Does the best New World Syrah come from British Columbia?
This might startle some readers but hear me out. British Columbia produces a very small amount of the world's wine and most is sold and drunk locally. However, the wine that does escape the barriers of the province and makes its ways across the country is remarkably good. Black Hills and Le Vieux Pin are small boutique wineries that are producing some very exciting and high-quality wines. They were recently showcased in the New York Times and so the word is getting out about how this small Canadian region can mix with the big boys. I recently tried the latest lineup from Le Vieux Pin, the majority being their 2018s and I was highly impressed.
Le Vieux Pin is located in southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and has been focusing on mainly Syrah-based wines since their first vintage in 2005. Their vineyards are mainly located on the Black Sage Bench, La Feuille d'Or and Le Grand Pin vineyards, however they own or buy grapes from other plots across southern Okanagan. These vineyards are located within one of the only micro deserts within Canada! Severine Pinte, originally from France came to Le Vieux Pin in 2010 and pushes for minimal intervention in the cellar along with showcasing what the terroir can do. These are not your New World, big jammy wines, but more old world in style with restrained fruit, elegance, and class. I never thought Canada could produce such high-quality wines until I tasted their top Syrah: Equinoxe 2016, $90 (94-95 points), looking back at previous scores this is one of the highest scores I have given to a Syrah outside of France. It was so wonderfully textured and layered at a price of which you would need to pay two or three times in France. Their mid-range Classique at $45 (92+ points), is undoubtedly a steal at that price, which is drinking so wonderfully today, yet unusually I would want to cellar this wine for 5 years to ensure the fruit really opens and the masculine tannins softened. Finally a word on their Violette $31 (90 points), this is fantastic value and is more of a fresh, easy-drinking yet elegant style of Syrah.
So what makes Le Vieux Pin so special compared to other wineries which I have tasted from British Columbia? Difficult to say, maybe it is Severine, maybe it is how they focus on what grows well, nothing fancy just letting the vineyards do the talking, maybe their European approach to farming, the way they try to farm as naturally as possible using both sustainable and organic methods. Whatever the secret is, I hope they never change their ways because these wines are one of the biggest secrets in the New World.
Find below my tasting notes on these wonderful wines:
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Équinoxe 2016 - 94+ points
This is mindblowing good and it comes from B.C! The aromas are just divine, I could just enjoy the aromas all day with waves of violets, chocolate, blackberry, blackcurrant, leather, sage, tobacco, smoky notes. It has floral, fruit, and savory components, all complementing each other. The palate does not disappoint, this is full-bodied, and whilst initially quite light and floral in texture, this builds as waves of dark fruit, bitter chocolate, fresh herbs, cracked black pepper and cacao take center stage, the tannins are finely integrated and fresh. The finish is focused and long. I don't know a Syrah from the new world this good, yup I am serious. I believe this will be better in 5-10 years.
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Classique 2018 - 92+ points
This is 100% Syrah, 18 months in French oak 5% new. Compared to the Violette this is certainly a lot more serious, with more aromas I am used to with Syrah, along with crushed florals and dark blackberries, I also get a little more gamey notes, smoked meat, and black pepper along with some dried rosemary and thyme. The palate is full-bodied and more savory than the Violette with dark fruit which has a savory backbone of herbs and spice, the palate is well defined and structured. The tannins are finely grained and more round than drying with a medium finish. You should hold off on this for 5 years since I feel this has a little more to give, better than 2017.
Le Vieux Pin Syrah le Grand Pin 2018 - 91 points
Known as just an experiment for now. This wine with grapes from the Black Sage Bench vineyard is grown on a sand over clay base. The nose is surprisingly shy, and small dark black fruit, cassis, crushed florals, graphite tobacco and a slightly gamey note kept the aromas intriguing, you really had to work to get those aromas out of the glass! The palate was full-bodied with dark refined fruit, crushed stones, herbs along with finely grained tannins and a soft finish. This had to be the wine I struggled with the most, this feels completely shutdown today and for those who can get a few bottles of this don't open it for 10 years. Potential there but not today.
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvée Violette 2018 - 90 points
Le Vieux Pin Syrah Violette with a blend of 99% Syrah and 1% Viognier was a more approachable and one could say a feminine style of Syrah. Aromas of crushed violets, blackcurrant crumble, blackberry pastry, and fresh herbs. The palate was fresh and lush with waves of dark berry fruit, silky tannins, light structure, bright mid-palate with an enjoyable finish. Drink this now over the next couple of years.