While I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays in terms of wine writing, I can’t let the end of the year slip by without writing up this wine. Gamay is one of my favourite varieties, I’ve been on a bit of a Canadian kick of late, and it makes sense to end the year with something I like. But it’s more than just that. This wine is in fact the wine I enjoyed drinking more than any other in 2012 and so my wine of the year is the Sandhill Estate Vineyard Gamay Noir 2010.
I’ve been a fan of Gamay from before I knew anything about wine, and I can trace it back to a Beaujolais Nouveau dinner in Seattle where the proprietor had a small barrel of the stuff he poured for diners that third Thursday of November many years ago. I didn’t know what grape or grapes went into the wine, and really wasn’t at all interested at the time, but I enjoyed the sense of occasion. When I started learning about wine a decade later, though my tasted shifted from Nouveau to the more savoury village wines, Gamay remained a favourite of mine, irrespective of what the rest of the wine world thinks of it.
I wrote a fair bit about Gamay when I covered the Sorrenberg offering back in February, but since I now have at my disposal the wonderful Wine Grapes tome, I can’t help but throw in a few additional details. The book officially calls the grape Gamay Noir, as does this producer, which differentiates it from its sibling Gamay Blanc Gloriod (no longer cultivated) and the red-juice producing Gamay Teinturier de Bouze which is thought to be a mutation of Gamay Noir. The parentage of Gamay Noir is believed to be Gouais Blanc and Pinot, making it a sibling of Aligoté, Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Melon, Romorantin and at least a dozen other slightly less widely known varieties. In addition to the countries I originally mentioned, it’s apparently also cultivated in South Africa, so another wine has been added to my shopping list for the next visit.
This is yet another wine of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The region should by now be very familiar to return readers, but if you need a refresher on the basics, please have a look at my posts on the JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay and the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery Auxerrois.
That brings us to Sandhill, which should not be confused with Sandhill Winery in Columbia Valley, Washington State, Sandhills Winery in North Carolina, or Sandhill Crane Vineyards in Michigan. There was even a Sandhill Vineyard in Australia, but it changed its name. I can’t imagine why.
This Sandhill was founded in 1997 and is one of a dozen wine labels owned by Andrew Peller Limited. The wine is made by Howard Soon, a Vancouver native with over 30 years of winemaking experience. His approach gives Sandhill the relatively unique selling point of only producing single vineyard wines. Grapes are sourced from five different vineyards, in addition to the estate vineyard, and the origin features prominently in their branding. Winemaking is non-interventionist so as to allow appreciation of the particular vineyard terroir. Production is very limited, and wines in the “Small Lots” line are often only made in quantities of a dozen or two barrels – sometimes less. White wines produced include Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Red wines include Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Syrah, and a few blends of the above. They also produce a rosé based on Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Barbera.
This wine was produced using fruit from the Sandhill Estate Vineyard, in the South Okanagan. The site has a unique microclimate, enjoying both an abundance of direct sunshine and temperatures which can climb to nearly 40C/104F. In addition, it’s located at the base of a rocky hill which reflects sunshine back at the vineyard. This wine was fermented with commercial yeast and aged for just over a year in third use French oak barrels.
In the glass it is clear and bright, with a medium plus ruby colour and quick thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of dark chocolate, liquorice, bacon, black cherries, and black pepper. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus intensity. medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, and medium plus length. The palate delivers what was promised on the nose with notes of dark chocolate, black cherries, liquorice, bacon, and black pepper. There’s also some brambles and earthiness, which gives the wine texture.
I rate this wine as exceptional – it’s really fantastic. There is a complex array of flavours which makes for a very rich drinking experience. There’s certainly varietal typicity, in that it’s absolutely Gamay, but produced by someone looking to make a fine wine (as opposed to how a great deal of Gamay is made). I knew nothing about the producer when I bought it and the same was true when I drank it. Now though, I am in love with this wine and I would feel guilty if my wife didn’t feel the same. More’s the pity that I’m not likely to run into another bottle without a trip back to Canada, and I don’t think a replacement from Washington, North Carolina or Michigan will quite do the trick.