Wine Review: The Whites of Castoro de Oro

31 07 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It’s alive. The blog, that is. Peter is enjoying some much needed R & R overseas and got to sample hybrid grape Solaris for the first time. Don’t get too jealous of that particular detail. Although I’d welcome a chance to add this one to my life list, apparently we aren’t missing out on all that much. Meanwhile, let yours truly guide you through another Pop & Pour Okanagan run that will span two posts and six wines. I’ve enjoyed tasting these, particularly as I reflect on how this family owned winery has seamlessly melded careful viticulture, whimsical yet clever branding, and an earnest appeal to passion and hard work. All this yields a singular focus on making award-winning handcrafted wines from grape to glass. It seems warranted to begin with the whites. But first, some further background.

IMG_E0849The Castoro de Oro estate vineyard was planted in 1980. Located in the esteemed Golden Mile, this site seems engineered by Mother Nature to deliver full ripeness in the grapes, yet not at the expense of acidity. Here we have vines facing southeast to provide ample sunshine, with the grapes also growing on a slope right next to a lake, factors that together work to mitigate any effects of frost. This is all well and good, but too much heat can cause flabby wines that lack precision. Fortunately, a mountain provides evening shade that permits the grapes to cool off during the summer, preserving tartness and resulting in a key balance between acid and ripe fruit flavours. This is particularly important for white wines, for which acidity is the only source of freshness and structure (well… for the most part. Tannins from wine skins and barrels sometimes play a small role).

Enter Bruno Kelle and (Calgarian) Stella Schmidt, self-described “partners in life and wine-making”. They acquired this site and launched the Castoro de Oro winery in 2006, farmers who like to make wines that most people can afford. I can jive with that, although I can find it hard to relinquish the role of “guy who is supposed to assess these wines in a serious way according to certain criteria”. I’m going to wear that black hat here, because to some extent I have to… AND, I’m also going to attempt to appreciate these wines based on the winemakers’ own vision. Here we go.

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Cute little fella, no?

2016 Castoro de Oro Viognier (~$21)

We begin with Viognier, which seems to be on a roll in Canada of late. Heck, this flamboyant grape seems to be on a roll almost everywhere. To think that Viognier was once ultra-rare, barely hanging on in its Condrieu fortress of solitude. This finicky, often frail plant is now taking the viticultural world by storm, although a combination of naturally low acidity and a tendency to lose its opulent aromatics in the presence of oxygen means that the struggle to produce an outstanding wine remains quite real. A great Viognier should have a soft, supple texture, but a warm climate can yield a wine lacking that requisite richness. Barrels can help mitigate this. Alas, the present wine sees no oak, likely because the goal was to preserve those aromatics as much as possible. In wine-making there is truly no free lunch. I do find it helpful to nerd out and consider such details when drinking a wine like this… Don’t expect a Condrieu and you’ll probably have more fun.

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Open mind or not, one should look for that distinctive varietal character. This nose is moderately intense and quite appealing, a wash of pineapple Lifesavers, yellow peaches, honeysuckle/orange blossoms, orange fruit leather, plantains, and a curious tingly perfumed grape note that forces me to conjure up copper pennies soaking in white Welch’s juice. There’s even a pinch or two of white pepper. This is appropriately full-bodied on the palate, albeit lacking that distinctive oily texture one often gets in the old world. This initially tastes of bruised yellow apples and quince, honeydew melon, and Asian pears (lots of pears, Asian and occidental alike). Subsequent sips yield a bloom of pineapple, Meyer lemon, and low key mango. An undercurrent of bitterness makes me recall the pits from the peaches on the nose. Acidity is on the high side for the varietal. Although I feel that this could use more stuffing on the palate, it is flashing many of the right characters and is altogether a pleasant foray into the warmer end of the Viognier climate continuum.

87+ points

2016 Castoro de Oro Heart of Gold (~$21)

Ah, the ubiquitous Okanagan white blend of Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Vidal, and Siegfried. Wait, what?! Now this is interesting. BC Pinot Blancs are a dime a dozen, and we’ve already discussed Viognier’s meteoric rise. Vidal, though… that’s a bit unexpected. I recently imbibed a decent number of Ontario VQA dry wines made from this hybrid grape, well known in ice wine circles, on a trip to the Almaguin Highlands to see family. I developed a soft spot from its combination of slashing acidity and ostentatious tropical fruit flavours. But truly, WTF is Siegfried?

IMG_0860This grape is so obscure it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Nor does it have an entry in Robinson et al.’s encyclopedic tome, my usual “go to” source for all things grape. A tiny tidbit here reveals that this cross was intended to be a cold-resistant substitute for Riesling (which is already quite cold-resistant), its parents being “a complex Riesling cross” (mmkay) and something else called Oberlin 595 S.P. Needless to say, like many such crossings this grape failed to make a real mark, yet somehow retains a fascinating toehold at Castoro de Oro. One can even sample a varietal, albeit only at the winery itself.

The press materials for this wine describe a “cotton candy note”. To me, this is a dead ringer for pina colada Jelly Belly beans, perhaps smashed into some white cake. Certainly confected, yet lurking beneath these hysterics are apricots and yellow peaches, and some of that honeysuckle from the previous wine. I become concerned that the palate here is overly subdued, particularly compared to that nose: lemon rind, dilute green pear (with a little yellow), a short and tart finish like an 8-dollar Pinot Grigio. Patience is indeed a virtue, because fortunately I get some better stuff as the wine opens up. Little sharp sparks of star fruit (or perhaps Juicy Fruit gum) start flicking about, accompanied by Spartan apples, cantaloupe, lemon oil, and a splash of soursop nectar (think a musky mix of pineapple, banana, and papaya). I think this mid-palate action is by far the best part of the experience, but I had to be quite focused to notice and truly appreciate it. Most people will just want to slam this down the hatch. Fun, and I still cannot tell you for sure what Siegfried taste like. I’ll have to stop by the winery.

87 points

2016 Castoro de Oro Chardonnay, Unoaked (~$21)

We conclude in far more familiar territory. I tasted these bottles on separate days, and I’m not entirely sure why I sampled the Chard last. I guess if I’m being honest, its probably because I was influenced by a covert worry, something to the tune of “this is going to be the most boring of the three”. Chardonnay. Yawn. This is an implicit, automatic thought process for me at times. Fortunately, my saner mind eventually prevails. Many, many instances of this grape are anything but dull. White Burgundy is resplendent when at its best, and we are blessed to live in an era in which many winemakers closer to home know how to make Chard sing. Was this unoaked specimen ultimately worth the wait?

IMG_0861The nose here features some of the expected… low key green pear skins, green and yellow apples, a pretty delicate waft of white peach. What’s less expected is a floral sweetness, not just ripe fruit but yellow clover blossoms and a drizzle of honey made from the same. The aromas are buttoned-up, perhaps, but quite tantalizing nonetheless. The first few sips are linear, clean, rather elegant. Nothing bombastic. Lemon ice, lime rind, more fresh apples and pears, a hint of cucumber water, with a sturdy medium acidity. Wait a minute… this too might reward patience, a focused mindful approach. Many wines do. There we go! Golden kiwifruit emerges, followed by sweet oranges, mulling spices, and something akin to those freeze-dried marshmallows that one can find in hot chocolate mix. That last peculiar note aside, my ultimate integrated impression is of a gentle apple-spice herbal tea, one that happens to wink mango from time to time. Sneaky stuff, like the Heart of Gold has shed much of the candy and is now all grown up. Decent values all around. Reds are next.

88- points

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Cork Rating: 1/10 (these wines were pretty good… but these composite jobs are pretty terrible.)

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