Le Vieux Pin was the first winery that opened my eyes to the potential of Syrah in the South Okanagan. While others, like those from Nichol and Marichel on the Naramata Bench, had wowed me before, Le Vieux Pin's Syrah was distinct and especially savoury. Early on, they identified the potential and made a qualitative decision to cut out their Pinot Noir plantings (despite its popularity) and graft over Syrah, making it their flagship grape. Eight years in, they are officially focused on varieties from the Rhône Valley.
Severine Pinte is the winemaker and viticulturist for Le Vieux Pin; her mastery for producing aromatic, elegant, and balanced wine is obvious. Their Syrah is harvested from a minimum of five vineyards and, depending on the vintage, often up to seven. These vineyards are on the Black Sage Bench, Golden Mile, and near Osoyoos. This is where the Okanagan gets scorching hot, but cools down at night. The vines are planted mainly on deep, sandy soils. The hot and arid climate staves off pests and makes farming without herbicide or pesticide a little easier. These are hands-off wines in the cellar as well; they don't tinker with acid or sugar levels.
On a recent visit to Le Vieux Pin, I was able to taste four Syrahs side by side: 2012 Cuvée Violette, 2011 and 2010 Cuvée Classique, and 2011 Equinoxe. The blocks from each vineyard are fermented separately and later blended to form each cuvée. They have an idea which sites will contribute to which blends, but the final decision comes down to tasting each barrel.
These aren't brutish wines—they have old-world composure. While all fantastic, their stylistic differences suit different situations and meals. For a grape that's prone to build high alcohol levels, it was nice to see that all of these wines were at or below 13.5%.
The 'Cuvée Violette' is blended to exhibit the floral and perfumed side of Syrah and it does so with much success. They always co-ferment between 2-5% of white grapes with the Syrah (Viognier and/or Roussanne), which accentuates the lifted, aromatic notes. The characters are primarily fruity and floral with black pepper and tobacco. It is pretty, bright, fresh, and has a light-on-its-feet quality.
The Cuvée Classique from 2011 builds up from the base of the Violette with more savoury layers (wild herbs, olives, fennel). It is a little more intense and tastes fuller despite a lower alcohol level (12.7% versus 13.4%). The 2010 takes another step deeper, the fruit is a touch darker, it's meaty and complex.
The Equinoxe varies from the others in its structure. There are similar characters of dark fruit and savoury elements, but this is a wine made for aging: the tannin is grippy, while the acid is still very fresh.
Click here to see what's being offered by Le Vieux Pin on My Wine Canada.