Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin

Mini Vertical and Components Tasting

Spencer's at the Waterfront, Burlington July 19, 2012

vineyardThe vineyard, the lake, the sage and the mountains (Courtesy of Osoyoos Larose)

It was a great pleasure to dine with Eugene Mlynczyk of Constellation Brands and Pascal Madevon, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager of Osoyoos Larose at Spencer's in Burlington. Pascal presented his current releases, the 2008 Grand Vin and 2009 Pétales, along with retrospective tastings of the 2006 and 2007 Grand Vin. We had lots of time to talk about wine, winemaking and the Osoyoos Larose project, and Pascal concluded with a tasting of the components for the 2011 Grand Vin which has not yet been blended.

PascalWinemaker Pascal Madevon

The Osoyoos Larose project is a joint venture between Constellation Brands, originally Vincor Canada, and Groupe Taillan, which owns a number of highly regarded Bordeaux properties including the second growth classed Château Gruaud-Larose of Saint-Julien, from which the "Larose" portion of the winery's name is derived. The goal was to create a Canadian winery focused on the classic Bordeaux varieties. An ideal site in the southern Okanagan was chosen, and in 1999 planting began on 80 acres on the northwest shore of Lake Osoyoos. Pascal Madevon, an experienced Bordeaux winemaker, joined the venture during the 2001 harvest, and grapes from that vintage produced the first Grand Vin.

You can find some of the background story on their website, so I won't chronicle the history in detail. But let me tell you what I find interesting and thought-provoking. It's the idea of absolute focus. From 80 acres planted in five classic Bordeaux varieties, just two wines are produced. These are the premium Grand Vin, produced every vintage from 2001 on, and since 2004 a "second wine", the Pétales d'Osoyoos. The current release totals 177,000 bottles, of which 108,000 are the 2008 Grand Vin. By Canadian standards, production of just under 15,000 cases of 12 makes this a medium-sized winery, and most Canadian wineries of this size will often have ten or more lines: many different varietal bottlings, perhaps some blends, and likely several quality levels.

productionProduction facility in Oliver BC (Courtesy Osoyoos Larose)

This idea of focus is certainly common in Bordeaux, the model for Osoyoos Larose, and is found in many regions of the world. When you think of great wines and wineries, can you find many examples of great wines that come from a producer who doesn't focus in this way? But what I also find interesting is that we sometimes think of focus as implying small size: just a few barrels of this or that. But obviously with the volume, and as illustrated by the picture to the right, here as in Bordeaux focus does not imply small size!

Canadian wineries are often forced to diversify because so much of their production has to be sold "from the cellar door". With limited access to monopolistic distributors, and legal prohibitions against creating their own retail distribution systems, one way to attract tourist sales is to have destination tasting rooms with many wine offerings and price levels to keep tourists happy.

One of the real benefits of having deep-pocketed sponsors, with world-class perspective and distribution, is that wine production staff can focus completely on the wine itself, and lever off the ability of the partner, in this case Constellation Brands, to oversee the marketing and distribution. Constellation's Clos Jordanne in Niagara is another example of this, focusing on the Burgundy model of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production.

The result of this focus is illustrated beautifully with these wines. The fruit is ripe but not over-ripe, cooked or baked. Lots of oak is used, with technical notes suggesting a 60/40 blend of new and one-use French oak barrels, but even in the youngest wines the oak was integrated and mostly apparent through secondary aromas and flavours. As Pascal said, these are Okanagan wines, not Bordeaux, but I think they stand up well to the Bordeaux comparison.

The wines we tasted were:

  • Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2006, 13.8% alcohol. (no longer available); 69% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Dense, opaque, dark ruby in hue, the nose was a little shy at first, but began to open up with dusty black currant and slightly lifted red berry notes, wild herbs (see the sage brush in the picture above) and hints of spice. The palate was rich, multi-layered and full-bodied, with dusty and chalky tannins under red fruit and some savoury green cedar notes, with a very long finish. This was the most challenging of the three Grand Vins tasted, and potentially the most rewarding if cellared for at least three or four more years, although it can last much longer. 9.2/10
  • Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007, 13.9% alcohol, $45 (small amounts still available); 70% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec. Opaque ruby with perhaps some garnet showing in the dim light. The nose shows riper, softer red berries, herbs, coffee and vanilla. The palate is rich and full-bodied, the tannins are fine and becoming quite integrated. The finish is long and pleasant. More accessible than the 2006, although it will do well if cellared. 9/10
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  • Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2008, 13.9% alcohol, $45 at Vintages; 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot. Dense ruby and garnet colour, with ripe red berries and sage but also noticable sweet vanilla and caramel notes. The palate is soft and full, with lots of fruit and young tannins. This needs some bottle time, but my guess is that this should be drunk within a few years. 9/10

I sensed from desultory chatter with other tasters that some would have ranked the 2006 at the bottom rather than at the top, as I did. I'm guessing this is a stylistic preference coming through. All three wines were interesting and are showing that this vineyard really does have the potential to produce very fine wines. Remember, the earliest vines were only planted in 1999, and some of the fruit would have been from vines planted a number of years later.

The final wine tasted is the current release of the second wine from the estate:

  • Osoyoos Larose Pétales d'Osoyoos 2009, 13.8% alcohol, $25 LCBO; 42% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. This is also a deep ruby-garnet colour, with a nose of ripe red fruit and plums, a hint of spice and vanilla. The palate is rich, the fruit is round and pleasant, and the tannins are soft. 8.8/10

We concluded with an enjoyable tasting of the components of what will be the 2011 Grand Vin. Pascal had a clever set of transparencies that presented each of the wines as shapes, which, when layered one on top of the other made for a full, dense and complete whole (pictured to the right. I didn't quite "get" all of the shape analogies, although I think he was offering some characterizations of how they position themselves on the palate. Here is what I observed:

  • The Merlot was slightly spicy with rich red fruit that lept to the roof of my mouth.
  • The Cabernet Franc had more green herbs along with the fruit, and was quite solid and centred.
  • The Cabernet Sauvignon had green notes and fairly fierce tannins that stayed low on the tongue and teeth.
  • The Malbec was interesting because I found so much spice, pepper and lots of floral notes, quite graceful and centred.
  • The Petit Verdot had a candied fruit note, high on the palate, with lots of tannins low down.

Blending them together really worked: the fruits and spices were more complex and layered, the green and herbacious notes were subdued and very pleasant, and the texture and mouth feel was much fuller, rounder and more mouth-filling than any of the components on their own. The blend may indeed be better than the sum of its parts, although I have to say I really enjoyed the Cabernet Franc and Malbec on their own as well.