The Drive west into Osoyoos down the switchbacks of the Crowsnest Highway is a mystifying experience. At first you notice the stunning northerly view up the Okanagan Valley, and then you realize that you've landed in desert terrain that isn't quite like anywhere else in the country. One of the first pull-offs near the bottom of the hill is the driveway to Moon Curser Vineyards.
I've always enjoyed the wines from Chris and Beata Tolley, beginning in 2004 when they were known as Twisted Tree. Since 2011, the Tolleys began fully embracing the eeriness of the desert climate and rebranded as Moon Curser Vineyards, with bottle branding depicting night scenes of prospecting creatures. I love the playfulness of their image, a move that would feel much like a misstep or a ploy if the wines weren't good. It works well for Moon Curser, because the wines are delicious—they are also some of the best examples of South Okanagan terroir.
In addition to many of the plantings you'd expect in the South Okanagan (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir), Moon Curser works with vines like Petit Verdot, Malbec, Tempranillo, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. There are also those you really wouldn't expect: Arneis, Tannat, Touriga Nacional and Carmenere. They aren't afraid to experiment with grape varieties that people don't associate with the Okanagan, and many of these experiments are eye-opening. Two of my favourite wines from the whole portfolio are the oddballs: the mineral-ly Arneis, and the Carmenere, packed with savoury notes and aromatic spices.
Moon Curser does a great job of coaxing fragrant pepper and herbal notes from Syrah, in both the 2012 Contraband Syrah, made with single vineyard fruit, and the 2012 Syrah, which comes from three Osoyoos vineyards and is brightened and lightened up with a touch of Viognier. For something really full, meaty, and complex, check out the 2012 Dead of Night, a delicious blend of Tannat and Syrah, with tannins that are much less aggressive than the grape can sometimes exhibit when grown on it's home turf of Madiran.
Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.