Wine Review: Road 13’s Rare Whites

12 07 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

This may be the last post from me for a while, as I imminently prepare to head off of the continent for a little bit on a proper Viking vacation.  (If anybody knows a great wine shop in Copenhagen or Billund, let me know immediately.)  But fear not, Ray will still be here to keep the blog alive for the rest of July, and I have one last gasp of Canadiana in me before I bolt the country.  Tonight’s trio of whites from the Golden Mile Bench’s Road 13 Vineyards makes me realize that I should have been following this winery more closely before now, but I will try to make up for lost time.

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Clean and classic labels, eye-opening wines – but not sure about 2018’s italics.

Road 13 has had an interesting last 12 months, as it was named the Winery of the Year at Wine Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018 and was then promptly sold before the year was out.  Long-time proprietors Pam and Mick Luckhurst, who acquired the winery (then-called Golden Mile Cellars) and were responsible for first renaming it and then building it into a well-respected national brand, decided to move into retirement (the winery itself having been their first, not-that-relaxing-as-it-turns-out attempt to retire) and accepted an offer from Mission Hill’s / Mark Anthony Brands’ Anthony von Mandl to purchase the company.  The winemaking team remains intact, however, as does the winery’s vision and present focus on the potential of Rhone varieties in British Columbia, an endeavour that I back fully, having had enough marvellous Okanagan Syrah recently to make me wonder what else from the south of France would flourish here.  As it turns out, the white Rhone side of the equation is just as compelling as the red.  But we start with a scion of a Road 13 classic.

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2018 Road 13 “Chip Off the Old Block” Chenin Blanc (~$18 Cellar Door)

First, how cool is it to write about three different Canadian white wines where the most recognized locally planted varietal of the bunch is Chenin Blanc??  The times, they are a-changing.  To be precise, this is 94% Chenin Blanc, 5% Orange Muscat and 1% Viognier, harvested mainly from Road 13’s estate vineyards in the Golden Mile Bench, the Chenin from vines grown from cuttings taken from the winery’s famed Old Block Chenin vineyard, which was planted in 1968.  This “new block” Chenin is made to reflect its youthful energy, picked earlier and fermented and matured all in stainless steel for a lithe, electric take on a grape that can show itself in many different ways.  The 2018 vintage is best known as The Forest Fire Year, The Sequel, as in mid-July, for the second year in a row, smoke from nearby wildfires not only signalled the coming apocalypse but also blocked out the sun for large stretches of time, thus slowing down and elongating the ripening process.  It may have been a strange sort of boon for a wine like this, that is crafted to aim for freshness and refreshment; lower ripeness means lower ABVs and higher retained acid.

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This Chip Off the Old Block is an unassuming sort of pale lemon-straw colour, flecked here and there with green.  Honeydew and kiwi offer faint but not cloying musk, but the wine’s aromas are always moving, to peach and honeysuckle, then Corn Pops, limeade, chlorophyll.  Light and sleek for a Chenin, the fruit immediately skews on the palate towards green apple and pear, the grape’s hallmark acid biting down in the midpalate and holding firm.  A chalky mouthfeel adds interest while florals dance around all sides of the tongue (I see you, Orange Muscat), and despite a hint of residual sugar the finish is totally dry, to the point that you smack your lips together, seeking the moisture that was there just a second ago.  This leaner take leaves a bit of Chenin Blanc’s majesty unrealized for the sake of the mission, but the patio version of this remarkable grape does its job with aplomb.

88 points

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Stelvin Rating:  6.5/10 (Props for imagery and multi-colours, but there’s more to be mined here.)

2017 Road 13 Roussanne (~$26 Cellar Door)

Now we get to the Rhones.  Rhone white wines are some of my favourite things on this Earth; if my backyard region can excel at them, this would be news.  (Spoiler:  it can and it is.)  Before we get to the wine, however – what’s with the font change on the label between 2017 and 2018?  If anyone on the label design team is listening, the 2017 all-caps non-italics varietal description on the front label is light years better than 2018’s italicized multi-case edition.  If it ain’t broke, avoid italics.  Anyway, once I wrench my eyes away from font decisions, I realize – this isn’t an Okanagan Valley wine.  Similkameen!  This 96% Roussanne 4% Viognier effort hails entirely from the Blind Creek Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, located due west of Road 13’s home between Oliver and Osoyoos.  It is an area known for consistent heat, and when paired with one of the warmest and driest summers experienced in four decades, it became fertile ground for creating opulent southern French-style wines.  After harvest, the Roussanne was fermented in French oak (30% new) and stainless steel barrels (yes, stainless barrels), with monthly lees stirring to add texture.  Hold that thought.

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You will immediately stop dead in your tracks if you ever pour yourself a glass of this wine.  Oh my god, that colour:  radiating, reflective, radiant gold, propelling from the glass like a Glo-Stick.  When I put it side by side with the Chenin above, I’m afraid I’ll cause an eclipse.  Once I finally tear my eyes away, the Roussanne is an instantly comforting mixture of fruit and spice, expanse and focus.  I force myself to stop writing tasting descriptors after ripping through cinnamon sticks, apple crisp, dried hay, banana bread, clove, crystallized ginger, angel food cake and manuka honey, which is already about the most ridiculously delicious combination of flavours to cram into a white wine. A sip leads to another dead stop, this time as the wine intends.  The palate expands quickly and then just sits, embedded, a sensuous, viscous weighted blanket, interrupting whatever you’re in the middle of doing and reminding you that it has something to say and will take its time doing so.  Quiet acid lets this languid giant meander, but the meditative pace is built out of purpose, every element holding cleverly together even as it stretches the senses.  Slow-burn wine does not get better than this, and neither, for my money, does BC Roussanne.  A showstopper.

91+ points

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2017 Road 13 VRM (~$26 Cellar Door)

If that kind of magic lies within a single Rhone white grape, why not try three?  “VRM” stands for “Viognier Roussanne Marsanne”, a blend of arguably the Rhone’s top three white varieties (sorry, Picpoul and Grenache Blanc fans).  Naturally, given the ordering of the initials, I expected this to be a Viognier-predominant blend — if the full names of each of the grapes were listed on the label, it would have to be so, as BC’s Wines of Marked Quality Regulation would require them to be listed in descending order of quantity (see s. 51(2)(b)(i), if you ever have any desire to).  Not so much.  This is 78% Roussanne, 13% Viognier and 9% Marsanne – a veritable RVM.  Those latter two percentages are too low to permit the full names of the Viognier and Marsanne to be stated on the label (the requirements in a triple-varietal wine are 15% and 10% respectively for grapes 2 and 3).  I believe the idea of the acronym is to allow for blending flexibility to make the best possible wine in any given vintage using these three grapes; as seen above, Roussane was banging in 2017, so maybe that won the day here.  These grapes are all also from Similkameen’s Blind Creek Vineyard, so this ends up being a near-doppelganger to the Road 13 Roussanne above, although it was fully fermented in French oak (25% new) and clocks in with a touch more residual sugar and alcohol.  Bring on the deja vu.

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The “VRM” is a nearly equally electric/fluorescent colour as the Roussanne, but trending further towards lemon than gold.  It is unsurprisingly similar aromatically, the fruit leaning more heavily towards banana and apricot, some new almond or walnut nuttiness flitting around (marzipan? peanut brittle? all of the above?), but the same base of country farm desserts on windowsills and clean pets, baking spices and elastics.  The wine’s billowing texture first appears just as familiar, but the VRM hovers on the tastebuds like a vapour instead of settling in like a syrup, less bass cranking from its speakers.  This keeps it above the fray and helps avoid palate fatigue, but also prevents as intimate a connection as the one the Roussanne sought, such that the impression left behind, while just as pleasant, is perhaps slightly more fleeting.  I am still thoroughly beguiled, and now fully aware of what we can do at home with the white grapes of the Rhone.  Bravo.

90+ points


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2 responses

14 07 2019
Philip E Angino

Peter Nice post I will have to give Road 13 wines another try. Have a great trip Cheers 🍷 PA

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14 07 2019
Peter Vetsch

Thanks so much for reading! These opened my eyes for sure.

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