PnP Panel Tasting: Culmina Spring Releases, Part 2 – Funky Whites Edition

12 06 2019

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

The last set of Culmina releases featured on PnP was so fun to taste that I felt compelled to bring in the band to share the joy of this next group, a trio of weird, wild, semi-experimental whites that are seeking to test boundaries both within and outside of the winery.  Fellow PnPers Ray Lamontagne and Tyler Derksen gathered with me to taste through a lineup that included my own personal Culmina obsession, the incredible Unicus Gruner Veltliner, as well as two even more envelope-pushing whites from Culmina’s recently unveiled small-production Number Series.  Things got fun fast.

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The Number Series was introduced in late 2016 as a way for Culmina’s talented winemaking team to spread its wings a bit.  Part Reserve-level offering and part experimental test drive, each Number Series wine is a limited-production rarity that may only see a single run, never to be repeated again in subsequent vintages.  It represents the best of Culmina’s developmental efforts from that year, either showcasing a standard-rotation Culmina grape in a whole new way (like the inaugural Number Series Wine No. 001, a rich, ripe Riesling styled like an Alsatian Grand Cru) or braving the unknown with a varietal that isn’t part of Culmina’s normal lineup.  The two most recent Number Series bottles below both fall into the latter camp, and show off some intriguing winemaking approaches to boot.

As with all our Panel Tastings, while we discussed the wines as we were tasting them, we came up with our own impressions and our own scores for each bottle and did not share them until everyone’s assessment was complete.  We started, as every meal and tasting and day on this Earth should, with Unicus.

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2018 Culmina Unicus Gruner Veltliner

Canada’s best Gruner has made an emphatic statement that this grape deserves a more widespread home in British Columbia, and it has grown more confident and assured with each passing vintage.  Unicus was the first 100% varietal Gruner Veltliner wine released from the Okanagan Valley, made from grapes first planted in 2011 on Margaret’s Bench, the highest and coolest of Culmina’s three-bench set of vineyard tiers.  It has since been joined in the Valley by fellow Gruners from (at least) Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Bordertown Vineyards (comparative BC Gruner tasting, anyone?), but it will always be the transplanted Austrian that started it all.  Culmina is expanding its fermentation repertoire with the 2018 Unicus, which is fermented at cool temperatures in FOUR different types of vessels:  35% in concrete egg, 26% in concrete amphora, 22% in stainless steel and 17% in neutral French oak.  None of these containers lead to any overt flavour transference, but the concrete egg is said to improve texture and the concrete amphora to complexify aromatics, both of which are added layers to steel’s retention of crisp fruitiness and old oak’s gentle breathability.

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The result is one of the more effusive and flamboyant renditions of Unicus ever released.  The aromas jump from blackcurrant to gelatin, flint to lavender, before settling into a fresh and tropical realm of mango, papaya and canned mandarins.  The egg-aided breadth of texture is immediately apparent on a jumpy and excitable palate, which seems to flirt with sweetness at first before clamping down hard, honing itself down to chiselled lemon zest and chalk dust.  Gruner’s trademark greenness emerges for the first time on the finish, in the form of snap peas and fresh cucumber, soon swept away in a wave of trailing acid.  This runs the personality gamut and showcases the insane range of the Gruner grape, but probably needs a bit of time to settle and pull together.

Peter:  90- points       Raymond:  90+ points       Tyler:  90 points

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One winery, three whites, three different closures!!  Cork / Vinolok / Stelvin Ratings:  7/10, 2/10 (but I still love you, Vinolok), 8.5/10 (Love that logo, and those alternate closures.)

2018 Culmina Number Series No. 008 – Skin Contact Gewürztraminer

Immediate apologies for tasting Culmina Number Series No. 008 before Number Series No. 007 (below), but for once in its life, Gewürztraminer definitely wasn’t the biggest and boldest white at the tasting party, so it got accelerated up the Number Series tasting order.  This particular Gewürz seems intentionally ramped down — harvested early, clocking in at only (for this grape, at least) 13% ABV, and then further mellowed by 16 hours sitting on its skins before wild-yeast fermentation in stainless steel, it is an unplugged indie version of the world’s most bombastic white.  As with the other Number Series wines, this one is only available to Culmina’s wine club members, the Fellowship, which on the one hand is a bit of a bummer but on the other is a practice that I hope more wineries follow to reward their most loyal customers — there is nothing more thrilling than receiving a custom wine in a mailing list delivery from your favourite producer that is not otherwise available to the general public.

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We spent more time on this bottle than any other, marvelling and puzzling through a wine that moved at its own measured pace, allowing itself to unfurl slowly, surely, in an understated sort of way.  Contemplative, meditative Gewürztraminer?  You’ve found it.  Far less overt than Unicus, No. 008 opens with ramped-down aromas of wet grass, daisies, warm printer paper and what we could best describe as “Crayola” layered over a sepia-toned nostalgic version of this grape’s lychee and rosewater calling cards.  On the tongue the flavour types grow bolder (Rocket popsicles, honeydew melon, apricot fuzz, pumpkin pie without the pumpkin) but remain film-negative versions of themselves, delicate fleeting memories as opposed to primal sensory experience.  Gewürz, and yet not — as soon as the bottle was finished my mind turned to what another one might show.  Yes, we finished the bottle.

Peter:  88 points       Raymond:  88+ points       Tyler:  89- points

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Photo Credit:  culmina.ca

2018 Culmina Number Series No. 007 – Wild Ferment Viognier

Despite the massive missed opportunity associated with not using the 007 Number Series slot to craft a Bond-approved Bollinger-style traditional method sparkler (or a Martini), I was still excited to experience Culmina’s take on Viognier, a white grape that always seems to be hunting for a permanent home outside of the Rhone Valley.  There is barely any Viognier found in Culmina’s estate vineyards, a scant 0.06 hectares in the northern tip of Stan’s Bench, the winery’s mid-elevation vineyard tier.  It’s clearly on the hotter side of the Bench, as surrounding plantings include Malbec and Petit Verdot as opposed to the south end’s Riesling and Chardonnay, and the resulting heat is not lost on this wine, which clocks in at a hearty 14.8% ABV.  It took the indigenous yeasts which were responsible for this Wild Ferment a full 71 days to complete the task in a combination of old French oak and stainless steel.  No need for concrete eggs to ramp up the texture of this beast.

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And what a texture it is:  sensual, tactile, viscous, pleasantly weighty.  This is a hands-on sort of wine.  At a sniff that you would be forgiven for initially thinking that Culmina snuck the Gewürz into this bottle, so musky and forward are the appealing aromas of cantaloupe, Honeycomb cereal, floral sweet peas, Key lime pie and plantains.  Where the wine slips a little is in the integration of its substantial alcohol, although additional bottle time will likely assist with this effort; at the moment the Fuzzy Peach and Asian pear flavours are spiked with traces of heat, leading to intermittent pitchy glitches in the otherwise languid, downright naughty mouthfeel.  Honeysuckle, pickle brine and angel food cake round out a flavour set that is not easily forgotten and does not lack for personality.  Not every experimental wine will come across exactly as planned or expected, and that’s half the fun.  Everyone should have a Number Series; I’m hoping Culmina has continued success with theirs.

Peter:  87+ points       Raymond:  88 points       Tyler:  88+ points

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2 responses

13 06 2019
sid cross (@winefoodguru)

You do an excellent job of interestingly describing the wines with wonderful facts and thoughtful insights into their pros and cons. Like your work. Well done indeed on your Culmina two posts. Keep up this good reviewing job going!

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14 06 2019
Peter Vetsch

Thanks very much – I appreciate the feedback!!

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