The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 87 of 108

{ }  87 CheckMate Artisanal Winery is the lat- est, maybe even the greatest, project of Anthony von Mandl, who also owns Okanagan Valley's spectacularly ground - breaking Mission Hill Family Estate. Like Mission Hill, CheckMate is hell-bent on achieving uncompromising quality, except for the fact that it focuses on one varietal and one varietal only: Chardonnay. But not just any kind of Chardonnay; rather, the kinds of Chardonnay von Mandl firmly believes will put Okanagan Valley on a map no less lofty than, say, the finest crus of, say, the Côte de Beaune. Not by imitating the taste of white Beaunes, or Chardonnays from anywhere else in the world, but by crafting Chardonnays that elevate a sensory sense of place far above optimal "varietal character." Chardonnays that celebrate Okanagan Valley's distinctive terroirs. CheckMate's inaugural release (November 2015) consists of a package of five 2013 Chardonnays. Three of them are single- vineyard bottlings; all fermented and aged in the same barrel, half spontaneously and half inoculated. The other two consist of a blend of all three sites, plus a single vineyard cuvée done completely in a more thickly staved foudre (equivalent to eight barrels). The home estate is perched on the middle slopes of Okanagan Valley's Golden Mile Bench, acquired primarily because of the 40-year-old own-rooted vines going into the 2013 CheckMate "Queen Taken" Chardonnay. General Manager/Winemaker Phil McGahan, who formerly worked at Williams Selyem, says, "The Dekleva Heritage Vineyard is our coolest site, giv - ing us more malic acid, which corresponds to increased body and texture." The wine is round and viscous, emanating glorious white peach and citrus perfumes, enhanced by baking spices of sparingly infused oak. From CheckMate's warmest yet low - est vigor estate-owned site—in the sandy soils of nearby East Osoyoos Lake Bench, near the Canadian/U.S. border—the 2013 CheckMate "Capture" Chardonnay is startlingly minerally, almost briny, with a float of lemon flower perfumes. In con - trast, the 2013 CheckMate "Little Pawn" Chardonnay—from another deep pile of sand known as Black Sage Bench, on the valley's lower slopes looking up at Golden Mile Bench—is fleshy and opulent in its collision of mandarin/lemon citrus and ris - ing brioche dough-like richness. Beautiful, dramatic vineyard contrasts. In terms of the lithe, pinpoint bal- ance, mineral feel and intensity of high citrus notes exemplifying Okanagan Valley Chardonnay typicité, the finest of the lot may be the blend of all three estate vine- yards, the 2013 CheckMate "Fool's Mate" Chardonnay. Although 2013 CheckMate "Attack" Chardonnay is an amazing study of the layering and texturing possible with 100% foudre fermentation and aging, which only amplifies the tropical/citrus qualities of CheckMate's Barn Vineyard, sitting opposite the winery on Black Sage Bench. There is, quite frankly, no other North American winery that has taken this obses - sion with terroir-delineated Chardonnay to nearly an extreme as CheckMate Artisanal Winery. Yet, in variant or related ways, this epitomizes the story of the leading British Columbia producers of today: winegrowers acutely cognizant of the natural conditions that make their corner of the wine world special—and who also believe it is only a matter of time until the rest of the world's wine cognoscenti catch up on the revolu - tion they are fomenting. A full report on our upcoming SOMM CAMP in British Columbia will appear in the June-July issue. Terroir Obsession: CheckMate Artisanal Winery Steam-cleaning French oak barrels at Checkmate Artisanal Winery in Okanagan's Golden Mile Bench. PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHECKMATE ARTISANAL WINERY

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