The Finest Ortega I’ve Ever Had
It was up against the only four other Ortegas I've ever tried, but still.
Blue Grouse Ortega 2013 $20
As a rule wines from Vancouver Island break my heart. The area seemed so full of promise even five years ago—it was going to be the Burgundy of Canada, growing elegant cool climate wines of character. But more often than not they were thin, mean wines. They were expensive though, so they got that part of Burgundy right.
But in the past year there’s been a few wines that have reignited my excitement for the region and most of them have come from Blue Grouse. The winery has been around since the early 80’s (read: old vines), but it wasn’t until a 2012 change of ownership that things started to pick up. First up, was hiring winemaker Bailey Williamson who spent several years working with the very talented Mike Bartier —who did some wonderful things at Road 13. Bartier isn’t what you’d call a hand’s off winemaker and I think that activist training has served Williamson well at Blue Grouse.
Take this wine. Ortega is a screwball of a grape that came about by crossing Muller-Thurgau (actually a grape that deserves a bit more love) with Seigerrebe (actually a grape that doesn’t) in the hopes of creating a grape made for tough conditions. It’s a grape that left to it’s own devices seems to produce insipid wines that are made worse by often being made in a sweet style. But here Williamson rolls up his sleeves and gets to work extracting some flinty character from these old vines. The wine is low in alcohol and really light on it’s feet with a some nice citrus notes. Drinking it I first thought “I wonder what he could do with a more noble grape” but then I retreated. I’m glad that Blue Grouse is sticking with this grape—because as opposed to dropping another decent Sauvignon Blanc on us they’ve joined the very upper echelons of Ortega producers. And to top it all off they sell for the very non-Island price of $20.
All hail the Island’s second coming.