Gray Monk releases its first Meritage
Photo: Gray Monk Estate Winery
I don’t recall who said that the first duty of wine is to be red but it certainly was not George and Trudy Heiss, the founders of Gray Monk Estate Winery.
The winery opened in 1982 as a producer, almost exclusively, of white wines, only edging into red wines in the 1990s to respond to a rising demand for reds.
The winery continues to make white wines, and very good ones, as well as sparkling wines. But this year, the winery has staked out a serious presence as a red wine producer with a quartet of reds under its premium Odyssey label, including the winery’s first Meritage.
As I discovered at a recent tasting in the winery, these are impressive wines.
One of the original estate wineries, Gray Monk’s early focus on white wines reflected the white varietals that the Heiss family planted in their Okanagan Centre vineyard. They sent their son, George Jr., to wine school in Germany to learn how to make wine from those varietals.
He learned well. In the 1980s Gray Monk wines consistently won awards at Okanagan wine competitions. The popularity of those wines laid the foundation for the success that Gray Monk is today, with a production of 60,000 to 80,000 cases a year, depending on the harvest.
The whites have remained popular because of their appealing, fruit-forward style, the result of fermenting the wines cool in stainless steel tanks and then getting them into bottle quickly to preserve the freshness.
George Sr. was not a great fan of oak initially. He sometimes cracked that if people wanted oak in wine, they could always chew on a 2X4.
How times have changed! Today, there are about 400 barrels in the Gray Monk cellar. The winery first learned to deal with barrels by employing Christine Leroux, a Bordeaux-trained consulting winemaker. Then in 2005, the winery added winemaker Roger Wong to its team, both for his expertise with sparkling wines and his experience with barrels.
The addition of red wines to the portfolio required Gray Monk to contract growers, primarily in the South Okanagan, who have the reds the winery needs. Several of excellent 2009 Bordeaux reds are made with grapes grown in Harry McWatters’s Black Sage Vineyard.
As well, Gray Monk recently purchased an Osoyoos orchard, converting the 15 acres into what the winery calls its Paydirt Vineyard. The vineyard, which began producting grapes last fall, is planted primarily to the red Bordeaux varieties.
The real first duty of wine – wine, red or sparkling – is to taste good. Gray Monk is doing its duty.
Here are notes on the wines.
Gray Monk Pinot Auxerrois 2010 ($16.99). This Alsace variety is one of the varieties that the Heiss family imported from France. While a number of other wineries grow it, or did grow it, the variety has not developed a significant following even though the wines are attractive. Perhaps consumers have difficulty with the pronunciation: I actually had a server in a good Okanagan restaurant ask me recently how to say it. It is ox-er-wah. What really matters is what is in the glass. This wine begins with clean, fresh aromas of herbs and apricots. On the palate, there are flavours of melon and apricots, with an herbal spice on the dry finish. 88.
Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2010 ($16.99). This was another variety that Gray Monk imported from Alsace. The consumers have fallen in love with Pinot Gris, now the most widely planted white in British Columbia. This wine is the classic Gray Monk style: it has a slight bronze hue from the skin contact and flavours of pink grapefruit and citrus. The texture is appealingly juicy. 88.
Gray Monk Ehrenfelser 2010 ($17.99). This wine has aromas and flavours of peaches and apricots, with a core of sweet fruit and raisins on the middle of the palate and a juicy texture, with a hint of residual sweetness. The finish lingers. 89.
Gray Monk Kerner 2010 ($17.99). This delicious wine, which also has a slight hint of residual sugar, is juicy on the palate, with tropical flavours of mango and citrus and with tropical fruit aromas. 90.
Gray Monk Chardonnay Unwooded 2010 ($16.99). This luscious wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, peaches and melons, with a finish that is crisp and fresh. 89.
Gray Monk Rotberger 2010 ($15.99). This is a Gray Monk exclusive, a wine made from a true rosé grape grown only by this winery. It has lovely aromas and flavours of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry. The flavours are plumped with 15 grams of residual sugar but nicely balanced with acidity to achieve a refreshing and almost dry finish. 90.
Gray Monk Estate Merlot 2009 ($17.99). It would be hard to find a better Merlot in this price range. The wine has aromas of lingonberry and blueberry and delivers big plush berry flavours to the palate. It is a satisfying red. 89-90.
Gray Monk Odyssey Pinot Noir 2009 ($26.99). This is a single vineyard wine, made from grapes grown by Bill Collings in his Sumac Slope Vineyard at Okanagan Falls. Deep in colour for a Pinot Noir, the wine has aromas and flavours that made me think of spice cake with black cherries. The texture is still a touch firm, suggesting the wine will benefit with a year or two in the cellar. 89.
Gray Monk Odyssey Merlot 2009 ($23.99). This robust, concentrated wine is rich and tasty, with aromas of blueberries and nutmeg and with flavours of plums and figs, with a hint of chocolate. 91.
Gray Monk Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($N.A.). Here is something new for Gray Monk; and not yet released. The wine has a dense, chewy texture with cassis and vanilla aromas and with flavours of black currant, figs and olives. The wine is still firm, with a potential to age well for five years at least. 91.
Gray Monk Odyssey Meritage 2009 ($34.99). This is a blend of about 56%, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc. I know it does quite add up but the winemaker was working from memory. It is a rich, generous wine with aromas of black currants, chocolate and vanilla and flavours of dark plum, figs and chocolate. The finish is long with earthy and smoky notes. This is another wine with aging potential. 92.