Castoro de Oro: The Beaver Resplendent

15 07 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Familiarity tends to breed appreciation, at least to a point, and I am pleased to revisit Castoro de Oro in bottle form, after Peter’s informative trek through their new canned offerings. Although you can find more detailed background information on this exuberant Okanagan winery in our previous posts linked above, I will mention here that I harbour a special appreciation for its primary mission to deliver wines of good value: crushable and tasty, yet with just enough complexity to take them beyond the omnipresent mass-commodity products on many liquor store shelves. These are still wines, ultimately agricultural produce, but you will not find much in the way of rusticity here. I like rustic wines, but I don’t wish to drink them every day. Sometimes it’s nice to sip something that doesn’t taste like soda pop but is still shot through with a certain sunny, carefree joie de vivre.  In my prior encounters with them, the wines of Castoro de Oro filled this niche well, coming across varietally correct yet not too dense or serious, aromatically enticing but sporting compact palates that did not require a boatload of cognitive work to decipher. I’m pleased to report that this new round of vintages does little to shift my schema. I was able to meet new vintages of two old friends, but first, a new acquaintance.

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NV Castoro de Oro Vidal (~$25)

We begin with a 100% Vidal. I’ve long been intrigued by dry wines made from this hybrid much better known for ice wine production, an offspring of Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano Toscano) and the now totally obscure Rayon d’Or, itself a hybrid. This means that Vidal is more vinifera than not, perhaps accounting for its uncanny ability to be cold-hardy while also avoiding the foxy aromas that typically plague varieties with too much American ancestry. Dry Vidal wines tend to be redolent with fruity pineapple and grapefruit aromas, with high acidity. What’s truly curious in this case though is the absence of a vintage! This merits further investigation, but alas, this wine is not currently featured on the Castoro website. Another review references grapes “saved from the ice wine harvest”. Perhaps some of these grapes were picked late one year when a proper ice wine harvest did not seem likely, were vinified, and were then blended with further Vidal grapes picked the following year? Whatever the true origin, I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t dead curious to taste the curiosity that is non-vintage dry Vidal.

IMG_2290As expected, initial sniffs are distinctive and fall onto the weird side of compelling:  birthday candle wax, oily mango skin, Honeycomb cereal, marigolds, caragana (another yellow flower, this one in the pea family). The expected grapefruit and pineapple are also present and accounted for. Is that a little butterscotch or rum? Damn. Props for complexity and interest on the nose, even if some of the bruised apple and caramel oxidized stuff seems incongruous. The palate is less overtly flamboyant, largely eschewing overly tropical notes in favour of linear green and yellow apples (as mentioned, a few are bruised), green pear, lemon and lime oils, a touch of kiwi. A decidedly phenolic impression hits mid-palate. The acidity is quite intense but doesn’t quite start that way, reaching a blocky mini-crescendo as it spends some time in the mouth. The finish, longer than expected, flashes more mango, apples, and birthday cake before concluding with a peach pit bitterness. I’ve had a few dry Vidal wines really pour on the grapefruit juice and tropical nectar notes, and while sometimes that can be just what the doctor ordered, I’m rather glad this one only flirts with such territory before revealing a few other tricks up its sleeve.

88- points

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Cork Rating: 1/10 (These shiner composite jobs still need much improvement.)

2018 Castoro de Oro Pinot Noir (~$25)

I welcome a return to Castoro de Oro Pinot territory and regret that I do not have a 2017 on hand to do a side-by-side. By most metrics the Pinot was the strongest of the Castoro wines I previously sampled, with an assertive nose, juicy body (even if the flavours on the palate were a touch subdued), very mellow tasteful oak, and a classic varietal expression. I cannot really complain (too much). The 2018 vintage was a moderate one in the Okanagan, cooler than the five-year average of past vintages and therefore one conducive to crisp acidity and more restrained alcohol levels. The prior vintage is thought to be tops for fruit quality due to relatively low yields, so one wonders how this year’s harvest will compare.

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Dare I say favourably? Well-delineated tart to fully ripe red fruits lead the way on the palate (pie cherry, lots of pomegranate arils and cranberries). Classic sweet-tasting Pinot fruit ultimately wins the race, with nothing overtly jammy or green jutting out. Whereas the last vintage had no trace of anything even remotely confected in the mouth, this flashes a little red liquorice twist to supplement the riper fruit and well-integrated silky tannins coating the roof of the mouth. The nose makes a rather oaky impression right out of the gate, but it is not long before this coalesces with the other elements to yield a potpourri of rose petals and hips, carob, cola, gravel riverbed, nutmeg/pumpkin pie spice, tomato leaf, and rusty BBQ grill to provide just enough seasoning. This has more meat on its bones than the prior vintage, but still yields a rather perfumed, elegant, and refined vibe considering the price point. This is a step forward. Dare I say the Beaver should become a Pinot specialist? No, not quite, but this seems to be their red wine niche.

89 points

2017 Castoro de Oro Viognier (~$21)

We reach the end (for now), another new vintage of a Castoro stalwart. I find it hard not to love Viognier for its intense floral perfume, often oily texture, and opulent tropical flavours. I’m dangerously close to claiming this is my favourite Okanagan white if I collapse across the wineries I’ve sampled to date, even though the grape is not always at its best in warmer vintages. I recall that the 2016 Castoro Viognier ticked most or all the aroma boxes and maybe missed a few on the palate. The present bottle affords us an opportunity to see how this superlative Okanagan vintage might translate into some improvements.

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Does this vintage also ring true to varietal? Well, yes…and although some of the same problems remain, this seems to represent another clear step forward. The intense nose again recalls a metallic riff on white Welch’s juice, buttressing a boisterous, perfumed admixture of banana candy, pineapple chunks, canned peaches, lychees (notably present), lemon Turkish delight, elderflower, honeysuckle, Thai basil, and nutmeg. The nose is more compelling than the palate, which renders a Rocket Popsicle impression, if said Popsicle included a fourth layer that tastes of navel orange, cantaloupe, and mango.  The total package is not half bad, if you like your Viognier with a dash of Gewurtztraminer. The acidity is dialled back slightly from last vintage yet still rather tangy, appropriately moderate in level yet soft in the mouth. A late bitterness that is equal parts peach pit and grapefruit smoothie also makes a triumphant return, a distinct phenolic character perhaps, although one nowhere near the intensity of the Vidal described above. My mind says this needs work even as my heart says its delicious. And why does this seeming paradox have to be a problem? The outrageous floral aromatics that are the hallmark of this grape variety are on all display. Let’s revel in that.

88 points

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Stelvin Rating: 4/10 (I like the slick black look. Spruce these up a bit.) [Ed. note: WHAT??]


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