For the past seven years, the winemaking team at Laughing Stock Vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has been making an experimental wine that sees grapes fermented in 500-litre terracotta clay amphorae as in days of yore. The wine making style, which sees white grapes vinified like red wines, produces what is commonly referred to as orange wine because the prolonged contact with the grape skins imparts a rich amber or orange colour.
In 2019, viognier and roussanne spent 98 days undisturbed as they fermented in a corner of the cellar. The winemakers didn’t utilize any of the tricks of the trade they might commonly employ, other than a small addition of sulphur before bottling.
By comparison, Laughing Stock’s 2019 Viognier is a blend of batches that were fermented and aged in different vessels, including French oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and egg-shaped concrete vessels that are modern containers inspired by traditional amphorae. The team would have fastidiously monitored this wine’s progress throughout its fermentation and aging and then spent considerable time and effort coming up with the final blend for bottling.
Tasting the wines side by side shows a dramatic difference. The conventional viognier is crystal clear and golden in colour, while the amphora wine’s colour is much deeper and darker in hue. Their flavours are distinctive, too. The viognier presents the variety’s classic exotic character, with peach, tropical and oak notes. The orange wine is also exotic, but unexpectedly so. Tannins from the grape skins add some grip and structure, but also intense aromas and flavours that are truly interesting and enjoyable.
Laughing Stock is far from the only Okanagan producer that’s added an orange wine to their portfolio. Terracotta clay amphorae are being introduced to cellars across the region, just as they are in many Ontario wineries and ones spread across the world. What was once considered to be a fad is now an established part of winemaking portfolios, with a growing audience that has spread from hipster sommeliers and natural wine bars to wine lovers looking to try something different.
That fascinating amphora wine from Laughing Stock is one of this week’s recommended wines. There’s also a compelling white made from an ancient Italian grape variety and a striking sauvignon blanc from a newcomer to the wine route in Osoyoos. The return of sweater weather has also primed my taste buds for wines with layers of flavour in the form of richer whites or robust reds, from established producers or new wineries that are waiting to be discovered.
Bodegas Muga Reserva 2016 (Spain)
Here’s a truly exciting release from a reliable Rioja producer that ferments and ages its red blends in oak. Made with mostly tempranillo and garnacha (grenache) and graciano, this robust red offers sensational flavour, with a ripe core of dark fruit, savoury and leather notes. A wine with appealing depth and complexity, it’s ready to drink but its structure and intensity suggest tremendous aging potential. Drink now to 2028. Available in Ontario at the above price, $30.99 in B.C. ($28.99 until Oct. 3), various prices in Alberta, $24.10 in Quebec.
Casale Del Giglio Bellone Bianco 2018 (Italy)
Bellone is an ancient grape that has been cultivated in the Lazio region of Italy since Roman times. Its flavour suggests a mouth-watering mix of citrus peel, tropical fruit and subtle floral notes. The winery encourages contact with the grape skins to gain some of the aromatic properties from the variety prior to fermentation. The finished wine is has nice weight and texture, with terrific freshness on the palate. Drink now to 2022. Available in Ontario at the above price, via lcbo.com, various prices in British Columbia.
Lakeside Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (Canada)
A recent addition to the wine route in Osoyoos, Lakeside Cellars has been operating a pop-up tasting bar on its crush pad, where the grapes come into the winery for processing, while construction on its new tasting room continues. Hopefully visitors won’t miss the opportunity to taste this nicely textured and vibrant white made with grapes from the estate’s 22-year-old sauvignon blanc vines. The mix of lemon and lime with floral and herbal notes make for an Okanagan white with an impressive, expressive and elegant style. Drink now to 2022. Available direct through lakesidecellars.ca.
Laughing Stock Vineyards Amphora VR 2019 (Canada)
Best known for its benchmark Bordeaux style blend, Portfolio, Laughing Stock also produces a range of other enjoyable wines, including this exciting orange wine. Made in a rich and refreshing style, this offers an intense mix of fruit and floral notes, such as honeysuckle, apricot and tangerine, alongside a dried tea note on the finish from the tannins from skin contact. This is surprisingly sleek and lacks the bitter elements that can come from tannins. Only 100 cases were produced. Available direct from the winery through laughingstock.ca.
Liquidity Wines Dividend 2017 (Canada)
The latest release of Dividend is a harmonious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot grown in different vineyards around the Okanagan and Similkameen. This classic is enjoyably understated in style, with the oak-derived aromas and flavours taking a backseat to the rich fruit and savoury notes. Nicely structured with supple texture and a refreshing finish, this has the capacity to age, but I’m not sure why you’d want to wait. It’s ready now. Available direct through liquiditywines.com
Rocca delle Macìe Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva Chianti Classico 2017 (Italy)
Rocca delle Macìe was founded by film producer Italo Zingarelli in the Chianti Classico area in 1973. The house style is modern and approachable wines marked with ripeness and smooth texture. This crowd-pleasing riserva is mostly sangiovese with small additions of Cabernet Sauvignon and colorino, with grapes coming from four estates in Castellina in Chianti in the province of Siena. The finished wine offers sweet fruit flavours accented by spice and oak notes. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $24.95 in Quebec (2016 vintage).
Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay 2018 (Canada)
The flagship chardonnay from Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County, this is a rich and inviting chardonnay. Barrel fermented in larger format barrels to add complexity and texture, the JCR Chardonnay is produced from the winery’s estate vineyards and named in honour of co-founder John Campbell Reston. The mix of bright citrus, toast and spice notes are intense and nicely integrated. Drink now to 2024. Available direct through rosehallrun.com.
Wildeberg White 2018 (South Africa)
The debut release of an exciting new South African producer, Wildeberg White is produced from old vine sémillon grown in Franschhoek. Fermentation and aging takes place in a mix of old and new oak barrels, which contributes to the texture and richness of this bright and complex white. It’s lively and really enjoyable now and has the classic structure and concentration to mature gracefully. Vegan friendly. Drink now to 2030. Available at the above price as part of the LCBO Classic Catalog release for September, vintagesshoponline.com.
Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (United States)
This simple and enjoyable red make the most of its jammy dark fruit flavours and smooth texture. It’s easy to appreciate while offering correct cabernet character. Drink now. Available in Ontario and Quebec at the above price, $13.99 in British Columbia, $14.49 in Saskatchewan, various prices in Alberta, $12.99 in Manitoba, $14.99 in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, $15.27 in Newfoundland and $15.97 in Prince Edward Island.
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