There are several types of wine tastings including blind tastings, horizontal tastings and vertical tastings. A vertical tasting is when you taste the same wine from the same winery, but from different, usually sequential, years. In contrast, a horizontal tasting is the same varietal and the same year but from different wineries and a blind tasting is when the identity of the bottles are all concealed, usually in brown paper wrappers. They are usually, though not always, of the same varietal.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an open house and vertical tasting for the sister wineries, LaStella and Le Vieux Pin. Enotecca, a parent company, owns these two wineries. LaStella is located in Osoyoos, overlooking the lake, and their wines tend to show an Italian influence, while Le Vieux Pin, located just a short distance north in Oliver, reflects a French inspiration. Le Vieux Pin has a distinctively styled winery and is named after the large lone pine tree located on their property.
The tasting began with white wines from Le Vieux Pin. We went through a vertical flight of Ava, their white blend of viognier, marsanne and roussanne. The Ava blend is a classic French Rhone style wine. However, the first wine was a little different from the others in that the 2009 did not contain any marsanne and a small amount of the wine spent time in acacia barrels, which helped to enhance both the structure and mouthfeel. Then we tasted Ava from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The percentages of each of the three varietals varied from year to year depending on the qualities of the grapes. It was interesting to see the differences in the wines from vintage to vintage. For example, 2011 was a cool, challenging year in the Okanagan, but good growers and winemakers know what to do when Mother Nature deals them a tough hand and I quite enjoyed the 2011. While a little different from the others, I liked its structure.
Then it was on to the Le Vieux Pin reds. We tasted the 2011 Equinoxe Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Cuvee Classic Syrah (savory and spicy on the nose), the 2011 Equinoxe Syrah (elegant and very smooth) and the 2011 Equinoxe Cabernet Franc – unfined and unfiltered – (needs another 3-5 years aging). The final LVP wine was the 2011 Retouche a blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% syrah. These wines are all small lot offerings; only 55 to 360 cases were made of these wines. If you’ve never tried Le Vieux Pin, be sure to try the Syrah, their flagship wine.
Next, was a vertical sampling of LaStella reds, 2007 to 2011 Fortissimo, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and, sometimes, sangiovese. The percentage of merlot varied from 39 to 70 percent, depending on the year. Blends like these, give a winemaker great flexibility to make the best wine they can, which isn’t always possible when dealing with single varietals. 2007 was the first year their Tuscan inspired Fortissimo was made. The 2008 displayed lots of secondary aromas – tar, soy and cedar. In 2009, the harvest was proceeding nicely until the Thanksgiving weekend when the temperatures dropped suddenly to minus 20° C. Despite this seeming setback, the 2009 had a great nose with lots of complexity. The 2010 and the 2011 will benefit from another three to five years aging. Weather wise, 2012 was a good year and the wine has good structure. Hold on to this one for about another five years. It will pay back big time. This vintage was made from vines that are 25 years old.
One of the highlights of the event was a special tasting of their 2011 Maestoso (100% merlot) – LaStella’s flagship wine – and the 2011 La Sophia Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes for La Sophia come from a vineyard, which faces southwest which helps to ripen the cabernet sauvignon. These wines were made from the oldest cabernet vines in the province, which date back to the 1970’s and 80’s. The vines were cropped to two tons per acre, which accounts for concentration of fruit. The winery crops all it vines low, no more than 3 ½ tons per acre which helps to explain the excellent quality of their wines. Only two barrels of these wines were made, so this was indeed, a rare treat.
Thanks to Alex Russo, Wade Martin and Donita Dyer for their hospitality and for much of the information contained here and to Rasoul Salehi, General Manager of LaStella, who organized and planned the event.