Spring Wine Maven: The baron of Chianti Classico, what’s new in Rioja and building tunnels in Lake Country

Visiting tunnels in Lake Country with winemaker Adrian Baker, tasting with the Barone Ricasoli and enjoying dinner with Toni Batet of CVNE.

by Mary Bailey

Francesco Ricasoli, the baron of Barone Ricasoli
Francesco Ricasoli, the baron of Barone Ricasoli

“Many people are watching the Chianti Classico; this is where the Sangiovese of the future will be,” says Francesco Ricasoli, of Barone Ricasoli. He’s talking about the extensive work the family is doing in their vineyards at Castello Brolio, identifying zones, classifying soils, paying attention to the difference, and finding the absolute best sites within. “We will release two more cru (single vineyard wines) at Vin Italy this year,” he says, over lunch at Vaticano.

Ricasoli wines

We tasted several wines, including the surprising 2015 Torricella, a weighty and tasty Chardonnay with 20 per cent Sauvignon Blanc; the 2015 Castello Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, a superb blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (firm tannins, with some delicious secondary notes); the single vineyard 2015 Colledilà Gran Selezione Cru (complex, rich and rewarding) and the 2013 Casalferro Merlot, a little softer, lots of berry fruit and drinking well now.

Adrian Baker in the under-construction caves at O’Rourke Family Vineyards, Lake Country, Okanagan Valley
Adrian Baker in the under-construction caves at O’Rourke Family Vineyards, Lake Country, Okanagan Valley

Adrian Baker, the general manager and head winemaker at O’Rourke Family Vineyards met us at the tasting room of O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars (formerly The Chase Wines). We were going to check out the caves that O’Rourke has been tunnelling into a massive granite boulder in Lake Country, north of Kelowna. Adrian, an affable New Zealander, took us through part of the 300 metre long system to a table set up with several bottles. The caves will eventually hold barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “5609 square feet of barrel storage and some space for hospitality,” says Adrian.

The wines destined for the caves are a dream at the moment. The project will not be finished for several years. “I’m a huge believer in this property,” says Adrian. “The snow melts first here. It’s a hot zone in a cool region.” In the meantime, we tasted a racy and dry 2017 Riesling (lime, passion fruit, mineral). “The 2017 Pinot Gris is barrel fermented to get some weight, some texture,” says Adrian. The 2017 Gewurz (“I love making Gewurztraminer,” he says) has verbena at first, then the classic lychee notes. It’s fresh and elegant with a nice clean finish, if a tiny bit boozy (hot year). These wines are all from vines planted at the site in the past six years or so. “The humidity in the caves is about 90 in the summer and about 65 in the winter, says Adrian. “We lose alcohol not water, so a wine could go into the caves at 14.1 ABV and end up at 13.8 which is great, more balanced and drinkable.” O’Rourke wines are available in BC only (for now). On your next trip to the valley, pop by the tasting room for lunch and enjoy incredible views over the lake.

Left, Tony Batet (CVNE) and Brayden Kozak (Wishbone)
Left, Tony Batet (CVNE) and Brayden Kozak (Wishbone)

Several Rioja producers were in town for the Winefest event, and many stayed afterwards for tastings and dinners to let us know what’s happening in their corner of Spain. Toni Batet, the global export director of CVNE (140 years old this year) told a funny story about the name. The labels say CUNE, not CVNE. Apparently, the printer made this change because ‘no one can say cvna, you are better off with cune’. Apparently, the family agreed. Apocryphal or not, it’s a good story. Rioja is moving to a new classification system which involves putting the name of the village on labels (like Burgundy) to better communicate top vineyard sites. We won’t see this for a while yet as the Rioja aging system (aging both in barrel and in bottle, at the winery, allowing the wine to come to us when it’s ready to drink) stays the same.

CVNE wines

We tasted several wines from CVNE at a delicious dinner at Wishbone. Highlights were the delish 2017 Monopole Viura (dry and savoury, just the wine to have with seafood); the 2016 Crianza (fruity and fresh, with delicious peppy acidity) and the 2014 Imperial Reserva, a profound wine displaying all the characteristics we look for in great Rioja—impeccable balance, silky tannins, and lovely flavours of woodsy forest floor, balsamic and cloves, with a lingering finish. The 1994 was served at the 2004 wedding of the king of Spain.

Find these wines at better wine shops. Or, use the search feature at Liquor Connect, liquorconnect.com.

Event Calendar

Gerard Bertrand Wine Dinner
Continental Treat, 780-433-7432

Sunday Supper Club:
Dieu de Ciel Beer Dinner
The Marc, 780-429-2828

Hops and Whisky Tasting
Royal Glenora Club, Eventbrite

Chinook Arch Meadery Tasting
Aligra, 780-483-1083

Jim Barry Wine Dinner
DOSC, 780-450-0606

Luigi Bosca Wine Dinner
Revel Bistro and Bar, 587-524-3333

Easter Wines and How to Pair
Them with Your Spring Feast
Aligra, 780-483-1083

Paul Jaboulet Wine Dinner
Café Linnea, 780-758-1160

Little Engine Wine Dinner
La Ronde, 780-420-8366

Hot Chefs Cool Beats
Mosaic Centre, hotchefscoolbeats.ca

Date TBA
Farm to Table Dinner with Lake Side Dairy and First Choice Cellars
XIX, 780-395-1119