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Food & Drink

B.C.’s Osoyoos-Larose Mid-Term Report

Vintages’ March 15 release features 1,000 cases of the 2004 vintage of B.C.’s storied Osoyoos-Larose, the Franco-Canadian joint venture rooted in the desert soils of the southern Okanagan. It is very good—88 points—but not excellent wine. At a reasonable $39.95, any serious B.C. and/or Bordeaux wine enthusiast can afford to decide for themselves, but a recent trade tasting of several vintages of Osoyoos-Larose at the Rosewater Supper Club in Toronto has not yet convinced me that a new Médoc is being minted in the Okanagan. Its creators argue they are not trying to recreate Bordeaux, but there is no question it is fashioned from the Bordeaux template, from the blend of the same five grape varieties to the winemaking staff to the techniques they have imported.

Osoyoos-Larose is a joint venture between Vincor Canada and Bordeaux’s Groupe Taillan, which owns the famous Château Gruaud-Larose, among other prime Médoc properties. All hands were on deck at the unveiling of the 2004 vintage: Bordeaux-trained winemaker Pascal Madevon, who now lives in B.C.; the articulate, amiable French technical consultant Alain Sutre; plus CEOs from both sides of the Atlantic. The presentations were deep in detail, personality and symbolism. The depth of intention, know-how, dedication and funding is impressive, but five vintages into the project, the wine itself doesn’t yet live up to the billing.

My lack of enthusiasm is rooted in the awkward acid and tannin structure, although I like the flavours. For all the colour, power, weight and fashion of Okanagan reds, they remain some of the most sinewy in the world. To my engaged but untrained viticultural mind, the reason might be the intense summer heat that thickens the skins of the grapes—a natural act of sunburn prevention. When those grapes include the already thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, the tannic dryness is amplified.

Rightly, Osoyoos-Larose has used a majority of less tannic merlot as the anchor, with over 50 per cent in the blend, but this doesn’t wholly solve the problem. There is also the issue of cool-climate high acidity and lightness of body. Here is my note, based on several tastings, including two bottles from a half-case I had already purchased at a charity auction in B.C.

Osoyoos-Larose 2004 Grand Vin Okanagan Valley($39.95, 88 points, LCBO 626325)Mid-weight, sinewy and dry, with lifted herbs, meaty notes, tobacco, sage and dried redcurrant. Reminds one of some Tuscan reds. Mid-weight, with very good length. Quite savoury, but astringent on the finish. More balanced and brighter than the very tannic 2003 and not quite as rich as the 2005, scheduled for release in Ontario in fall 2008. Best 2011 to 2015.

For a quick comparison to a similarly priced Bordeaux on this Saturday’s release, try the Château Saint Georges 2003 ($35.95, 91 points, LCBO 960310), a merlot-dominated wine from a classic, traditional property near Saint-Émilion. It shows similar dried herbs, hummus and juniper notes with ripe currant fruit, but comes together with more harmony and warmth on the palate.

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