Photo: Tantalus vineyard in winter
During an Okanagan visit in late January, I dropped in at
Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna to taste the two Pinot Noirs released just in
time for the Vancouver International Wine Festival.
Given the brisk winter weather and the snow on the steep
driveway at Tantalus, I expected to find the tasting room deserted but for
staff. The valley’s Yukon Quest conditions hardly seemed conducive to wine
The surprise: two or three consumers came to the wine shop
during the hour I was there. Perhaps it speaks to the hardiness of today’s wine
tourists. But it also says a lot of the reputation of Tantalus wines.
Initially, the reputation of this vineyard was made with its
Old Vines Riesling, from grapes planted in 1978 when the vineyard was owned by
the late Den Dulik and his family. In 1997, his daughter Susan opened a winery
called Pinot Reach Cellars. The Old Vines Riesling was tasted a few years later
by Jancis Robinson, the celebrated British wine writer, who had high praise for
The vineyard and winery were purchased in 2004 by Vancouver
investment dealer Eric Savics. He renamed it Tantalus. The winery resumed
making Old Vines Riesling in 2005. The wine has been acclaimed in every vintage
since then by numerous wine critics.
The vineyard has since been expanded, with a careful focus
on the varieties that produce best on this East Kelowna slope. That meant
planting more Riesling, along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. David Patterson,
the current winemaker and general manager, has a focussed toolbox to work with.
I was able to taste not only the two Pinot Noirs but also two
Chardonnays and one Riesling [not the Old Vines, since the last release is sold
out and the next is not yet released].
($20 for 600 cases). When the winery makes wine from
younger plantings, the practice is to label them “Juveniles”. This is the first vintage of Juveniles
Chardonnay, from a four-acre block of vines planted in 2013. This is a lovely fruit-forward Chardonnay;
only half was aged in oak barrels and those were neutral. It has aromas and
flavours of apple and pear. The finish is crisply refreshing. 90.
($30 for 355 cases). The wine is made from grapes planted in 2007 and
in 1985. The maturity of the fruit supports a more intense style of Chardonnay.
The wine was aged 11 months in 40% new French oak and 60% in neutral French oak
puncheons. The wine begins with buttery and citrus aromas, leading to flavours
of pear, citrus and spice. Bright acidity adds to the lively and fresh fruit on
the palate. 91.
($23 for 3,200 cases). Crisp and tangy, this wine begins with aromas
of lemon and Granny Smith apples, which is echoed on the palate. The flavours
are intense, hinting of citrus and quince. This wine is widely available,
including holding a place on the wine lists of all 23 Cactus Club restaurants.
Pinot Noir 2015
($25 for 500 cases). The fruit for this wine comes 2007 and
2009 plantings of Dijon clones. The wine was fermented with wild yeast and aged
about a year in oak. Most of the barrels must have been neutral, not covering
up the lively fruit expression – aromas and flavours of raspberry. The texture
is silky. This is a very drinkable wine. 89.
Tantalus Pinot Noir
($30). Thirty percent of this wine was aged in new French oak barrels;
the remainder aged in more neutral oak for a year. The older vines assert
themselves here in the depth of colour and in the intensity of the aromas and
flavours of spicy black cherries and plum. 92.