Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tasting 2010 Lailey

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I got to spend some time with Derek Barnett of Lailey again, always a highlight of my trips to Niagara. You'll never find a more modest, unassuming man who really, I mean really makes wines with purpose and dedication. I always come out of these tastings feeling enlightened and inspired, and this time was no different.

We went through his 2010's; Derek's young vintages always seem quite expressive, although that does tend to vary between the different bottlings. When you taste a horizontal across all the various wines, there's always a surprise. But not this time. Most of the wines, the earliest being bottled for no more than 6 months, were open and already drinking beautifully (to varying degrees of course). As always, the pinot noirs were incredible, true expressions, all you look for in singular, terroir-specific wines. Chardonnays were brilliant, and something I want to look at in closer detail. But the real mindblower was a wine made from a grape that I personally don't think too highly of - giving truth to the notion that the most important thing that shapes a wine, after all, is the winemaker's palate. Name starts with a g, slightly difficult to pronounce, instantly recognizable on the nose. Keep reading.

I asked to start with the chardonnay and Derek pulled out three. Going through the blended estate level 2010 Chardonnay, with its impeccable balance of subtle oak creaminess and bright citrus. Moving onto the 2010 Brickyard Chardonnay, all extracted acidity and a firm stream of minerality. And then the 2010 Canadian Oak Chardonnay, showing more luscious oak, though retaining a tension and density. All structured wines that demand time in the bottle to fully integrate - simply fabulous examples of what this varietal can achieve in Niagara in a good vintage. A really exciting start to the tasting. Then, out of nowhere, Derek threw a couple of surprises at me. A 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, barrel fermented and showing lovely purity of fruit, with the oak giving it texture and depth. Beautifully (and delicately) handled. The big surprise came next, a left hook out of nowhere. I was handed a glass from an unlabelled bottle, and before Derek said anything, I blurted out gew├╝rztraminer! I momentarily felt that oh shit, I should have kept my mouth shut, I'm probably wayyyyy off . . . but I wasn't, and we could focus on the wine. A 2011 Gew├╝rztraminer that will be bottled (and labelled) soon, just singing of all that's great about this varietal. Lychees and a heavenly fragrance, dry on the palate. Low alcohol and quite refined in fact - and this is coming from someone who has quite a low opinion of gewurz - an utterly fascinating wine. It all made sense when Derek said the wine's floral scent reminded him of his childhood memories of his mother's bedroom. All too often, we forget that the most deeply ingrained and powerful memories lie in smell and taste.

We moved onto the red wines, always a thrill for me. Starting with the 2010 Brickyard Pinot Noir, lean with a beautiful texture, expressive already. The 2010 Canadian Oak Pinot Noir, showing some creamy oak, lovely structure. 2010 Old Vines Pinot Noir, always a stunner, earthy and rustic, textural, and all that's beautiful about this varietal. The 2010 Lot 48 Pinot Noir, of which only a minuscule amount was made (< 50 cases), showing some overt ripeness and jammy fruit, although it retains good acidity and firm tannins. No surprise, the pinot noirs were gorgeous wines, soulful and with depth, purity and structure. Derek also opened bottles of his Bordeaux varieties. His 2010 Cabernet Franc showing a lovely density on the nose, earthy mocha aromas, with a spicy palate - very Bordelais indeed. The 2010 Merlot and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, structured and a bit tight at the moment. What I always look forward to tasting, the 2010 Syrah was just booming of black pepper and already showing same gamey, savoury notes, that true syrah character. And finally, with a wink and nod, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine, impeccably balanced and begging to be drunk.

A great tasting. The 2010 wines were stunning across the board. Wineries rarely show this level of consistency across ALL the wines produced, but Derek manages it. The wines have soul, character, and most of all, feeling. They feel of Niagara, of the vintage, of the experience and humble sensibilities of the man putting it all together. As always, I'm touched by Derek's humility, his generosity, and his genuine understanding of what true wine is. Many thanks, and see you soon!

DF

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