in complexity and concentration.  Richard thinks this wine has aging ability, which goes against the current trend of drinking even expensive Condrieus from the Rhone in their first few years of life (but, he says, going back to a more ancient tradition of aging them).  It is gorgeous now, so not sure how many people will try to keep it.  At $30 it isn’t cheap, but there is good quality here. Again, only 99 cases made.

The first red I tried is, alas, already sold out (I think my wine club bought the last couple of cases, thank goodness!). Made for the first time, the 2009 Shiraz-Viognier is a riper and fruitier take on the blend used for Cote-Rotie in the northern Rhone. And what a charmer this wine is! Deep purple — almost looks like a barrel sample — it is explosively fruity on the nose and in the mouth, absolutely incredibly ripe without any sweetness; like eating a mouthful of blackberries! And little or no oak or jamminess either; kind of like an Aussie Shiraz without the jam.  A stunning value at $25…but gone. Oh well, look for it, hopefully, next year.

The granddaddy of Marichel’s wines is their Syrah.  I first tried it last year — the 2006 — and was blown away by the ripeness and concentration of the peppery, blackberry fruit.  The 2007 Syrah is slightly less fruity now, but may have more structure underneath. Even with 16 months in new French oak I cannot taste the wood — a real testament to the quality of the fruit and winemaking — and the tannins that lurk underneath are soft and ripe.

The only potential controversies about this wine are its aging potential and price. Richard thinks — like the 2006 — it is a 10 – 15 year wine. A lot of BC wineries say that, but few if any have been around long enough to have examples to back it up.  What has been the best Syrah in B.C. — from Nichol, a bit further up the road — has often developed nicely in the bottle for 10 years, actually getting more “Rhone-like” with time.  So it is possible; certainly, there is enough fruit to get it there.

The other potential issue is the price — $40.  Richard and I had a long chat about that last year, and again a couple of weeks ago.  Readers know I get pretty twitchy when B.C.wines approach the $40 mark; in fact, I don’t think I have recommended any of them (with Kettle Valley’s Reserve and Hayman Pinots, Blue Mountain’s Reserve Pinot and Nichol’s Syrah Reserve still staying below that mark).

But he convinced me once again that his was worth it. It is a beautiful wine, no doubt about it. But for me, it is only worth $40 if it will age and develop; and we will have to watch it and see. But in the mean time, if you want to fool a wine dweeb — particularly one who drinks a lot of $50+ California wines — pour this one blind for him.  I guarantee he will think it is from his state and is a new “trophy” wine.

Way to go Marichel; outstanding, ripe and well balanced wines!



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