The pine tree stands alone. Le Vieux Pin. The old tree at British Columbia’s Black Sage Bench winery “speaks to the earth and rain and the clean clear air of the South Okanagan.” Le Vieux Pin makes wine with homage, loyalty and attention to French skill, acumen and personality. Their wines are decidedly full-bodied and age worthy.
The it moment for the principals at Le Vieux Pin may have been a Cabernet Franc one but it is Syrah that they have touched and turned into gold. The elegance, restraint and northern Rhône semi-ringer that is the Cuvée Violette is testament to what Viticulturist and Winemaker Severine Pinte can do with the grape variety. Her touch around that proverbial green is singular, not just for B.C. but for Canada and also the west coast. The mightier and more expensive Syrahs, the Cuvée Classique and Équinoxe will benefit in the future from what Pinte is doing with the Violette. It may be the entry-level of the three but it speaks the clearest and most understood vernacular.
LaStella is located at Osoyoos Lake in the South Okanagan valley. Their proprietary wines called Fortissimo, Allegretto, Vivace and Maestoso are named after Italian musical notes. I sat down with John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato and Steve Thurlow at WineAlign to taste five old pines and one star. Here are the notes.
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (ON $39.99, B.C. $29.90, WineAlign)
Co-fermented with a couple of percentage points Roussane, this variation on the northern Rhône theme gets a different, if more valuable aromatic lift. Draws fruit from sites on the Black Sage Bench, North Oliver and the Oyosoos Lake District. Elegant and elongated, refined and buoyant. Feathery and untethered. The aroma of violets gathered and condensed, then flooded as if on a large canvas, in lithe diffusion, followed by multifarious perfumes. Chewy and circulating upon the palate, with sweet pinnings. Warm at 14.2 per cent alcohol with holes filled and acidity pins stuck. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted May 2015
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. $49.90, WineAlign)
From plots of major glacial till, gravel, sandy silt and minor clay, in North Oliver and the Black Sage Bench. Five extra months in barrel (than the Violette), 21 per cent of it being new adds spice and texture to the gravity defying aromatic rise. More pepper and a hang of old world cure infiltrate the violets and the hyacinth. The lure of Umeboshi, grainy bean paste ice cream and leathery tang whiffs suppress the sweet, lingering florals and prepare the palate for what massive follows. Sweetness enters the fray, not as sugar, but as a thickening agent to balance the severe tannic grit. This needs five years minimum to settle and ten more to fully soften. Drink 2020-2030. Tasted May 2015
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Équinoxe Syrah 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. $89.90, WineAlign)
From North Oliver and Oyosoos Lake District vineyards of glacial sediment, gravel, silica and sandy loam, a veritable geological potpurri gives this low yielding (26 tonnes per acre) and minimal case load (324) of a Syrah a measure of immeasurable complexity. The barrel count is again (like the Cuvée Clasique) 19 months, with the new aspect increased to 34 per cent. The aromatics of violets, hyacinth and pepper are on magnified display. Add in sage and tobacco. Has grape tannin and wood spice in waves. The coarse salt, liqueur grain and pool of tension require much patience and respect. If Classique needs five, Équinoxe needs ten, or perhaps until the next solar eclipse on the vernal equinox. That will be in 2034. Here’s to hoping this hematic pugilist will be ready to drink by then. Drink 2022-2034
Le Vieux Pin Retouche 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (B.C. $60.00, WineAlign)
A Bordeaux blend with a minor yet obvious fortification of Le Vieux Pin’s gold grape variety, Syrah. Has that mammoth richness falling somewhere between modern Brunello and Tuscan IGT. From fruit in Oyosoos Lake District and North Oliver. A small (61 case) production that was housed in third fill barrels for the house-style 19 months. Big, brawny, hematic, sanguine and bloody massive. The darkest of fruit. The deepest roots. The snake in the grass. The shark beneath the waves. Many bites, from pepper and far eastern spice, coffee and more coffee. Tannin out the wazoo and the gills. Huge, modern-effected Bordeaux, like Château de Pez or La Croix De Gay. At 14.8 per cent alcohol its warmth needs a settling period to be sure, but during the period in which the fruit lasts, it will always act this way. Drink 2020-2025. Tasted May 2015
Le Vieux Pin Ava 2013, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (ON $39.99, B.C. $34.90, WineAlign)
The Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane amalgamation is lifted by the latter’s floral give. The texture is bolstered by Viognier’s play, from entry through presence and forward. At that point the ownership is transferred to Marsanne’s camp, where it remains dry, stoic and lingering on the palate. Has all parts moving in synchronicity, for unity, precision and together to celebrate a distinct Rhône intent. Has great herbiage, grain and elongation. The length walks a ridge, in tune as long as the Black Sage Road. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted May 2015
La Stella Fortissimo 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley (ON $39.99, B.C. $34.90, WineAlign)
The blend is Merlot (39 per cent), Cabernet Franc (38), Cabernet Sauvignon (17) and Sangiovese (6), a stew of Right Bank Bordeaux varietal intention with Memphis soul. Unashamedly rich, viscous, earthy deep, chalky and endowed with unctuous, chocolatey Osoyoos texture. The palate gives plum, dark red berries and more chocolate chew with a graphite and oozing Cassis centre. Then arrives the dusty Mulberry, bruised, hematic and pulsating with energy. The acidity follows with wow factor spirit. Has got Billy Preston finger roll and Stax tang, plus horn squeals and endless staccato fitful layering. It’s 14.9 per cent alcohol is curt yet remarkably not that hot. Put this king Okanagan away for five years minimum and listen to it linger for 10 or more. Drink 2020-2030. Tasted May 2015
Good to go!