Nine vintages of Blue Mountain Pinot Noir
By John Schreiner
April 28, 2006
The only Canadian winery profiled in John Winthrop Haeger’s excellent 2004 book, North American Pinot Noir, was the Okanagan’s Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars.
It is a tribute to be profiled along with such American Pinot Noir giants as Oregon’s Domaine Drouhin and California’s Williams Selyem Wines.
Haeger was impressed with Blue Mountain’s wines, which, he wrote, “display very complex flower-dominated aromatics and considerable elegance, but often take time to open in the glass.”
I have been a regular purchaser of Blue Mountain’s Cream label (as the non-reserve wines are called) since 1992. Some of those vintages have been consumed. However, finding that I still had nine vintages from 1994 to 2004, I organized a vertical tasting in co-operation with Bellevue Wine Cellars, a VQA store in West Vancouver.
It was an opportunity, in company with 17 or 18 guests, to taste and compare and, among other things, to see how well the wines are aging. Pinot Noir usually is charming as a youngster. The better ones become seductive with some maturity. And that certainly was the case with Blue Mountain.
There is a certain irony that the venue was a VQA store. Blue Mountain, which opened in 1992, does not submit its wines to the VQA tasting panel, for reasons that now escape me. There is zero chance that the wines would fail to get the VQA seal. However, the program is voluntary. Since Blue Mountain sells everything it makes anyway, the winery does not see the need to have the additional backing of VQA behind its label.
Bellevue Wine Cellars is an excellent venue because its clientele is wine savvy. They all know Blue Mountain wines. Some are on the winery’s list to get alerts of new releases – and have discovered that one needs to move fast in ordering, or the most desirable of wines are sold out.
We divided the wines into three flights, starting with the most recent release, the 2004 Cream Label Pinot Noir ($24.95), announced in March and now sold out – as are all of the vintages discussed here. (The excellent 2004 Gamay Noir is still available at $19.95).
An explanatory note: Blue Mountain’s reserve wines are called Stripe Label. The current release is the 2003 Strip Label Pinot Noir ($35) which, if still available, is highly recommended. The difference between the labels is that the Stripe Label wines are fuller in body and flavour, with an even silkier texture than the Cream Label wines.
Here are notes on the vintages tasted, drawn from my notes and from a consensus of the guests:
2004: This was by far the lightest of the vintages, perhaps reflecting some untimely rain and cool weather in August and September that year. However, the aromas and flavours, while delicate, did show Haeger’s “flower-dominated aromatics.”
2003: Darker in colour and fuller in body, this wine has an intriguing note of smoke in the aroma, perhaps from the toast level of the oak barrels but perhaps a residue of the Okanagan forest fires, one of which burned to the edge of the Blue Mountain vineyard. If anything, this adds interest to the wine’s earthy and strawberry flavours.
2002: Medium in colour, this elegant and polished wine has flowers and strawberries in the aroma, a fine silky texture and hints of raspberry in the taste. This was the group’s favourite among the opening trio.
2001: This wine has begun to develop that classic aroma that Pinot Noir geeks unfortunately call “barnyard” – aromas combining earthiness, jammy fruit, burnt matchstick. It smells much more alluring than that sounds. On the palate, there is a fine dollop of sweet cherry and strawberry flavours, with a round texture. This was the vintage where age was noticeably beginning to do its magic with the wine.
2000: The dark colour already signals a wine of depth. The aroma suggests cherries, which carries through to the flavour. The wine is not as forward and developed as the 2001 but seems on the way to becoming a classic. It was the hit of the second round.
1999: There are notes of toast and black cherries on the aroma. The structure is lean and tight, less generous than any of the other wines, although, as Haeger noted, it began to open up in the glass.
1997: The colour shows some browning, as one would expect at this age. The flavours suggest plum, with a hint of spice, while the aroma shows complex notes of minerals as well as fruit.
1995: There is less browning here than in the 1997, with an attractive vibrancy still. The aromas and flavours are still lively, showing earth and black cherry. Several of the group preferred this in the final trio.
1994: Twelve years old and superb! The colour is still vibrant, with browning only at the rim. The aroma is richly perfumed, showing flowers, minerals, iodine and strawberries – and whatever else the imagine could conjure. The flavour was an explosion of jam and cherries. One of the most impressive wines of the entire vertical, at its very peak.
If nothing else, this tasting showed how well Blue Mountain Pinot Noir develops in the bottle. Not that there is much chance of finding a lot of old vintages, given how rapidly the wines are consumed when young.