Osoyoos Larose Vertical Tasting: 2001 to 2010, September 8, 2014

Tasting a “vertical”, a set of historical vintages, of a good quality wine can be revealing and thought-provoking, and the ten vintages of Osoyoos Larose (2001-2010) sampled with the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada were a great example of this.

In the context of Canadian wine, Osoyoos Larose has a significant history. What is even more important, it has a tight focus and purpose. The winery was founded in 1998 as a joint venture between Groupe Taillan, a French wine company that owns a number of Bordeaux properties including prized second growth Chateau Gruaud-Larose of St. Julien, and Canadian wine company Vincor International, later purchased by Constellation Brands. The idea was to bring Bordeaux winemaking knowledge, techniques and vineyard material to the Okanagan. Ownership remained stable until 2013, when Constellation sold its 50% share to Groupe Taillon.

Five of the main Bordeaux varieties were planted, with the goal of making a single Grand Vin cuvée in the style of a Bordeaux estate. The first vintage was 2001, and in 2005 they began bottling a “second wine”, Pétales d’Osoyoos, using estate fruit that did not qualify for the Grand Vin. These are the only two wines produced by the estate.

The winemaking regime has also been very stable. Pascal Madevon, an experienced Bordeaux winemaker, joined in time to make the first vintage in 2001, and continued to oversee vineyard and winemaking operations until his departure in 2013. So all of the wines tasted here were made under his watch. The result is a consistent and successful approach to creating a high-quality flagship wine.

The Grand Vin blend is Merlot dominant, in some years as low as 57%, and in others as high as 75%. Cabernet Sauvignon is second in importance, almost always more than 20% but ranging from a low of 11% in 2003 to a high of 27%. Smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec are also included, with amounts changing by vintage.

But while there are year-to-year changes in the blend of grapes, and inevitable differences due to vintage variation, the overall consistency in approach and quality is quite remarkable. The fruit is generally quite ripe, and seldom moves into the over-ripe and jammy spectrum. So while the fruit profile is rich and complex, you can also expect to find more savoury notes expressing the varietal character of the grapes.

Luxury barrel aging is also a consistent component of the style, with 60% new and 40% one-year-old French oak barrels used each year. Aging was set at 16 months for vintages 2001 to 2006 (2004 was the exception at 18 months), which was then bumped to 20 months for 2007 and subsequent vintages. While the winery notes suggest that an additional six months of bottle aging is normal, the fact that the 2010 Grand Vin is the current new release this past summer suggests that most consumers won’t receive their wine before it has had more than a year in bottle. Having tasted 2008 through 2010 upon release, additional aging after purchase is clearly desirable — for when young, the wines are still very tannic, and the oak is unsettled.

My tasting notes from each vintage are below. I also have notes from the summer of 2012, when I was able to taste vintages 2006 to 2008 (then the new release) in a mini-vertical, and my notes are here. All of the wines showed very well, with the partial exception of the 2002, which seemed to have bottle-specific problems. As wine-writer Konrad Ejbich mentioned at the tasting, it would be great to taste these wines against similar vintages from very good quality Bordeaux Chateaux. The consensus was that they would show very well indeed.

As I mention below, my three favourites (in no particular order) were the 2001, the 2005 and the 2008.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2001: 66% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 13.9% alcohol.

The wine is medium ruby, with the colour dropping out and fading to garnet on the rim. Aromas are intense and developed, suggesting old leather, cedar, resin and cloves. While the fruit, reminiscent of dense brambly blackberries and ripe plums, is drying out, there are still haunting nuances of freshness, supplemented by green notes suggesting pine needles, dried herbs and savoury black olives — all of this complex and beguiling. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity, balanced alcohol, and developed tannins with just a slight chalky edge remaining. Although the wine is winding down, it is still terrific, and it’s a real tribute to the staying power of the fruit of those extremely young vines that were only in their third season. If you are fortunate enough to have some of this wine, make sure you enjoy it soon. This was one of my top three choices.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2002: 57% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 13.6% alcohol.

The wine is deep ruby with a narrow garnet rim. Initially the wine was not appealing, with the nose showing a cheesy funk that hid the fruit. But with aeration and time, the fruit began to appear: black fruit such as sweet and ripe blackberries and plums, accompanied by vanilla, cloves and forest floor. The wine is dry, with slightly elevated acidity, balanced alcohol and medium resolving tannins that still have some grip. The fruit is rich on the palate, and the wood resin and cedar notes were more noticeable than on the nose. This might have been a sub-standard bottle, although there is still some tantalizing stuffing here.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2003: 75% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 13.4% alcohol.

The wine is still holding its colour, which is deep ruby-garnet, with a narrow garnet rim. The nose is rich, intense and fruit-forward with some lift, and evokes aromas of spices such as cinnamon, vanilla and cloves, as well as a mix of fresh and drying black fruit (blackberries and plums), violets and wood resin. The wine has elevated acidity, medium alcohol and elevated tannins that are still firm. The black fruit is just a little baked on the palate, yet there is a slight sourness to the finish. While this wine was singled out by only one taster as being in their top three, it showed very well.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2004: 68% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 13.5% alcohol.

The wine is deep ruby-garnet with a narrow garnet rim. Quite intense sweet fruit on the nose suggests black currants, cherries, blackberries, plums, along with violets, and cedar, wood resin and baking spice. Noticeable acidity and chalky tannins mesh with the balanced alcohol and mouth-filling fruit, chocolate and coffee bean flavours. This is in a good place now.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2005: 67% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 13.8% alcohol.

The wine shows deep ruby with a narrow garnet rim. An initial funkiness blew off to show bright pretty blackberry, black currant, cherry and plum fruit, over oak-derived sweet spices. The wine has bright acidity and slightly gritty tannins. On the palate the fresher dark fruit is supplemented with cassis and dried herbs. There is real elegance here, a wine that will interest those who aren’t looking for raw power. This was one of my top three.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2006: 69% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 13.8% alcohol.

The wine is deep ruby-garnet with a garnet rim. While the nose exhibits copious red and black fruit, savoury herbal and earth tones such as black olives, tobacco leaf, forest floor, and dry earth are prominent, along with oak-derived vanilla and coffee. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity, and tannins that are integrating nicely.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2007: 70% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, 13.9% alcohol.

The wine is deep ruby, just beginning to show some garnet on the rim. Intense ripe fruit aromas fill the nose, evoking red cherries, blackberries and black currants, leaning towards cassis. Notes of vanilla and roasted coffee beans, along with a hint of dried herbs, add complexity. Despite the apparent ripe fruit, acidity and alcohol are in balance, while the tannins are ripe but still show some fine texture. The palate is rich and full, the fruit and oak-derived spices fill the mouth, and the finish is long. This is the most hedonistic and “new world” expression of the lineup, very much showing its warm vintage character. This is very accessible and easy to enjoy now.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2008: 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot, 13.9% alcohol.

The wine is deep ruby, and still shows ruby on the rim. Savoury dried herbs and forest floor underlie intense brambly blackberry and black currant aromas, and sweet caramel and vanilla. Slightly elevated acidity and alcohol are supported by very evident tannins. The finish is long. When I tasted this in 2012, not long after its release, it was disjointed and I wasn’t sure what direction it was heading. Today it is well on its way to something exceptional, and at this tasting it was my favourite wine.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2009: 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, 13.9% alcohol. $45.00

The wine is deep ruby to the narrow rim. The nose is youthful yet complex, with exuberant raspberry, blackberry and cassis, dark chocolate and coffee notes. Acidity and alcohol are elevated, tannins are significant and are still grainy. More wood shows on the palate than the nose — the wine is still awkward and needs several years in bottle to mellow and integrate, but has lots of potential.

Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2010: 67% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 13.8% alcohol. $45.00

The wine is deep ruby, with a hint of violet on the rim. The nose is intense, showing exuberant and generous blackberry and cassis, vanilla, chocolate and coffee. Acidity and alcohol are slightly elevated and in balance, but the youthful tannins are still aggressive. Again this needs time, but the fruit is so pretty and vibrant, that this should turn into a lovely wine.

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