A dozen or so years ago, when I purchased two bottles of the very first vintage of Osoyoos Larose, I never imagined that one day I would be drinking them – and nine subsequent vintages – with the winemaker. But in early December, that’s exactly what happened.
Osoyoos Larose burst on to the BC wine scene as a joint venture between French winery conglomerate Groupe Taillan and Vincor International (now Constellation Brands). The goal of the partnership was to combine high quality Okanagan fruit with French wine-making expertise to produce premium red Bordeaux style blends in BC. Winery operations would be led by Bordeaux winemaker Pascal Madevon, who would land in the Okanagan just after the first harvest of Osoyoos Larose vines in September 2001.
When I first read about Osoyoos Larose (OSL), I knew I had to get my hands on a few bottles to see what all the fuss was about – and see if it was worth the seemingly outrageous price of $40 a bottle. I put my name on a list at the now departed Edgemont Village Wines and managed to get two bottles of the inaugural 2001 vintage. Le Grand Vin, OSL’s premium label, has become increasingly easier to obtain with each vintage and I have continued to buy and cellar a few bottles each year.
A few years ago I poured an “initial vertical” of Le Grand Vin for a group of friends, spanning vintages from 2001 to 2008. I remember thinking at the time that the wines had held up well, showing considerable structure and freshness for wines that were approaching ten years of age – and debunking my theory (at that time) that you shouldn’t keep a BC wine for more than five years.
Even after that initial tasting, I managed to keep a full vertical going including lone bottles of the 2001 and 2002 vintages. In early 2016, I was chatting with local wine guru Sid Cross, and when we got on to the subject of Osoyoos Larose I mentioned I still had a complete vertical of Le Grand Vin dating back to the first vintage. Sid suggested we put together another tasting and extend an invitation to the now ex-OSL winemaker and in-demand consultant Pascal Madevon. The event came together in early December, and to my surprise and delight, Pascal accepted Sid’s invite.
Pascal shared great stories of vintages past – like the fun they had producing the first vintage in the parking lot at Inniskillin before moving to Vincor’s facilities at Jackson-Triggs – and the fact that 60 per cent of early OSL vintages was sold in Quebec, explaining why it was initially so hard to come by in BC. But it was his knowledge of the vintage conditions, the yields, the blends – and the subsequent development of the wines – that was most fascinating to hear.
Observations from the tasting:
- I was worried the 2001 vintage would be too far past its prime to enjoy. On the contrary, it was probably the most interesting wine of the flight. It still showed good tannic structure and concentration, along with the leather and cigar notes expected of a 15-year-old wine. And the longer it sat in the glass, the more interesting it became, displaying aromas and flavours of – appropriately for the season – Christmas cake. What an unexpected treat. The 2001 remains the only OSL Grand Vin that contains no Malbec or Petit Verdot.
- If there was a disappointment in the flight, it was the 2002. Although initial aromas of blossom and concentrated black fruits suggested promise, on the palate the fruit was subdued and overwhelmed by dusty tannins. We thought it might have been just that bottle, but Pascal said all the 2002s were like that. Whereas I thought it was past its prime, Pascal thought it needed more time. Another surprise.
- As for the 2003, Pascal told of a particularly challenging fermentation that provided them with many wine-making lessons. Nonetheless, for a 13-year-old wine, it showed lovely freshness, good fruit concentration and a long finish.
- For 2004, we had the added pleasure of being able to taste Le Grand Vin alongside the very first vintage of OSL’s second-tier red blend, “Petales”. Whereas the 2004 Grand Vin was distinctly Bordeaux in character with fairly restrained (and mostly red) fruits, the Petales was fruit-forward and ready to drink. It was very interesting hearing Pascal’s take on the thinking behind producing a “second wine” – which Bordeaux producers typically market at much lower prices, even though production costs are virtually the same.
- For me, the 2005 was the wine of the night. I thought it showed the best all-round balance, and blend of red and black fruits, firm tannins and a long finish. Although this wine could continue to age gracefully, it was in its “sweet spot” on this occasion. Christmas 2016 would be the perfect time to open a 2015 Osoyoos Larose!
- Not to take anything away from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, but what struck me about these wines was how similar they were. Pascal noted that, in fact, the two vintages were very much the same, which allowed him to pursue a certain brand consistency. Very good wines, but approaching the point of being not-yet-ready-to-drink.
- The 2008 seemed more like a left bank Bordeaux than the others – notes of cassis and tobacco with dry tannins. Pascal pointed out that they upped the percentage of Cab Sauv in this vintage, which likely accounts for the noticeable differences between it and the previous vintages.
- For Pascal, the 2009 was the wine of the night – and perhaps of his entire tenure at Osoyoos Larose. Growing conditions were ideal, again allowing for a higher percentage of Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot, and a resulting wine that is deep ruby in colour, with a hint of dark chocolate complementing the concentrated black fruits. Tightly wound with grippy tannins. OSL’s spec sheet for the ’09 says it will be best between 2019 and 2021 – and based on our observations, it could probably go longer.
- The 2010 vintage was unusually cool, leading OSL to pick into November and dial back the percentage of Cab Sauv. It was actually more approachable than the 2009, with a spiciness on the nose and a round and plummy palate. OSL’s spec sheet says it will drink well until 2022, but based on this tasting, I’d suggest drinking it between ’17 to ’19.
All in all, a fascinating evening of tasting and story-telling. Well worth the investment made in these wines over the years – and well worth the wait!
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A quick update on Pascal and Osoyoos Larose – Pascal left OSL in 2013 to help launch Culmina, and has since established Pascal Madevon Signature Ltd. (pascalmadevon.ca), a vineyard and winery consultancy based in the Okanagan. Also in 2013, Groupe Taillan took full control of Osoyoos Larose, buying out partner Constellation Brands. Groupe Taillan continues to employ a French, Bordeaux-trained winemaking team at OSL.
A few notes of thanks – to Randy Rae and Gary Lewis for providing their home as our tasting venue; to Randy and Bill Knutson for providing the ’03 and ’04 vintages for this tasting; to Sid Cross for providing the ’04 Petales and convincing Pascal to attend; to the good folks at Charton Hobbs for helping me track down a few bottles of the 2010; and to Pascal Madevon for bringing his passion and expertise to BC, and for making this tasting event special and memorable.