Synchromesh Wines, Part I: Powered by Rieslings (and Merlot)

4 05 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Social distancing. Self-isolation. Working from home. Stress baking. Flattening the curve. It is all a bit much, but just maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or at least a faint wink, luring us towards a world that won’t be completely the same ever again. Keep up the great work, (most) folks. Aren’t you glad that there is still ample wine to drink, and to read about? We here at Pop & Pour were particularly thrilled to spend part of our quarantined home-stay getting acquainted with the latest vintage of Synchromesh Wines, Canada’s Riesling overlords, a homegrown brand forging an unmistakable vinous identity.

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Please excuse the floor… Cats live here, and it is not like tons of people are coming over to visit.

Alan and Amy Dickinson certainly had their research cut out for them when they set out in 2009 to find vineyard sites in BC that might yield top-shelf Riesling. This grape is one that will translate any nuances of terroir right into the glass, which is exactly what the Dickinsons wish to foster: minimalist winemaking that lets the land speak for itself. After almost of a year of searching, they acquired 5 acres of high-elevation south-facing vineyard that would serve as the nucleus of Synchromesh’s estate plot Storm Haven, which would later blossom to 107 acres when a neighbouring property was acquired in 2017. Although such an expansion may conjure up concerns of dilution of all that makes a specific parcel unique, au contraire. For one, the Dickinsons don’t play around with mediocre sites. Furthermore, a larger vineyard provides an opportunity to explore geological and climatic aspects of the site that in effect provide a larger palette from which to paint. Pinot Noir was added at Storm Haven, and the Dickinsons ultimately extended their stewardship to other vineyard locations in Naramata, a never-ending quest for further pure site expressions. All of their farming is organic, with no synthetic inputs, and all wines are fermented spontaneously, with a hard turn away from any factor that could blur the expression of each specific vineyard. Stay tuned for later in-depth coverage of Synchromesh’s home base; in this post I will focus on two special non-estate sites for Riesling, as well as another renowned plot for… Merlot?? Yes. Read on.

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2019 Synchromesh Long’s View Vineyard Riesling ($28)

We begin with a vineyard in transition. Long’s View was once known as the Bob Hancock vineyard and has been renamed after its current owners Charles and Linda Long. The farming is shifting towards purely organic as the vines mature, all Riesling clone 21B, or the “Weis” clone. It originally hails from the Mosel (from the esteemed vineayrds of St. Urbans-Hof, to be exact), a semantic tidbit that makes me feel less insane as I draw a few comparisons to the Mosel while I taste this wine. Racy wines characterized by green apple and citrus are the order of the day here. This also happens to be one of the northernmost vineyards on the Naramata bench, a 3.5 acre site that benefits from cool mountain winds that work to offset the considerable sunlight exposure, allowing Riesling to retain its signature acidity and some high-toned floral aromatics. The soil is high in gravel and calcium carbonate (a.k.a. limestone), which according to many tasters lends a characteristic acidic zap to wines, albeit not at the expense of full flavours thanks to good water retention and high nutrient availability. This particular site is noted for striking a keen balance between even ripening and good acid retention, which I must say translates very well here.

IMG_1910I get a brief flash of white glue on the nose, rapidly followed by an initially muted but increasingly bouncy new-sheets-fresh bouquet of lemon-lime soda, elderflower, honeysuckle/acacia and jasmine. The palate flashes key lime margarita, white peach, orange water, and apples three ways (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Ambrosia), with a dash of togarashi (Japanese seven-spice) and the barest ghost of white button mushroom, all buttoned-down and taut with lurking steely and wet stone aromas gliding in around the edges. The acidity here is a broad smudge rather than a sharp dart, but one that gives you a sturdy gummy worm tweak from time to time lest you forget this is indeed Riesling. The residual sweetness (8.47% ABV) is adroitly balanced by these tart characters. Intense grapefruit rind and eyedrops emerge in the lingering finish. This seems deft, a bit coy and flickering at first, asserting itself later in the game.

90- points 

2019 Synchromesh Thorny Vines Vineyard Riesling ($28)

If Long’s View is more classically reined in and “Old World” in character, Thorny Vines shows that traditional formulas aren’t the only way to evidence the effects of terroir. Thorny Vines (not sure why they call it this…do a lot of brambles grow amidst the grapes?) is also planted to Riesling clone 21B, affording a nice opportunity to assess the effects of site independent from the grape selection and winemaker. The vines here grow in richer soils than those at Long’s View, with the added loam bringing a heftier palate weight even as a northern aspect and careful work in the vineyard serve to corral the potentially quality-destroying effects of excessive soil fertility. The relatively young vines here take some work to reveal their true potential, yet all concerned parties believe in the potential of this site over the long haul.

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This cat believes in the potential of this site over the long haul.

Sure enough, this wine is a touch darker in the glass than the last, albeit still falling firmly in the pale lemon camp. I’m immediately struck by the tropical fruit notes here, largely absent from Long’s View. This is broad, lush, and expansive, redolent with pineapple, yellow peach and apricot, tangerine, soursop/custard apple, golden kiwi, guava, and even a little durian and mango, with a curious undercurrent of strawberry cream, wax bottle candies, and yellow daffodil rather than the expected white blossom. Some of the more mephitic tropical notes (looking at you, durian) blow off with time in the glass, but nowhere near all. And wait. The linear acidity is like a harpoon despite the rich tropical theatrics, thrown with moderate fury right up the middle. This coats the palate like a languorous predatory big cat that could eviscerate you with a mere flick of its paw, but is fortunately in a loving mood on this occasion. The wine finishes rather dry and chalky but with a persistent starfruit and calamansi tang tempered by Gala apple. More residual sweetness than the Long’s View (unsurprisingly, given the mere 7.75% ABV) but I’m not sure you’d notice. Compelling.

89- points

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Stelvin Rating: 3/10 (Obviously little is exciting here, but I’m giving a few points because, to loosely quote Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs, everyone wants to be Mr. Black.)

2016 Synchromesh Turtle Rock Farms Merlot ($50)

When I hear the name “Synchromesh”, I immediately think Riesling. As I imagine the Dickinsons would agree, there is nothing fundamentally problematic about this. However, when I heard that Synchromesh also made a single vineyard Merlot, their own take on this occasionally excellent but often mediocre Okanagan stalwart, I jumped at the opportunity to investigate further. These grapes hail from Turtle Rock Farms, which consists of two separate low-cropped plantings that lie on an ancient lakefront. Merlot occupies the upper portion of the site, while Cabernet Franc takes the lower. This part of the Naramata Bench benefits from cooling afternoon breezes off Okanagan Lake, yet this vineyard yields particularly ripe takes on Synchromesh’s Bordeaux-styled reds because of what they dub a “two suns” effect. The sun’s reflection off the lake is rather pronounced between 3:00 p.m. and sunset, which, combined with the earlier direct sunlight, enhances ripening and works to offset the aforementioned cooling breezes just enough to yield phenolically ripe yet not flabby red wines. Let’s dive in.

IMG_1918It is possible to draw a rough distinction between “cooler climate” Merlots that recall red plum and cedar versus “warmer climate” exemplars that reflect more of a blackberry and vanilla vibe. Curiously enough this might represent some form of stylistic middle ground. Initial aroma impressions include ripe blueberries and a more nondescript blue-black fruit leather, coupled with incense, cedar boughs, dark roast coffee, and baker’s chocolate from a presumably rich oak treatment. A fresh underlay of garden loam and bay leaf helps assure complexity on the palate, which is where some crimson fruits  finally emerge. Red huckleberry meets both red and black cherries, blackberries, and a few sugarplums, and it is like these fruits are spread through and around an oaky core, with fruit and wood components ultimately landing in an elegant lockstep. Tinges of new leather, black sandpaper, piney cough syrup, burnt stones, and dried out watercolour paint tray complete the package, buttressed as it is by a middling acidity and grippy, dusty sandpaper tannins that show a propensity to accumulate on both sides of the mouth over the course of an evening’s sipping. Perhaps it is not just about the Riesling after all, but please keep those coming too.

90 points

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Cork Rating: 5.5/10 (I dig the faux military font… A lot. Lots of space on here though.)


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