Anthony Gismondi on Wine
Thursday, April 20 2023

Tantalus Vineyards passes the acid test.

By: Anthony Gismondi
Ageing effortlessly in British Columbia wine cellars.

We seldom talk about the aging of wine because so few people do. Time, money and space are all factors that affect why most wines are drunk within hours of purchase.

We seldom talk about the aging of wine because so few people do. Time, money and space are all factors that affect why most wines are drunk within hours of purchase. It is a shame, given there is so much more to know about wine as it ages. However, if you accept that almost all wines improve with aging, then learning which wines will age best and for how long is the goal.

I have taken the slow route, namely holding, saving, tasting and noting the drinking state of wines and their vintage for over 40 years. As a result, I have a good, if imperfect, knowledge of how long a particular wine will age by factoring in where it’s from, who made it and the quality of the vintage.

In B.C., we are only coming to the notion that our wines are uniquely suited to age given the amount of life-giving acid prevalent in most of our wine regions, especially compared to the rest of the wine world. Acid is a beautiful aging tool, and when combined with balanced tannin, fruit and alcohol, the result can be highly gratifying for those who choose to wait.

Last month I extended my experience at a wine dinner presented by Tantalus Vineyard winemaker David Patterson and proprietor Eric Savics. It was the most definitive statement for the aging of B.C. wine I have experienced and is, as mentioned, a calling card that few other wine regions can play with such success.

Tantalus sits just short of the 50th parallel giving it a true cool-climate terroir. Originally known as Pioneer Vineyards, the site was first planted to vines in 1927 by a well-known local horticulturist J.W. Hughes. Then vineyard manager Martin Dulik eventually acquired the property in 1940. By the late 1970s, his daughter Susan started planting Vinifera grapes (27 in all), including the modern-day flagship Riesling Clone 21B.

Fast forward to 2004, when the Savics family purchased Pinot Reach, renamed it Tantalus Vineyards and became the stewards of one of the oldest Vinifera vineyards in the country. Under Patterson’s watchful eye, Tantalus has decided to focus on Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The property is farmed sustainably, with no pesticides in use. Recently, Patterson has begun to look at some exceptional sites further afield in B.C., and when available, he will release one-off labels. Look for a just-released Tantalus 2021 Syrah ($33) online from the Further Afield Series.

Now back to our dinner. The small group that purchased the dinner at auction was treated to an extended live version of the aging phenomena illustrated by five extraordinary wines that reveal the magic of the Tantalus site combined with long-term aging. We opened with the inaugural release of the 2013 Tantalus Blanc de Noir, sourced from a single block of Pinot Noir planted in 1985. It is a stunning all-Pinot Noir bubble just blossoming into a full-blown sparkler with surprising finesse.

Next was the 2011 Tantalus Old Vines Riesling, the pinnacle wine of place at Tantalus. At 12 years old, it barely shows any age. Rich floral and vibrant, it will comfortably live another decade. Another old-timer full of life was the 2010 Tantalus Chardonnay. Again, the aim was to marry Burgundy’s power with the Okanagan’s freshness. At 13 years, it shows brown spice, almond cake with bright acidity to keep it dancing — very impressive.

The Tantalus 2010 Pinot Noir was a revelation. From a production standpoint, Patterson doesn’t make Pinot like this anymore; the current methods are far more gentle, but 13 years have allowed this wine to come to life as a somewhat pretty, earthy beetroot affair and a Pinot that works far better now than at release.

Finally, the Tantalus 2016 Den’s Block Old Vines Riesling, a tribute to longtime farmer and viticulturist Daniel Martin Dulik, known by all as Den, was fermented in old Chardonnay puncheons. It is a style departure for Tantalus, given its 49.5 grams per litre of residual sugar, but it still feels firmly in the family thanks to its abundant acidity. It will age forever.

Written By: ag
Anthony Gismondi
Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi is a Canadian wine journalist and one of North America's most influential voices in wine. For over 30 years, he has been the wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun. The twice-weekly column is distributed across Canada through Postmedia Network to millions of readers. In addition, Anthony co-hosts the BC Food & Wine Radio Show, broadcast in 18 markets across B.C. and available as a podcast on Spotify, Apple and iHeart Radio and more. He launched Gismondionwine.com in 1997, attracting one million users a month from 114 countries. It continues to be a valuable resource of full tasting notes and intelligent wine stories and videos for the trade and consumers.