Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2011
Le Vieux Pin is one of the few wineries in the Okanagan that has been willing to completely reinvent themselves to pursue truly great (and not just decent) wine in the Okanagan. Their efforts have been up and down from time to time, but they have now dialed into to something special with their Rhone variety program. In particular, their Syrahs are shaping up to be by far the best in B.C. and worthy of competing with many high quality Syrahs internationally, including with St. Joseph. While the Classique and Violette Syrahs are more reasonably priced (in the vicinity of top St. Joseph), the one impediment for the top “Equinoxe” Syrah is the price, which puts it in the general vicinity of Cornas and Cote-Rotie.
Syrah and Okanagan Terroir
The first question to ask is: why Syrah in the Okanagan? Sure, Syrah, like many other grapes, can ripen easily in many parts of the Okanagan. But it rarely creates anything of interest and the wines are often either overly-jammy or too short and unstructured to be compelling.
The first key point is that Syrah is generally best in the south Okanagan as opposed to the north (with a couple exceptions – see Nichol’s Syrah, which is good because of their unique microclimate). According to Le Vieux Pin winemaker Severine Pinte-Kosaka, the south Okanagan is extremely well suited to Syrah for four main reasons: 1. the degree days are similar to those in the south of France and so allow for full ripening; 2. the acidic granitic soils, which are ideal for Syrah; 3. the significant diurnal temperature shifts of the south Okanagan’s desert climate, which allows the grapes to gain both fruit and cooler-climate aromas; and 4. the dry weather means minimal disease pressure (particularly, botrytis) which allows picking to happen at ideal ripeness rather than to avoid negative disease influence.
The second is the viticulture at Le Vieux Pin in particular. They crop their Syrah at low yields because this not only increases fruit concentration, but adds layers of flavour to the fruit that would not be available at higher yields. The sites on the golden mile bring additional interest to the wine due to their higher elevation and afternoon shade that increase the amount of rotundone in the finished wine – the chemical compound that creates the famous pepper aromas emblematic of many great Syrahs.
The overall package is a very positive environment for crafting top quality Syrah.
A Yin-Yang Wine
Le Vieux Pin’s Syrah program comprises three bottlings: the Classique, the Violette, and the Equinoxe. The concept, according to general manager Rasoul Salehi, is to reflect three different expressions of Syrah. The Classique is a more ‘masculine’ wine, with game, savoury notes and spice. The Violette is a more ‘feminine’ wine, with finesse, elegance and floral notes. The Equinoxe represents the balance of the two styles that is meant to find harmony between the two profiles rather than allowing either to dominate – it is a yin-yang wine. The wine is a barrel selection of the lots that go into both the Violette and the Classique.
The Equinoxe is impressive Syrah that I agree marries cooler climate aromas such as pepper and flowers with warmer climate sweet black fruits. It is nicely balanced and juicy, with just enough depth to escape feeling like a lesser Crozes-Hermitage and instead resounding more like a substantial southern St. Joseph. As someone who regularly drinks some of the world’s top wines, and who has a particular focus on and appreciation for Syrah, I would happily commit to making this Syrah part of my regular line up for drinking – a very difficult feat to achieve in my world. As such, while it is by no means cheap, the 2011 Equinoxe is a very worthy example of Syrah that demonstrates the quality possible in the Okanagan with the right dedication. Only 268 cases produced.
Very Good+ to Excellent
$90 via the winery