Calgary Wine Life: Rosewood Estates Tasting @ Bricks

5 02 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne & Peter Vetsch

It has been a while since we’ve covered a tasting on this blog, thanks to a spate of Advent wines, Cellar Direct releases, and a number of other supplied bottles posted over the holidays and up through January. No rest for the wicked. This tasting is a particularly special way for us to get back into Calgary Wine Life. As evidenced by our unwavering coverage of the last three Bricks Wine Company Advent Calendars, we are staunch supporters of this local boutique shop, and although our attention tends to be drawn mostly to the wine shelves, Bricks also has a more-than-serviceable craft beer section.  This is where the present tasting ties in (and no, it is not a beer tasting. Ray’s original blogging foray, “Dr. Beer”, shall remain deservedly consigned to the dust bin of history). Mike Maxwell, Bricks’ resident cicerone extraordinaire, is alas leaving the shop and moving on to the ambitious undertaking of running his own distribution agency, Nectar Imports, with a primary focus on beer but a robust toehold in wine as well. Mike is an exceptional human being, and we are excited to participate in his Bricks send-off by covering one of his agency’s first winery clients, Rosewood Estates.

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Mike Maxwell, Nectar Imports.

The Rosewood story is a classic new Canadian origin tale.  R.W. Roman was a passionate beekeeper and mead-maker from the Ukraine when he arrived in Ontario decades ago, where he continued to bee-keep in his adopted homeland alongside his son Eugene. Eugene wound up promising his wife Renata that one day they would start a winery together, after they both fell in love with Ontario’s beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake region. The dream came true in 2003, when Eugene purchased the Renaceau Vineyard located in the Beamsville Bench VQA. This site features deep clay soils with some additional dolomite and limestone mixed in, the latter helping to provide some laser-beam focus to complement the sweet fruit aromas that clay typically yields. Breezes coming off of Lake Ontario provide a cooling influence to preserve fresh acidity in the grapes. Bordeaux varieties appreciate the long ripening season at Renaceau. In 2008 a second vineyard was added, the Blackjack or 21st St. Vineyard (sounds like a Springsteen song), a cooler site with better drainage in the 20 Mile Bench VQA . This one is ideally suited to Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

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As the Rosewood team continues to be passionate about beekeeping, there is a strict emphasis on minimizing use of chemicals in the vineyards. Natural enemies of insect pests are encouraged to prosper, while the vines are managed by hand to foster the light exposure and airflow that discourage destructive fungi. There is an overarching emphasis on yield control, so that all batches of grapes are flavoursome and concentrated despite the winery’s overall cool-climate emphasis. Although not afraid of technology, the endgame for each Rosewood wine vision is “earth to bottle”, with minimal intervention. Natural wine? Sure, if these wines must be categorized.

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We are greeted at the door with a glass of 2018 Rosewood Estates Nebulous Pet Nat (~$35), along with a well-intentioned warning that we might find this one a touch “weird”. It turns out that this 80% Gamay, 20% Pinot Noir ancestral-method sparking wine, which is bright and clear before the crown cap is removed and the built-in carbonation roils up the lees and clouds the mélange, is more accessible to our palates than expected, with punchy blood orange, strawberry liquorice, pink grapefruit and apricot notes leading the way, followed by (admittedly odder) green banana and smoky Hickory Sticks. Yeah, OK, somewhat weird. But pleasantly weird, and even intriguing in a relaxed, bucolic way. Let’s take a seat.

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2017 Rosewood Estates Riesling AF (~$26)

We begin the formal proceedings with the only wine in this lineup that was fermented  using some cultured yeast; all others were wild-fermented by whatever yeasts and other microbes happen to be present at the winery. This is interesting, because selecting a specific yeast strain can have a large aroma impact on the finished product, which is indeed the point: to obtain a predictable outcome and flavour profile, not just throw caution to the wind. Another curious approach taken here was to create a blend of 40% Riesling juice fermented dry and 60% juice where fermentation was stopped early so that some sugar could remain (hence “AF”, or “Arrested Fermentation”…what did you think it meant?), in order to yield a final blended residual sweetness level of 6.8 g/L. We could detect very little of this residual sweetness on the palate, but rather a late-emerging saline character. Even more striking was the perception that this wine was dominated by a particularly unique aroma, one that does not scream Riesling.

We begin to decipher just what the hell this note is. Tamarind? French Toast Crunch? Cola bottle candies? Maple sugar?  Aunt Jemima?  Chicken and waffles?  All of these descriptors fit to varying degrees, and as the wine expands with air, fenugreek seed becomes the percept that ties all this brown stuff together. Yes, there is the expected green apple, Meyer lemon, lime, and yellow peach underneath this profoundly un-Riesling top note, all buoyed by brisk acidity and some additional bristle from a few days of skin contact. Starfruit and pumpkin join that saline element on the finish. Does this smell and taste like a classic Riesling? Not entirely. But is the wine compelling AF? Absolutely. Your wine geek mind wants to criticize, but your heart relishes the complexity and sheer zaniness of a Riesling that smells like fenugreek.

88+ points

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2018 Rosewood Estates “Follow The White Rabbit” (~$27)

Next up is the first of two wines whose monikers reference Alice in Wonderland, “Follow The White Rabbit”, a blend of 91% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Gris. Mike notes that the latter blending component punches way above its weight class in this bottling. Sure enough, this certainly smells like the coloured marshmallow/tutti frutti side of Canadian Gris, with a few more distinctive notes of Asian pear, apple blossom, and kiwi jutting up through the custard flan. The Chardonnay seems mostly there to provide scaffolding and stuffing, a blank slate on which the flamboyantly ripe Pinot Gris can scribble mad musings that smell like a dead ringer for Captain Crunch cereal or malty vanilla cookies. The texture is slick, silky, and rather viscous, lacking the oily heft of a Viognier but still somewhere near that ballpark. The cake-like special effects linger into a longer-than-expected finish that loops back around to floral. How?! Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.

88- points

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2017 Rosewood Estates Unfiltered Pinot Noir (~$40)

Immediately noticeable as we shift into the red chapter of the tasting is the fully transparent glass bottle housing this Pinot Noir, a sharp contrast to the standard dark green that encases all of the wines that follow.  When you have a pure, bright, delicate ruby colour like this, you don’t hide it, particularly when you also want to nudge your audience to enjoy it in its vibrant youth.  Good call.  This spends 15 months in neutral oak barrels, but that does nothing to mute the gorgeous primacy of its aromatic profile, cherry vs. strawberry, Nibs vs. Twizzlers, the purity and potency of the fruit lined with but not subdued by tomato, sandpaper, mushroom, rhubarb, all-spice and capers.  Then we taste and savoury elements immediately take the forefront, forest floor and bitter greens and Elastoplast gaining prominence against the consistent red fruit backdrop.  A clonal thing?  Many BC Pinots from German Spätburgunder clones do something similar, and they are well-suited to our northern climate to boot.  This manages to be both dainty and fleshy at once, with lively acid and a lingering finish, all of which leads to a highly compelling take on a notoriously difficult grape.

90 points

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2017 Rosewood Estates “Night Moves” Gamay (~$35)

Maybe the Springsteen reference above should have been a Seger reference.  “Night Moves” refers to the fact that the grape sorting for this Gamay was done by hand, by individual grape, over multiple nights, which is perhaps why Bob never sang about viticulture.  After wild-yeast fermentation in stainless steel, the wine is moved to neutral oak for 11 months of maturation before being bottled without the addition of SO2.  Our initial assessment of this Gamay is almost instantly interrupted by — brett, also known as brettanomyces, a form of yeast (whose name amusingly means “British fungus”) that is increasingly intentionally added to beer but generally not intended to be present in wine, which tends to contribute barnyard-like aromas and is often considered a fault, although some wineries not only tolerate but encourage its presence.  The lack of brett in any other Rosewood offering besides this one makes us wonder whether it is actually meant to be here, but its sweaty saddle/moccasins/cowhide smell is unmistakable, sitting overtop of oregano, sour cherry, motor oil, tar and Tiger Balm flavours.  The wine’s acid is still sharp and its texture deft, but the essence of its varietal is clouded by its passenger, whether planned or not.

86 points

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Nebulous.

2017 Rosewood Estates “The Looking Glass” (~$32)

The night’s second Alice reference arrives in the form of a red Bordeaux blend making use of all five of that region’s hallmark grapes.  Perhaps the all-is-not-as-it-seems illusion here is how Rosewood managed to get a Canadian Bordeaux blend fully ripe at under 13% ABV, a majestic trick that propels the entire identity of this wine.  While marketed as a Right Bank-style blend, its foremost component is Cabernet Sauvignon (34%), followed by Merlot (28%), Cabernet Franc (26%), Malbec (8%) and Petit Verdot (4%).  Its 15 months in (mostly neutral) oak do not detract from its brightly transparent profile, based around sweet red rather than darker fruits, vanilla bean and sweet clove spice.  Despite its measured ripeness it is not remotely green aside from Cab Franc’s hallmark herbals, eucalyptus and parsley and grip tape, and its almost dainty approach to these often-bruising grapes carries over to the palate, where its delicate touch results in a most cultured and elegant Meritage.  There is clear skill, in both vineyard and cellar, associated with getting these grapes, picked in this place at this time of their development, to sing this song.

89 points

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2016 Rosewood Estates Renaceau Vineyard Cabernet Franc (~$51)

We end with a flagship wine from the vineyard that started it all for Rosewood.  Mike advises that this is winemaker Ryan Corrigan’s favourite wine and grape, and for good reason:  if any variety is establishing itself as Ontario’s top red, it is likely this one.  Hand-harvested on Halloween and aged for 18 months in 95% neutral barriques, this wine emerged from the bottle with a story to tell, with astonishing depth of colour and a self-assuredness that stood alone amongst this lineup.  From initial approach this is textbook Cabernet Franc, a dizzying aromatic mix of menthol, raspberry, tabasco, sage and black pepper, offset by a high-toned icing sugar note that was a pervasive calling card across almost all of these wines.  The levels of abrasive tannin here far exceed anything that came before, sculpting and honing the darker flavours of pavement, blackcurrant, NyQuil, shingles and black Twizzlers (yes, this was a licorice-heavy tasting).  Hidden founts of acid make the mouth water uncontrollably as you swallow, reviving and replenishing the flavour impressions in an encore of sorts.  This is the sort of wine that gets a producer, and a region, taken seriously.  Welcome to town, Nectar Imports and Rosewood Estates!

91 points

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