Tantalus: one of the star wineries from the Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada
Tantalus is based in Kelowna, looking down onto the lake. Eric Savics, a stockbroker, bought the property in 2003, which had previously been known as Pinot Reach Cellars. Savics made a lot of changes in 2004, and the first Tantalus release was 2005.
The history of the Tantalus property goes back to 1927 when the Pioneer Vineyard was established, planted with Vitis lambrusca varieties. The vineyard was then bought by Marin Dulik, who as vineyard manager was allowed to buy it in stages from the then owner in the 1940s. Dulik sold the crop as both wine and table grapes.
In 1978, Marin’s son Den Dulik began planting vinifera, and one of the vineyards he planted was with Riesling. It was with the Clone 21B Riesling, and the inspiration for this was Dr Helmut Becker, as this was part of his famous experimental trials. Becker, a professor from Germany’s famous Geisenheim research institute, visited the valley in 1976. He was blown away by the potential of the Okanagan, particularly for white wine production. Yet at the time it was all hybrid vines. In what became known as the ‘Becker Project’, he oversaw the importation and planting of some 27 different vinifera varieties, including this Riesling clone, which has done very well.
Tantalus is therefore one of the oldest vinifera vineyards in Canada. Clone 21B from St Urbanshof forms the backbone of Tantalus’ most famous wine: the Old Vine Riesling. In 1983 Dulik planted some Clone 93 Pinot Noir from Germany, which is now used to make sparkling with (it’s not a great still Pinot Noir clone). His daughter Susan began selling wines from the property under the Pinot Reach label in 1997.
The focus at Tantalus is now solely on Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They are grown in 9 blocks, totalling 37 acres. Soils are mainly silt over gravels.
Winemaking is in the hands of David Paterson, who’s Canadian born but was brought up in New Zealand. Paterson has winemaking experience in New Zealand, Oregon, France and Australia.
Dempsey Bob, the most foremost Tahltan-Tlingit artist of our generation, created the masks featured on the labels. The band is based in Telegraph Creek, on Vancouver Island, BC. Eric Savics is a major art collector and appreciator, and has commissioned these, with a different mask designed for each wine.
Ring and I recently tasted through the newest releases, and our notes are below.
Tantalus Blanc de Blancs 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
12.7% alcohol. Fermented in older puncheons and barrique, aged until May and then spends 22 months on lees. Disgorged March 2021 with 6 g/l dosage. Tight, lemony and bright with a slight sherbet edge to the pristine palate. There’s a bright fruitiness here with a hint of sweetness countering the acidity. Fine and quite pure with fruit to the fore. 91/100 (JG)
This pristine Blanc de Blancs comes off one block from their Kelowna estate, fermented in older puncheons and barrique, and aged on lees until the following May, when it was transferred into bottle for second ferment and 22 months on lees. This was disgorged in March 2021 with 6 g/L dosage (from the 2018 Chardonnay). Crisp and bright, this rings with lemon pith and peel, before a vibrant palate of green apple, stony minerality, bedded with a layer of lees and humming with energy. Very much northern Okanagan, drinking beautifully now, and with some time ahead in cellar. 91/100 (TR)
Tantalus Blanc de Noir 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
12.4% alcohol. 100% Clone 93 Pinot Noir planted in 1985. Wild ferment in oak, spends 7 months there, then bottled and spends 22 months on lees. Disgorged in March 2021 with 6 g/l dosage. Lively aromatics with cherries and plums, as well as some citrus. The palate has lively fruity characters, with some mandarin and cherry. Really expressive and distinctive, in a fruity style, with sharp acidity providing focus. 91/100 (JG)
This special Blanc de Noirs comes from a single estate block of 1985 planted clone 93 Pinot Noir. The grapes were native fermented in barriques and puncheons, and the wine rested 7 months on lees before transferring into bottle for secondary ferment, and 22 more months on lees. This was disgorged in March 2021 with 6 g/L of OV Riesling. Fresh and youthful with bright cherry, raspberry, almond, patisserie on a creamy palate, buoyed with frisky acidity and finishing with lingering stony spices. There’s a lovely grippy texture throughout, keeping this interesting on the palate, and a favourite for food pairings. A singular wine, as ever, and worth seeking out. 91/100 (TR)
Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Natural Brut 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This is quite a singular wine, for BC, and Canada. From their 1978 block of estate Riesling vines (block 5), this traditional method brut sells out every year, prized for its originality and rarity as much for its vibrant, mouth-watering acidity and drive. Only 50 cases were made this vintage. This is part of their iconic Old Vines Riesling grapes, picked the same day, and diverted off into this small lot fizz. Post primary ferment, this portion spent 22 months on lees in bottle, disgorged in late 2021 with 5 g/L dosage. Riesling has a hard time with traditional method, and only very serious Sekt has overcome. This wine, benefitted by the Okanagan’s generous fruit ripeness, makes it work, resulting in a sharp, shining, singing sparkling, that easily rivals the best coming out of Germany. Green apple, red apple, lemon pith run the sleek, vibrant palate, textured with pithy lime, bright with lemon-lime acidity, and bedded with river stones. Lively aperitif. 90/100 (TR)
Tantalus Riesling 2020 Okanagan Valley, Canada
12.3% alcohol. From several sites on the vineyard, including some of the original 1978 plantings. This is a beautiful off-dry Riesling with some mandarin and lemon on the nose, and a beautifully balanced focused palate with lemons, some melon, tangerine and then a great tension between the sweetness and the acidity. Superb, with crystalline complexity. Fine and tapering. 94/100 (JG)
Retasted a couple of months along, the 2020 is just growing in the bottle with drinkability. This, their flagship Riesling, is a BC classic for a very good reason. From plots around their Kelowna estate vineyard, including some dating back to their 1978 old vine plantings, this was harvested in two batches (Oct 7 and 23), whole bunch pressed, with each parcel fermented separately in stainless before being blended. Marmalade, tangerine, flood the juicy, mouthwatering palate, taut with lime pith and peel, and fragrant with lime blossoms and white pepper over a creamy, lees-lined bed of river stones. This is one worth stocking up on and trying to hold some back (but you probably can’t because it’s smashable). 15.18 g/L RS, 9.15 TA. 91/100 (TR)
Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
12.6% alcohol. From a single block of Clone 21B Riesling planted in 1978. Intense, nervy, lemony nose with some chalky hints. The palate is concentrated and alive, with high acidity underpinning the lime fruit, and a wall of mineral intensity with a dry, crystalline finish. Such focus and complexity. 95/100 (JG)
The OV Riesling comes entirely off their north facing, 1978 plantings, bordered by Ponderosa Pines. This was gently whole bunch pressed and fermented cold for 45 days. The wine spends 4 months on lees and 2 years in bottle before release (2018 is current release). Savoury and singular, with struck stone, lime pulp and peel streaking across the shimmering palate, with ample salinity throughout. Right up there with Canada’s top Riesling. Crazy numbers for the geeks: 11.4 g/L, 10.7 TA, 12.6%. Drinking well now for Riesling freaks, but most may want to lay this severe (in a good way) wine down for a few years. 93/100 (TR)
Tantalus Den’s Block Old Vines Riesling 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This is the second release of Den’s Riesling, a tribute to a longtime farmer and viticulturist, Daniel Martin Dulik, known by all as Den. Den owned and operated Pioneer Vineyards for several decades, on the site where Tantalus now rests. Den passed in 2016, and this special release riesling is a tribute to him. Off-dry, with 53 g/L RS, it floods the palate with ripe pear, pulpy lime, tangerine, perfumed musk over a base of river stones and white peppercorns. If you’re a fan of sweeter Riesling, look no further. 91/100 (TR)
Tantalus Bear Chardonnay 2020 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.1% alcohol. Named after owner Eric Savics’ older son, Eric Jr, the bear. Fermented and aged in used barrels. This is focused, pure and quite direct with a lovely citrus fruit core, as well as some green apple and yellow plum. Has good acidity and focus with a fine saline twist on the finish. Very appealing. 90/100 (JG)
The Bear label replaces the Juveniles Chardonnay, now that vines are nearing a decade old. The ‘Bear’ tag is a nod to the nickname of owner Eric Savics’ eldest son. From clones 76, 95, and 548, this was small lot native fermented in neutral French barriques and puncheons, where it remained on lees until bottling. The neutral wood dampens none of the crisp, buoyant freshness of this wine, with green apple, lemon peel, almond, chiseled with a firm stoniness, and finishing with a luring wash of salinity. Quite impressive, and drinking beautifully now, yet with time ahead. Fantastic value. 91/100 (TR)
Tantalus Chardonnay 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.6% alcohol. This is really good: aged in a mix of new and older French oak, it’s a very stylish Chardonnay with subtle vanilla and toast notes complementing the white peach and pear fruit. There’s a slight creaminess, and the finish is all crystalline citrus. Covers a good part of the Chardonnay flavour space without every being heavy. 93/100 (JG)
Though Tantalus is well-known for their exemplary Rieslings, the Chardonnays have really captured my heart of late. One of three released this season, this flagship Chardonnay comes off their estate 1985 plantings alongside younger components of Dijon clones, planted between in 2006 – 2007. This mix of clones 76 and 95 was native fermented and aged for 10 months in oak barriques and puncheons (30% new). The new wood is making its presence felt in this still youthful wine, smartly framing and structuring the bright lemon, green apple, stony toast, and salted pastry that fills the medium+ bodied palate. Acidity is bright, and the finish is long and savoury. While quite striking now, it’s obvious this was built for the future. One of Canada’s main Chardy players. 92/100 (TR)
Tantalus Chardonnay Reserve 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
14% alcohol. Inaugural release of this reserve wine from a few rows of Chardonnay planted in 1985, matured for 15 months in puncheons. 55 cases only, with a special golden first nations mask from Dempsey Bob on the label. This is concentrated, linear and intense with focused lemony fruit as well as notes of spice, pear, white peach and a subtle nuttiness. There’s a lovely acidity here, keeping things fresh. The oak is perfectly integrated. A serious effort: one of Canada’s very best Chardonnays. Should age beautifully for a decade or longer. It’s all taut and pristine at the moment. 95/100 (JG)
This is the inaugural release of the Reserve Chardonnay, joining the Reserve Pinot Noir with the special Dempsey Bob mask and black / gold label. The fruit comes off the eldest Chardonnay block on the estate, planted in 1985. This was a puncheon selection, left an additional 6 months on lees from the wine that made up the 2018 Chardonnay and its 11 months of elevage. Once bottled, it rested for one year prior to release, all 55 cases of it. This savoury, structural wine opens with an alluring wave of flinty reduction that carries through the entire frame, finishing with a lingering rocky salinity, and moving through green apple, Anjou pear, subtle hazelnut meringue in its path. Powerful, yet sophisticated, this wine drinks beautifully now after relaxing in the glass, but will certainly reward with time in the cellar. 92/100 (TR)
Tantalus Rosé 2020 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Though the final make up varies each vintage, this intent of Tantalus Rosé remains the same. The 2020 brings 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier, the former whole bunch pressed, and the latter left on skins for 3 days prior to pressing. The two were joined, and fermented cool, with two months on lees prior to bottling in February 2021. Juicy wild strawberry, red apple, watermelon, pear flood the joyous, medium-bodied, lees-lined palate, shining bright with an easy buoyant acidity, and seasoned with light peppery spice. Such a friendly, smart wine, widely accessible without being dumbed down. 90/100 (TR)
Tantalus Maija Pinot Noir 2019 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.5% alcohol. Previously named Juveniles, this is now named Malia after Eric Savics’ daughter. Matured in a mix of new and used oak. Really floral on the nose with sweet cherry fruit. Expressive and inviting. Juicy and berryish with sweet cherry fruit on the palate and a nice texture, as well as a hint of vanilla. Lots to like about this fruit-forward Pinot. 92/100 (JG)
Maija is the next gen Juveniles Pinot Noir, named for owner Eric Savics’ daughter. Fruit for this Pinot Noir came off their youngest estate blocks of Dijon plantings, complemented by fruit off a neighbouring vineyard. It was native fermented and then into French barriques (20% new) for 11 months prior to blending and bottling. Though youthful and accessible now, this is by no means dumbed down. Spiced cherry, wild raspberry is framed by lightly toasted spice, and lightly sticky tannins, finishing with nutmeg and a lingering salinity. Smart Pinot for drinking now, ideally with wild mushrooms. 90/100 (TR)
Tantalus Pinot Noir 2019 Okanagan Valley, Canada
13.3% alcohol. Wild ferment, and 16 months in a combination of new and used oak. Brooding black cherry and plum nose leads to a structured palate with sweet black cherries, some plums and a touch of cedar and vanilla. This is substantial and structured, and has a sour cherry finish as well as notes of tar and spice. Lots of potential here for this wine. Lovely fruit, but also quite a bit of non-fruit complexity. 93/100 (JG)
This, their flagship Pinot Noir, mixes estate clones 115, 667, 777, 828, 37, and 943, all native fermented by block, often with foot treading to assist, and with 20-40% whole bunches in the mix. After 18-35 days on skins this was pressed into oak barriques (25% new) where it remained for 15 months’ rest prior to blending. The final blend rested over winter in neutral oak, and was bottled unfined and unfiltered in February 2021. Herbal cassis, wild blackberry, black plum are at the fore here, followed by savoury thorns, pipe tobacco, stones, and subtle, sultry purple florals. Tannins are firm and lightly gritty, while acidity is easily on pace to hold all in check to a lingering saline finish. This is a big wine, yet fresh and well structured, and will show its best with a short stint in the cellar (as intended). 91/100 (TR)
Tantalus Pinot Noir Reserve 2018 Okanagan Valley, Canada
This elegant, small-lot Reserve Pinot Noir, the 4th release of the cuvée, pays a fitting tribute to the legacy of its label artist, Dempsey Bob. This is built on their 18 rows of Dijon clone 667, complemented by a small portion of Clone 37 wine that was a highlight in barrel. This was native fermented with 50% whole bunch, before resting 15 months in French oak (40% new). It was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Sappy wild plum, black raspberries, autumnal violets are stretched long across the lengthy, slender palate, shaped by grippy, well integrated tannins, and finishing with a seasoning of pink peppercorn and ample mineral salts. Quite elegant, this is drinking well now but still has some youthful tannin to shed over the next couple of years. 91/100 (TR)
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