Tuesday, April 17, 2007

RSVP Averill Creek Winery tasting, April 16 at the Mansion on Mary

Six offerings from Andy Johnston’s Averill Creek winery in the Cowichan Valley, near Duncan on Vancouver Island. Averill Creek currently has 28 acres of grapes and its first vintage was in 2004. Avril Creek wines are available here.

Wine Averill Creek Gewurztraminer 2005
From Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Price $16.- (Producer’s retail)

Some judicious prompting by the winemaker Andy Johnston reminded tasters of notes of lychees on the nose. Light flavor; not hugely extracted as many examples of this grape are in this province, but balanced and decently-made; finishing a little green. (One taster asked whether we could expect this wine to evolve; winemaker replied that he got closer to what he was aiming for in the 2006 vintage.)

Wine Averill Creek Somenos Rose 2006
From Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Price $17.-
Alcohol Content 13%

A 50/50 Merlot-Pinot combination; no oak. Given that the most exalted of the vineyard’s Pinot and Merlot grapes went into their respective namesake cuvees, it’s no surprise that this rose is light, light, light—almost colorless. Indistinct but pleasant nose; hints of a light-afternoon Pinot and Merlot character on the palate whisper through well-disciplined astringency and snappy acid. (That’s enough Parkerisms!—ed.) Fun stuff, mostly for when the temperature’s above 30 degrees.

Wine Averill Creek Pinot Grigio 2006
From Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Price $22.- (Producer’s retail)

Nose oddly but not distressingly reminiscent of something like hydrogen peroxide—one taster labeled it ‘medicinal’ but it was not so bad as all that. The wine’s pleasant, light appley flavor is a bit overwhelmed by its residual sugar, which according to the winemaker, resides there because of his use of the dreaded ‘71b yeast’ in the fermentation, “which makes it tough to get dry”. Cold fermented and cold-stabilized with no malolactic fermentation, the wine “has patio written all over it” in the uncontested words of one taster.

Wine Averill Creek Pinot Gris 2005
From Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Price $22.- (Producer’s retail)

Color verging on manila-envelope hints at a history lacking in the Grigio mentioned above; confirmed by winemaker: this was 100% barrel-fermented (in old barrels from the Burrowing Owl winery), and underwent malolactic fermentation. But like the Grigio above, it had something of an un-wine-like nose: odors of new plastic with ripe adhesive tape. (By no means unpleasant, just counterintuitive.) Texture variously described as ‘oily’, ‘viscous’ and ‘buttery’; warm finish shows a nice alcohol-acid balance and a good use of oak. A better use of the grape than the Grigio, and according to one taster, “superior for pairing with food”.

Wine Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2005
From Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Price $22.-
Alcohol Content 12.8%

Very pretty in the glass, with a peppery, comfortingly old-style Pinot nose—like a good, light-bodied California Pinot before the steroid revolution kicked in down there. Balanced on the palate, with the expected strawberry-raspbery-berryberry hints, and none of the greenness or cooked feel too often present in reasonably priced new-world Pinots at this time. Ageing this Pinot in 50/50 new and 3 year-old French oak barrels from Okanagan Barrelworks (medium toast, for those trying this at home), winemaker Johnston claims to be attempting a Burgundian style; at 22 bucks the result is even better than that: a good match of new-world virtues and local possibilities. Very well-made; consensus top wine of the tasting.

Wine Averill Creek Merlot 2005
From Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Price $23.-
Alcohol Content 13.2%

A Burgundy-sized plot of 1 acre produces the grapes for Andy Johnston’s Merlot; a grape he admits he’s not convinced is possible to successfully make into an unblended wine in the Cowichan. Fortunately, the wine itself mostly give the lie to this opinion: By new-world Merlot standards, this wine is light almost to the point of anonymity; but in the context of the producer’s other wines, it smells and tastes a lot like his Pinot’s more robust and tougher older brother: Well-made in a European style, with peppery berry flavors and tannin kicking in at the finish. If some outlaw producer in Burgundy tried to make a Merlot, it might taste like this. (Sadly, the winemaker darkly hinted that he wasn’t going to make it again—“enjoy it while you can, folks!”)

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