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Tasting Notes

Tasting of the year... Larose!

Chateau Gruaud Larose is a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru) Bordeaux, one notch below the very finest in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. The winery was established in 1725. The current vintage, 2013, sells for $79 at the LCBO. In the late 1990s, Groupe Taillan, which now owns Larose, established a joint venture with Vincor, Canada’s largest wine company at the time. Everything was brought from Bordeaux: the vines, the yeasts, the winery equipment, the vineyard manager, and the winemaker, Pascal Madevon. The operation was set up in Osoyoos, British Columbia, which straddles the US border and is the southernmost point of the Okanagan Valley and also the northernmost point of the Sonora desert, which begins in Mexico. It’s arid: bare brown hills with scattered scrubby bushes surround the town, the only green being the irrigated areas. Very unlike the thickly treed mountains at the other end of the Okanagan, 150 km north. Osoyoos is the hottest town in the country according to Environment Canada, and Vincor was rightly confident it could produce a fine red wine there. The 2012 vintage of Osoyoos Larose currently sells $49.95 at the LCBO.

The tasting

The helpful staff at l’Unita, a charming Italian restaurant at “Ave and Dav”, were gracious about the interruption of their Thursday afternoon delivery-sorting and evening prep work. My fellow tasters arrived at the appointed time and the bottles were admired and photographed as the staff set up the tasting table with glasses and spit buckets.  

Back in January 2009, I held a tasting comparing the 2004 vintages of Chateau Gruaud Larose and Osoyoos Larose. The object then was to identify the Bordeaux but the identification, it was clear, was also an indication of personal preference: the “Bordeaux” was the better one. There were ten tasters, and it was a 50/50 split of those preferring the Osoyoos or the Gruaud. 

This time, retasting the 2004s of each, there were six tasters and the question was “which wine has aged better?” The response to this question was also, upon reflection, a marker of personal preference. Nearly eight years later the split was… 50/50. On both occasions, I preferred the Gruaud Larose; on both occasions, Toronto sommelier extraordinaire Zoltan Szabo preferred the Osoyoos Larose. Emotions ran high (well, ish) after the reveal, with Osoyoos fans criticizing the Gruaud and vice-versa. All, however, agreed that both wines were good. The staff at L'Unita wrapped the two 04 bottles so none of the tasters knew which was which until afterwards. 

The real surprise was an extra bottle I brought along “for fun”: the 2001 Osoyoos Larose, which was the first vintage, produced from vines that were then only three years old. I’ve tasted it a number of times now, including in 2003, on my first visit to British Columbia, when it was not even bottled yet. I bought six bottles when it came out and I’m glad I did: it’s now one of the best red wines I’ve ever had. 

My notes:

Wine 1 - Gruaud Larose 2004

Quite ruby coloured on the rim still - youthful looking. Lovely nose of ripe dark cherry, some earthy notes and a hint of mint. Tannins and acidity both still noticeable, but smooth. Fresher than expected berry fruit. 91 points. 

Wine 2 - Osoyoos Larose 2004

Slightly darker rim - more evolved in terms of age. Rich nose of dark plum with berry/cherry fruit too with earthy notes. Tannins and acidity both still high, with the tannins quite grippy. A sour cherry note emerges on the palate. 90 points.

Wine 3 - Osoyoos Larose 2001

Excellent nose in a classic aged Bordeaux style: earthy undertones and ripe red berry and currant fruit. Very delicate palate, beautifully integrated, with supple tannins, a nice mint note and a hint of leather. Super smooth and elegant with a lovely long finish. 93 points. 

Julian Hitner's notes:

Wine 1 (G-L 04)

Fairly deep ruby colour; minimal evolution. Exceedingly claret-type aromas of currants, damsons, trace of asphalt. Exceptional elegance, sense of pedigree, fine black and red fruits. Outstanding texture. Exceedingly British. 94+

Wine 2 (O-L 04)

Dark red colour with red brick highlights: ample barnyard and dried black fruits. Quite emphatic. Slightly chewy, cooked black fruits and barnyard extending onto the finish. A world of personality, not all of it positive. 88+/-

Wine 3 (O-L 01)

Dark ruby colour, trace of reddishness. Uncannily Bordelaise, with currants, dark floral overtones. Superb elegance, bold format. A potential champion. 93. 


Four of the tasters (from left): Malcolm Jolley, Tim Appelt, Leslie Provost, Zoltan Szabo. Not shown, Julian Hitner and me. 

The tasting was also covered in Good Food Revolution, and that story includes Zoltan Szabo's tasting notes. See War of Laroses


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