Wine Review: Moraine Winery Spring/Summer Set

28 06 2019

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

Wine is indelible.  It can leave impressions and fasten itself onto moments or events with surprising, graceful ease.  Show me a bottle or producer that I’ve had before and I will often be immediately taken to the scene where I had it last, even if it was otherwise unmemorable.  In the case of Naramata’s Moraine Winery, the scene already had memories to spare, and every bottle since has carried them back to me.

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My first encounter with the wines of then-up-and-coming Moraine was almost exactly six years ago today.  I remember because Calgary was underwater, as the great flood of 2013 wreaked havoc on the heart of my hometown.  I also remember because I had become a dad for the second time ten days prior, on Father’s Day; the power and energy of the tempests that made the waters rise seem to have imbued themselves in my son Max ever since.  The white, black and red labels of Moraine marked my first return to the blog after Max’s birth.  He just finished kindergarten two days ago.  The wheels of time continue to spin, but our wines mark our occasions.

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Moraine was founded by current owners Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, ex-Albertans who headed west to follow their passion into the world of wine.  Their two estate vineyards, the older and larger Anastasia and the younger Pinot Noir-devoted Sophia, are named after their two daughters; the winery name reflects the glacially deposited rocks that form a key part of the terroir at their Naramata site.  When I first came across Moraine it was in its early stages of life, just finding its way as a new winery.  In this current encounter it is in a different phase of life, and in the midst of a significant transformation:  a new winemaking facility and cellar is being built, a new larger tasting room and hospitality centre has just opened, and as of last year the wines are being crafted by a new winemaker, albeit one who is a familiar face on the BC wine scene.  Dwight Sick, who spent the last decade as the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, came to Moraine just before the 2018 harvest, the final critical piece to this next stage of the winery’s growth and development.  Yet Moraine’s focus still remains anchored in Anastasia and Sophia, and the ever-maturing vines they hold.  I got the opportunity to taste some of Sick’s first Moraine releases, as well as an early single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Sophia, to get a sense of how far Moraine Winery has come.

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Stelvin Ratings:  8/10 & 1/10 (Check my 2013 review to confirm that I TOTALLY requested giant-M screwcaps before they were a thing. So psyched. Why not a red-and-black model for the Pinot?)

2018 Moraine Riesling (~$29 AB Retail)

This single-vineyard offering from the Naramata Bench reveals its identity by its numbers before you even pour a glass.  Low pH Riesling seems to be a bit of an Okanagan hallmark, and the screaming 2.99 pH on this bottle certainly qualifies, especially when combined with a hefty 10.0 g/L of Total Acidity despite a relatively ripe 13.0% ABV and a dash of residual sugar.  It’s not often that a tech sheet tells a story, but the narrative from this one is distinctly western Canadian.  The wine itself is a pale spritz lemon-green, seemingly innocuous at sight before delivering an aromatic assault of pure Smell-O-Vision fresh-cut Granny Smith apple, river rocks, Astroturf, Asian pear and club soda with lime, the aromas beaming out of the glass in straight lines, excited yet linear.

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The acid arrives instantly on the tongue, but not as a singular electric jolt, more like a thousand tiny sparks, simultaneously appearing on all sides of the mouth, radiating outward then boring deep.  Almost entirely dry, this flirts closely with austerity, thanks in large part to a predominantly mineral flavour profile:  chalk dust, Tums and dimes in a mall fountain, layered over acres of biting tart lemon.  The saving sweetness softens the impact just enough without altering the wine’s single-minded personality.  Vicious in all the right ways.

90+ points

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2018 Moraine Cliffhanger White (~$22 AB Retail)

Dwight Sick’s first rendition of Moraine’s entry-level white blend imports 49% Pinot Gris from Okanagan Falls (Lone Oak Vineyard) to join 51% Gewürztraminer from Naramata (Kutyn Vineyard) in a match made in Okanagan heaven; the way these two grapes express themselves here has always seemed to me to be somewhat in alignment.  The name “Cliffhanger” comes in part from the winery’s cliffside location beside the lake and in part from Oleg and Svetlana’s sense of adventure and risk-taking that led them to the region in the first place.  The 2018 Cliffhanger was kept cool during fermentation to help preserve fruit expression, and like the Riesling above, its uneventfully pale hue belies an aromatic cacophony, the Gewürztraminer taking centre stage in a rollicking mixture of musky lychee and honeydew, potpourri, vanilla pudding, banana peel (the inside), fruit salad, strawberry leaf and a whiff of funk most akin to that of a recently legalized substance here in Canada.  Or maybe just clove.  But maybe not.

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On my first sip of this blend, I immediately wrote “big and rich”, but after subsequent trips back to the glass I was forced to add “but not really”.  This presents as larger than life, but on closer inspection it is actually closer to medium-bodied, with a delicate edge and more than enough acid to keep things vibrant — it seems to hone itself down the longer it hangs around on the tongue.  It certainly seems to have far more residual sweetness than the Riesling, but that too is an optical illusion; the RS quantities in each wine are about the same (~7.5 g/L, or “not all that much”), but the Cliffhanger goes to far fewer acidic lengths to hide it.  The party continues unabashed on the palate, Froot Loops meets pineapple Lifesavers meets frozen margaritas, but the parallel delicacy of structure constrains and avoids sensory overload.  This is just pure pleasure to drink, but it is classically styled all the same, a joyride with two solid hands on the wheel.  Massive strides for the Cliffhanger line.

88 points

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2017 Moraine Pinot Noir (~$32 AB Retail)

On to Sophia.  While the older and more established Anastasia Vineyard is home to a number of different grape plantings, the Sophia Vineyard, planted in 2010 at the same plot of land that Oleg and Svetlana bought to build their home, is focused exclusively on Pinot Noir.  This bottle hails 100% from Sophia, from one of the first few vintages that its grapes would have been commercially viable (it usually takes a new vineyard at least 3 years of crops before the vines are mature enough to support market-grade wine).  It is dark and dense for Pinot Noir, but remains a mostly translucent ruby.  Diving into it is like being pulled into a country cottage, warm and homey and inviting:  fresh raspberry and cranberry are accented by cinnamon sticks, potting soil, violets, All Bran and chocolate shavings, the latter acquired from the 9 months the wine spent in French oak.

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The warm, sedate feelings brought on by the sheer comfort of the nose are interrupted slightly by the dusty, scrubby texture and surprising structure of this Pinot once it hits the tastebuds, the oak hovering a hair above the fruit in spots.  The fruit stays red but gets tangier, with a pleasantly bitter edge that lingers.  Sandpaper, hot stones and old-fashioned salted licorice ascend the longer the wine stays on the tongue, providing intrigue but also obscurity, a momentary loss of focus.  This feels close to what it could be, but could be better served with a hint more of the clarity and purity observed in the new Moraine whites.  Still, at this price point, Sophia’s pedigree and potential remain tantalizing.

87+ points

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