Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They grow grapes in Lillooet?

Yes, they do. However, with the inaugural release from Lillooet-based Fort Berens Estate Winery we aren't yet able to judge the quality, as the grapes for the wines have been sourced from the Okanagan Valley. The reasons are threefold: one, the youthful vines planted in the Fraser Canyon, although promising, are not yet producing up to the quality the winery desires. Two, using grapes from established vines allows the winery to showcase and communicate their future house style. Three, the winery is able to enter the market early and generate some revenue.

The winery has released 6 wines to market which are designed to preview the house style and which ultimately, showcase the skill of winemaker (and co-proprietor) Heleen Pannekoek, rather than the terroir of Lillooet. We will have to wait until next year to taste any wines produced from their estate vineyard site.

2008 Pinot Noir - $22
A winner. The nose offers complex aromas of dark cherry, raspberry, vanilla and forest funk with loads of allspice and earth notes. Savoury earth and oak characters take a starring role on the bone-dry palate with supple tannins and red fruits supporting. Well balanced with food-friendly, mouth-watering acidity and a long finish with lingering sweet spice.
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2008 Cabernet Franc - $25
A subtle nose of dark fruits, coffee grinds, tomato stock and aromatic flower aromas. Bone-dry and smoky-textured on the palate, yet decently balanced by juicy, dark berries and savoury oak. The acid kick would benefit from touch more residual sugar to truly stand-alone as a sipping wine, however, the balance as is makes for an excellent food-pairing wine.
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2009 Chardonnay - $18
There are individual elements of this wine that are compelling, but the complete package left me a little wanting. This Chardonnay shows that the winemaker understands the varietal and has something to say via the finished product. Exactly what that is will be much clearer to understand with future releases made from the estate grown grapes in Lillooet.
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2008 Meritage - $28
A gorgeous nose of delicate dark fruit, blueberry pie, spice and aromatic flower aromas is followed by a dry, fruity palate of similar flavours within a supportive framing of toasted oak. An easy-drinking, but far from "simple", wine which pairs well with food but can also be enjoyed on its own.
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2009 Rose - $18
A dry rosé whose light-cranberry hue hints at the prominent tart fruit at the core of the flavour profile. Light in body and complexity but well balanced and easy-drinking with a touch of residual sugar and a tart, moderate finish.
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2009 Late Harvest Riesling - $20
Packaged and presented as a desert wine, however, this lovely sipping wine reminds one more of a Spätlese from the Rheingau of Germany and should be treated as such when pairing with food. Well balanced with moderate sweetness offset by pineapple acidity.
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As a whole, this inaugural release is an excellent first effort with three well above-average wines showcasing the winemaking talent of the team. Having chosen to plant Pinot Noir in the home vineyard, we will know, soon enough, the character of the Lillooet terroir once the vines begin producing usable fruit as no other grape translates the nuance and distinct qualities of the land quite like the heartbreak grape. I look forward to discovering this new region's character as Fort Berens Estate Winery transitions into full production over the next two years.

The wines can be purchased from the winery direct (click here) or via your local VQA store.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2011 IconWines.ca

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