Lessons learned by revisiting the 1997 Oculus
By John Schreiner
August 12, 2007
While working on the review of the 2004 Oculus, Mission Hill’s flagship Bordeaux red, I discovered a bottle of the 1997 Oculus in my cellar and decided to share it
with dinner guests.
The wine, Mission Hill’s first Oculus, more than met our expectations. With the cheese course, it was partnered with a 1988 Château D’Angludet, a fine Bordeaux producer in Margaux.
The difference in maturity made the comparison somewhat irrelevant except for this: as glorious as the French wine was, no one had to make excuses for the British Columbia wine. The Oculus was also very good.
The 1997 Oculus, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc, still was rich in colour, with little browning. The fruit flavours remain alive, with notes of mint and plum. The wine is soft and supple – but not so soft that it would not age a few more years.
Will it age as long as the D’Angludet, which is at its peak now? The Oculus might well last that long, although it will likely be beyond its peak. One cannot say that with certainty, of course.
That bottle from Mission Hill provides an answer to the question I hear more and more often: how long with British Columbia wines age?
The 1997 Oculus tells me that a well-made red has not trouble with being cellared for 10 years at least. At the same dinner, we also opened a 2000 CedarCreek Platinum Reserve Pinot Noir and reached the same conclusion. The wine is drinking very well now and has a few more years of longevity, easily.
The question of cellar life arises because so many British Columbia wines are being made from vineyards planted only in the 1990s. The conventional wisdom in Bordeaux is that vines have not properly settled into a vineyard until they are seven to 10 years old. Certainly, D’Angludet would have come from mature vines only. Typically, the fruit from young wines goes into so-called second labels in France, wines made to be consumed fairly soon after being released.
Presumably, the French know what they are doing. That generally is not the practise here. Perhaps it is not even necessary. Osoyoos Larose (half owned by a French company) thought its very first vintage in 2001 was good enough for the primary label, even if the vines then were just three years old.
Almost certainly, the 1997 Oculus was made with grapes from young vines. It did not seem to hurt the quality of the wine.
If British Columbia reds age – the 1997 Oculus suggests they do – there’s a lesson for collectors. Well-made British Columbia wines have earned their place in collector cellars, side by side with the French wines that, tradition says, belong in serious cellars.
The 2004 Oculus, the next one available for collectors, will sell for $70 a bottle when released next month.
That is competitive for wines of this quality. Vancouver’s Marquis Wine Cellars has just started to take orders for the 2006 Bordeaux reds. Wines that might be considered the peers of Oculus generally sell for more.
For example: Château Lynch Bages is $130, Calon-Ségur is $116, Beychevelle is $87.90, Léoville Barton is $130, Kirwan is $86, Clinet is $140.
Oculus will get up there one day, too, and probably not too long in the future.