Culmina: R&D Summer 2020 Releases

9 08 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back to our coverage of Culmina’s newly released summer offerings. Peter recently guided us through two classic Culmina bottlings and a unique saignée rosé. Now I get to analyze the winery’s new R & D offerings. Do not presume that such wines are necessarily experimental or cutting-edge in style, although admittedly that’s where my mind goes as well, and it turns out that “R & D” might actually stand for “research and development”. It is also possible that it stands for “Ron and Don”, representing Don Triggs, the founder of Culmina, and his twin brother Ron. The charming labels of these wines would seem to shore up this hypothesis, particularly since pushing boundaries seems to be more the purview of Culmina’s limited release “Number Series”. The R & D line represents wines that are fairly easy on the pocket book, less serious in their general demeanour than the upper-tier Culmina offerings, and intended for early consumption. In short, they are fun, cheerful, and not the sort of thing you are likely to encounter in dusty old cellars curated by the sorts of folks who only buy Bordeaux futures.

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Before we rock out, I will mention that Peter provided coverage of the prior 2018 vintages of both the R&D Riesling and rosé. Although we are course different tasters, this still allows for some assessment of how these wines vary across vintage. I made a point of revisiting Peter’s write-ups only after doing my own tasting notes, and I may pull in a few observations here and there around vintage variation or other comparative musings. To the crucible that is the most enjoyable type of study: wine research.

2019 Culmina R&D Dry-ish Riesling (~$19 Cellar Door)

The current vintage of this offering arrives with a definitively identified estate vineyard source, namely Stan’s Bench. This site stretches north-south along a mountain and is largely planted to white grapes, although Malbec and Petit Verdot also fare well here. I dig the “Dry-ish” moniker, if not the lack of specific tech specs with regards to just how dry this wine actually is. Let’s just say that this doesn’t drink like an old school German Pradikatswein, even if that tiny hit of residual sugar is indeed perceptible, likely highlighted by the deliberately ripe fruits. The wine sees only stainless steel in fermentation and maturation.

IMG_2515This is a limpid pale lemon-green in the glass, looking every bit the part of something refreshing that screams “drink right now” (in fact, I’m going to take this glass outside…). These visual cues do not infer a lack of complexity, however. The nose begins rather subdued and closed, sparse wisps of cantaloupe and hardscrabble lemon rind, a few white glue and chalk dust hobgoblins skittering by, but give it a few moments. A fragrant juicy yellow plum note washes in, compounded by lime sherbet, further golden fruits (apple, pear), orange blossom, quite prominent white pepper and Thai basil, with a curious Cool Whip element emerging late. Is this latter curiosity the footprint of whatever degree of residual sweetness remains here? Who knows, but it adds to rather than subtracts from the experience.

Fuzzy yellow peach and pineapple skin phenolics abound on the palate, particularly mid-palate, which add further structure to the classic Riesling flagpole of fresh acidity that anchors this wine to its very genes. I recall Terry Theise describing his first wine love as a Riesling that tasted more of ethereal minerals than any fruit. This makes me think about that…initially. The notion that Riesling is not ever fruity is easily debunked though, particularly if one tastes something from the Pfalz or Rheinhessen. Or the Okanagan. I’ll also add that Terry bought his wine in a German supermarket during the 1970s. If I met the present wine in a diner and we struck up a conversation, I would ask it at least two things. One: how do you manage to do such a great job of being accessible and yet mysterious at the same time? Two: why do you remind me so much of that “salad” that I grew up eating at Christmas in Saskatchewan, a concoction comprised of equal parts canned mandarins and marshmallows, somewhat reminiscent of “tutti frutti” Okanagan Pinot Gris? Fortunately, the steely, stony vibe this bottle exudes doesn’t quite land you there. I peek over and realize that the bottle is nearly gone. Okay, the null hypothesis is rejected, and this is delicious at a level that passes any test of statistical significance.

89- points

2019 Culmina R&D Rose Blend (~$20 Cellar Door)

This next one does sound rather experimental. A rosé made with Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc (!), again using all estate-grown fruit from Arise and Stan’s Bench. An old world analogue might be certain rosés from the Loire, Cabernet Franc-dominant (even Cabernet Sauvignon is used at times) and sometimes rather rich and sweet on the palate. This seems likely to be more delicate than this model, however, as this wine is direct-pressed off the skins after rather minimal contact, followed by one month’s fermentation in stainless steel. Made with a rather light touch…but wait until you take a sniff.

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This is a gorgeous hue, somewhere between salmon and copper with an almost completely completely clear halo. Bright and fruity on the nose, it exudes an almost tropical green banana pudding or fried plantain vibe, followed by raspberry, yellow plum (hey, I remember you!), ghostly pale cherries, kiwi, lychee (weird note for a rosé, but there it is nonetheless…given this blend of grapes, how???), and above all else, cantaloupe. Seriously, Peter wasn’t joking. This is a melon-laden rosé, although I’m getting some other elements that may or may not speak to vintage variation. This is almost entirely devoid of the sharper citrus notes you might expect in roses less opulent, the latter totally filed down in favour of softer melon. How much residual sweetness is present? I strongly suspect some, and this seems to be an R & D protocol. There’s maybe the barest hint of rhubarb and gooseberry, before the Morello cherry preserves and cantaloupe slam back down. This looks much like Provence and shares more than a few aromas, but by my reckoning it is quite is far afield from the typical bone-dry stylings from that classic region. This has more body and less acid, as if the usually purely peachy approach of Provence was injected with coloured marshmallows. It is more of a party than the previous wine, although the finish is a curt nod as a portcullis slams down, as if the melon is saying “thanks, had a blast, but I’m out”.

88+ points

2019 Culmina R&D Chardonnay (~$20 Cellar Door)

Lastly, a wine so up-to-the-minute that it is not even on the Culmina website yet. One can surmise that it adheres comfortably to other R & D protocols described above, and my sensory analysis does nothing to debunk this notion. There is a single site minimal intervention number series Chardonnay from Stan’s Bench that could serve as a rough model. Anyhow, let’s go in cold and just enjoy the ride.

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One could be forgiven for blinding this as Pinot Gris on the nose, as the aforementioned tutti frutti note makes its triumphant return, as part of a melange of kiwi, starfruit, yellow peach, navel orange, Tahitian lime, Meyer lemon, honeydew melon and Gala apple, with these sundry fruits all mixing and matching together such that one bleeds into the next, which bleeds into the next. Take a sip though, and you might note a characteristic linear Chardonnay acidity that remains a monolithic cylinder, changing little as it passes through the mouth. This is too lean and moderate of body to be Pinot Gris: pure, crystalline, yet rather ripe citrus and orchard Chardonnay fruit in all of its unoaked glory, complete with a sliver of wallpaper paste. The fruits are considerably dialed down on the palate compared with the more flamboyant nose. A curious true cinnamon and red apple herbal tea note builds in the background over time, an effect I recall from certain other unoaked Chards of days yore. White gummy bears, lilies, and gardenia blossoms pile on. I appreciate that the fruit and acid remain in lockstep right through to the end (cf. the R & D rosé above). Something about the lingering background complexity speaks to me here, striking a different chord than the sun + minerals combo that is the R & D Riesling. Elegantly workmanlike.

89- points

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Stelvin Rating: 8.5/10 (quite artful… where’s the third one, you ask? I’m pretty sure the cat absconded with it.)


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