Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 11

11 12 2019

By Peter Vetsch

It’s been six days since I have made an Advent wine post, which is almost assuredly the longest Advent blogging break I’ve had in half a decade.  (We won’t talk about the separate full wine review that I published in the meantime, as I prefer to bask in my pretend meandering pace of blogging life.)  Ray and Tyler have done yeoman’s work in the meantime on an array of bottles from the great classic regions and grapes of the world:  Cali Cab and Chardonnay, Bordeaux, Rioja, Port.  This year’s Bricks calendar has done an excellent job canvassing pinpoint takes on the top appellations of wine’s illustrious history.  Surely my return to the fray will yield a similar textbook treasure.

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Um.

Just when the calendar is expected to keep zigging, it zags, and right into an area and grape that I have never found overly compelling in combination.  I don’t pretend to own an encyclopedic knowledge of British Columbia Pinot Gris, but in my experience with it, it has always struck me as a sort of afterthought grape in the province, the kind that you can fairly easily wring some nondescript quasi-tropical tutti fruitti flavour out of and sell for $18 in the tasting room to maintain cash flow year over year.  The great Pinot Gris wines of Alsace, southern Germany (Grauburgunder 4ever!) or even Oregon can be thrillingly rich and savoury and complex, but there is not a ton of striving for greatness with this particular varietal in my home and native land, with the primary focus of the local industry on other, more intriguing vinous options.  So I readied myself for a limpid and forgettable white patio blast, and then…

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Um.

You may think that this is a rosé.  It certainly looks like one.  But the “White Wine” identifier on the bottle label and the 100% Pinot Gris composition of the wine make this impossible; rosé wines must hail from red (or partly red) grapes.  This is an orange wine, a white wine made like a red, where the juice from the crushed grapes is allowed to sit in contact with the skins before or during fermentation and pull out colour, flavour and tannin.  This increasingly popular (or re-popularized, since orange wines date back almost to the start of winemaking history) style of white usually results in wines that are golden or slightly amber in colour, not the brilliant rose gold/bronzed salmon blaze of glory seen in the glass here, because most white wine skins don’t have a ton of pigment to them.  Not so Pinot Gris, whose very name (“grey”) is a nod to the surprising darkness of the grapes’ skins:

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Pinot Gris.  Photo Credit: Rod Heywood. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/15511924@N03/37010425430)

This depth of colour allows for all sorts of interesting orange wine possibilities, including the one brought to us by a Naramata Bench pioneer tonight:  the 2016 Kettle Valley Winery Pinot Gris.  Kettle Valley’s owner/winemakers Tim Watts and Bob Ferguson started out as home winemaking hobbyists before they decided to put an academic background in geology to use and plant their own vineyard.  They were one of the first to plant in Naramata in 1987, and shortly afterward became the third ever licensed winery in the region.  Nearly thirty vintages later, they might be one of the quietest under-the-radar names on the Bench, making a vast assortment of wines, from Merlot/Pinot blends to Zinfandel to solera-style reds; however, they focus equally on the classics, particularly their North Stars, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Orange Pinot Gris slides right into the menagerie.

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The first thing I noticed about this wine was its general “Product of British Columbia” designation in lieu of an appellation name.  This is because the grapes for this Pinot Gris come from multiple different vineyards across more than one recognized wine appellation:  grapes from Okanagan Valley subregions Summerland, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Penticton and Oliver have variously been employed in the blend over the years, but also grapes from a couple different spots in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, with the resulting cross-regional mix therefore required to take on the broader provincial designation.  The second thing I noticed was the hefty 14% ABV, the product of these Pinot Gris grapes being harvested into November after a lengthy ripening period and a ton of hang time.  The grapes were crushed and then left to soak for 2-3 days on Pinot Gris’ hyper-pigmented skins before a fermentation that took place partly in barrel and partly in steel tanks.

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Cork Rating:  2/10 (I hereby ban the inclusion of any phone numbers or websites on corks.  Will that work?  Put a train on here or something, guys.)

This is a back-vintage version of the Kettle Valley Pinot Gris, as they have recently released the 2018 version to market, but the bit of extra time in bottle has not slowed this  racy deep pink and copper powerhouse one bit.  The amount of skin contact was expertly timed so as to provide additional complexity and structure without the corresponding bitterness or oxidation that can leach the freshness out of some orange wines (often on purpose).  Piercing aromas of kids multivitamin, freeze-dried watermelon, orange Life Savers and sweet pea are startling in their purity, accented but not hindered by more eclectic notes of salt and vinegar chips and parchment.  This is shockingly vivid, the acid buoyant, the dainty but subtly scrubby tannin providing a three-dimensional tasting experience; tangerine, apricot, public pool and lemon-lime Gatorade (or more accurately its equivalent Gatorgum, if that still exists) strut across the tongue and remain anchored there long after you swallow, demanding that you check your premises and not prematurely abandon hope in any given grape’s potential in a region.  You can keep your Bordeaux and your Riojas — this is currently the wine of the calendar for me.

90+ points


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