“Assets of the Blind Trust are kept under wrap and seal”, says the neck of Laughing Stock Vineyards’ “just trust us” bottle. And so they are: while at first glance you will not find any mention of what grape varieties make up this wine, and while the bottle tells you that the grapes in the blend change every year and never remain consistent, if you make good use of your corkscrew and fully remove the foil covering the top of the bottle, the mystery blend is revealed. Since this is absolute genius marketing (and most of the fun involved in buying this bottle), I’m not going to spoil the surprise for you, other than to say that (1) the grapes involved are three of the five that go into Bordeaux wines in France (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot) and (2) the ’09 Blind Trust mix is heavily weighted in favour of one of the five. And it ain’t Petit Verdot.
Laughing Stock’s signature red, and the one that features their top grapes every year, is the Portfolio Bordeaux blend, the 2007 version of which remains the top Canadian red wine ever reviewed on this blog. Portfolio is crafted to produce a wine of a particular profile and style that is more or less consistent year over year; once that blend is finalized, Laughing Stock takes its leftover Portfolio juice from that year’s harvest and makes the best wine they can out of it. The result is Blind Trust. This works out great for the consumer, since they get a bottle that rivals the quality of Portfolio (since it’s made from the same batch of grapes) at a much lower cost (Blind Trust is under $30 at the winery while Portfolio is $42…in Calgary, the pricing is probably $40 vs. $60).
Since I adored the ’07 Portfolio, which I credit for eliminating my propensity to immediately dismiss any red wine from Canada, I was expecting the Blind Trust to reach similar heights. While it delivered a tasty and internationally-acceptable Bordeaux blend red and was not a disappointment from a taste perspective, I was still a bit conflicted about it: while a very strong effort for a Canadian red, my favourite thing about Portfolio was that I didn’t have to use the “for a Canadian red” qualifier in describing how good it was. If Canada ever wants to be recognized for red wine, it needs to be able to match other countries’ production pound for pound and dollar for dollar, in terms of both quality and value. I can’t quite wax poetic about the Blind Trust because, while quite good, it didn’t distance me from the strictly local comparisons most of us make with our favourite Okanagan or Niagara producers. It was a really solid wine…for a Canadian red.
The Blind Trust was a deep glass-coating purple colour in the glass, almost completely opaque all the way to the rim. It threw a pleasant mixture of sweet fruit and prominent oak on the nose, candied cherry, currant and plum overlaid with coffee, chocolate, toast and cedar, with a hint of exotic coconut thrown in. It was definitely a wine that tasted like it looked: quite full-bodied, it coated every surface of my mouth on each sip in the same way it covered the glass, with fairly high levels of chalky tannins but mostly background levels of accompanying acidity. Impressively, it almost entirely avoided the bitter, green, underripe notes that plague many Canadian reds, instead delivering lush dark red fruit (even, rarely for wines, grape!), framed by a healthy dollop of wood providing a smoky, toasty, tobacco-y structure that is probably a little overly noticeable right now. In a year or so I think the oak-induced notes would be better integrated and less forceful, which would improve the Blind Trust’s overall drinking experience.
There’s no question that this beats the crap out of most big, Merlot/Cab focused reds coming out of Canada, and for that it definitely deserves to be commended. It was quite enjoyable to drink and a sign of hope that my national wine industry can create wines like this (though the question remains whether that should truly be its focus). If I could buy this in Calgary for what I paid for it at the winery, I think I’d be fairly satisfied. But for $40 Alberta retail? That’s a tougher call. There’s some tough competition at that price point — my favourite Cab-based wine of the last year, the 2007 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, is only a few bucks more and a showstopper. This is a great bottle of Canadian red, but I think it needs a bit more going on before I tell you to pay AB sticker price for it.
$35 to $40 CDN