With so much delicious B.C. wine out there, and new wineries springing up almost every day, it’s hard to know where to start drinking… until now
The sun is shining in the Okanagan, the light sparkling on the beautiful lakes and dappling the sloping hillsides. Time then to make a visit to the heart of wine country, or plan an excursion off the beaten track to dive into B.C.'s lesser-known regions on the islands or just beyond Vancouver city limits in Langley. No matter what your plans: the key thing is to have plenty of B.C. wine in your cellar—and your glass! But with so much out there, where to start?
Don’t panic! I’ve done the hard work for you, and along with a crack team of sommeliers, have recommendations to get you through the next few months, along with expert tips on tasting room tactics, fun summer event news and much more. Cheers!
1. Pop! Five must-have sparkling wines
1. Tantalus Old Vines Riesling Brut, $34.78
Oh Tantalus, god bless you for giving us all one more way to enjoy Riesling! I drank this with a wrong-headed friend who claimed to dislike both bubbles and Riesling. Guess who’s now a raving fan of both? This is heaven: all crisp Granny Smith apples and an intriguingly tongue-teasing wet stone minerality at the end. In short... yum.
2. Summerhill Cipes Blanc de Blanc 2012, $46
You absolutely cannot go wrong with Summerhill Sparkling—and their Blanc de Blanc is likely one of my favourite things. It's so fresh and pretty! It's creamy but bone dry, with a heavenly brioche nose and wonderful acidity. It's dying to be drunk with buckets of freshly shucked oysters!
3. Sperling Sparkling Brut 2011 Brut, $42
I’ve been whooping enthusiastically about this superb sparkler to anyone who will listen: it's organic, biodynamic, 100 percent estate grown from old-vine Pinot Blanc and just dynamite! With a heavenly, sexy, brioche-champagne nose, then buttered apple crisp, honey, it's oh wow! Everything flows with this wine—just perfect!
4. Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2014
(Apparently this is a wine club exclusive. Argh! Go, join the wine club. This is amazing! With crisp green apples and a lemony hit with delish bubbles, it's perfect alongside charcuterie and cheese!)
5. Forbidden Fruit Winery Flirt, $22
I shocked myself and fell totally in love with this 100 percent organic peach fruit wine, grown and made in Cawston. It's not at all sweet—just bubbly bright and the perfect brunch (or breakfast) wine. Save a few bottles to capture that Okanagan peach joy in the heart of winter!
2. Check out all the cool events
Quails' GateDinner at the Vineyard is back at Quails' Gate every Wednesday evening throughout July and August. Book a seat now and have a memorable four-course farm-to-vineyard long-table dinner amongst the vines overlooking the lake, paired with superb wines.
Probably one of the most fun parties in the season, and a terrific chance to eat and drink the most delicious things, surrounded by jaw-clanging OK Falls beauty at See Ya Later Ranch, the Chef Meets BC Grape: Taste of the Okanagan event is on June 23rd and will sell out. Bag a ticket now!
I went out on a taster day for the new Tour d’Epicure event, and if you fancy a one-day cycling adventure through the Valley tasting food and wine, while raising money to support the cause of ending childhood cancer in British Columbia, this is the event for you. Get in touch to book your space now for June 9th.
Celebrate Father’s Day on June 17th in South Langley at Township 7 with their annual Wine and Swine event with porky small plates, including baby back ribs and Korean pulled pork, paired with three of their wines plus music from local indie musicians Richard Tichelman and Madison Bell.
Celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21st with Canada’s first Indigenous-owned winery, Nk’Mip at the Elements dinner, a multi-course feast representing the elements earth, water, fire and air. Join leading Indigenous chefs including Enoch Cree Chef Shane Chartrand, alongside Nk’Mip Cellars Winemaker, Justin Hall, a proud member of the Osoyoos Indian Band, to honour the rich heritage and living culture of Indigenous peoples.
3. Ten super-crushable rosés
Nikki Bayley1. Quails' Gate Lucy's Block Rosé, $24.99
It simply isn’t summer in B.C. until you’ve tracked down one of these beauties. Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir come together to make the most heavenly strawberry burst of a patio-sipper, with a dry pepper hit on the finish. More, please.
2. Tantalus 2017 Rosé, $19.13
One of the most anticipated wines for lovers of superb rosé, Tantalus just keeps getting better at delivering perfect food-friendly B.C. wines. This blend of young vine Pinot Noir and more mature Pinot Meunier is crisp with a mouth-watering acidity and heady strawberry-grapefruit notes.
3. Synchromesh Cachola Family Cabernet Franc Rosé, $28
This is, quite simply, a stupidly good rosé. It's so smooth, so fresh, so bright and pretty. My notes for this are mostly ‘!!!!’ along with ‘Ham! Yes! Damn.' It's basically a kick-ass charcuterie wine.
4. Dirty Laundry 2017 Blush, $18.99
A juicy, but tart blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is a delicious raspberry-strawberry rosé. It's not at all sweet and totally crushable.
5. Gold Hill Rosé, $20.99
I’d not heard of these guys before but totally loved their Saignée-style rosé! (That means ‘bleeding off red wine juice, basically this is a way of making rosé which results in a deeper, darker pink.) Made from Cabernet Franc grapes, this has a super floral nose and a refreshing strawberry-grapefruit finish.
6. Sandhill 2017 Rosé, $19
A strawberry-nosed Gamay-Merlot blend with a pale pink Provençal-style blush, this was a crowd-pleaser at a recent tasting.
7. Haywire Gamay Noir Rosé 2017, $22.90
Think all rosés are sweet? This herbaceously sage and smoky savoury rosé could be the turning point for the anti-rosé crowd. Just gorgeous!
8. Fort Berens Rose 2017, $17.99
Oh yes! I tasted this at the Vancouver International Wine Festival in February and it was like summer had arrived! It's a yummy Pinot Noir/Gamay blend that’s light, bright and pretty with a strawberry-rhubarb burst of flavour.
9. Monster Vineyards Rosé, $15.90
I am so very much not the target audience here (I mean, the bottle glows in the dark!) but, man, this is a juicy, super crushable rosé, and at this price—and fabulous fruitiness!— who am I to say no?
10. Red Rooster, Rare Bird Rosé 2017, $24.99
A Provençal-style blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Malbec, this is wonderful stuff. It's all fleshy stone fruit, peaches and apricots with fresh berries. Summer in a glass!
4. Spit like you mean it
Winery tasting rooms are open and ready for business. But how to tackle tasting rooms like a pro? Do you spit? What if you don’t know how to pronounce "Gewürztraminer"? Will you be asked to leave? Don't panic! I asked Julia McKay of Bench 1775 to share her tasting room essentials for newbies…
The 10 essential rules of tasting room etiquette (in my humble opinion):
- If you are a group larger than four people, call ahead. Even if it’s only 30 minutes notice, the servers will be better prepared and you’ll have less of a wait.
- Smell is very important during a wine tasting, so we try to keep the room scent neutral. Opt for a 50 percent spritz of perfume or cologne, and save snacks for outside in one of the many fantastic winery picnic areas.
- Never done a wine tasting before? Let us know! We are full of tips and tricks for how to go about tasting our lovely wines, including how to sip and swirl without getting it on your shirt or up your nose!
- “Do I need to spit?” The answer is: “Only if you want to!” Tasting wine can be overwhelming for your brain, taste buds and tummy. If you want to remain sharp, use the spittoon. For newbies, we always recommend picking it up to bring closer to your mouth. Remember: if you are tall and spit from high up, it can ski jump right out of the spittoon and onto your server.
- Keep an open mind, as every winery will have very different wines, so don’t write off all reds or all Rieslings for example. Tell us a little bit about the wines you already enjoy and we will be able to guide your choices.
- No matter how basic or complicated, please ask us as many questions as you like! We love sharing our passion for the wines we make and sell, and no question is too simple or complex.
- A tasting fee ranging between $2 and $10 is a small price to pay for receiving 5 to 6 ounces of lovely local wines, and is almost always waived with a purchase.
- When you are given a sample in your glass, it should be enough for two or three sips. You’ll get the best expression of the wine if you take a few sips instead of throwing it back in one gulp.
- In British Columbia, any establishment with a liquor license must follow many strict rules of service, and both the establishment and the individual server are liable for penalties if they serve:
a) more than the allowed 6 oz of wine
b) someone who is intoxicated (even if you aren’t driving)
c) someone who is underage
When we stick to these guidelines it isn’t because we are uptight, it is because we are protecting both ourselves and the winery’s liquor license, without which we wouldn’t be able to make beautiful wines.
- Most importantly, remember that winery tasting rooms are a chance for wineries to promote their brand and to sell wine. If you’re heading out to catch a buzz with your friends without an interest in the wines you’re tasting, perhaps one of the Okanagan’s fantastic wine bars, patios or breweries could be a better fit.
5. Sommelier-recommended whites
Shiva Reddy, Assistant Wine Director, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
If you can’t decide what white is for you, then this is the time of year for you to try a couple crushable blends. Along the Naramata Bench, you’ll find Lock & Worth Winery producing a delicious natural Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend. This wine is super refreshing, with notes of melon, citrus and dried grass. This Sauvignon Blanc will appear slightly cloudy as it has not been filtered or fined. Yum!
Across the lake in Summerland, you’ll find Lunessence Winery & Vineyard. They make a delicious blend called Quartet—so good that we serve by the glass at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar. This wine is an aromatic blend of a few mouthful grape varietals like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Oraniensteiner, full of tropical flavours like guava, mango, lychee, tangerine and rose. It is also slightly off dry.
If you’re searching for a pure expression of a single grape varietal, Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls produces wines in a traditional Burgundian style, making Chardonnay in the purest form. Their Chardonnay sees neutral oak and offers refreshing acid and notes of ripe stonefruit, red apple and citrus.
Last, but not least, my crush of the summer is from the heart of the South Okanagan along the Golden Mile Bench. Culmina Family Estate Winery makes a delicious Grüner Vetliner. This Grüner Vetliner—go ahead, say it three times fast—is not just any regular Grüner. This one is from the Triggs’ family 002 Wild Ferment experimental series. This GV is laden with flavour both tropical and floral, rich with notes of white flower, white peach, pear and the list goes on. This wine was originally an exclusive release to Culmina’s wine club. When the team at Boulevard had a sneaky taste, we liked it so much we may have purchased all of it. So I guess you’ll just have to visit us and drink it until it’s gone!
6. Sommelier-recommended reds
Dawn Schultz, Food & Beverage Manager, Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa
There are so many great examples of B.C. reds. Here are some of my favourite picks that we enjoy at the Kingfisher Resort—from patio pleasers to serious reds.
If you see a bottle of Averill Creek’s “Raison d’Etre” 2015 Pinot Noir, do yourself a favour and pick it up. It’s 100 percent estate grown Pinot Noir from the Cowichan Valley and a true expression of the Island: delicate but intense, elegant yet earthy. This is perfect for afternoon sipping with a velvet texture, notes of dark cherries, and a little spice on the finish.
Feeling a bit adventurous? Siren’s Call 2014 Petit Verdot may be your answer this season. Mark Simpson’s handcrafted wines are made with sustainability in mind. Petit Verdot is the grape varietal for wine geek at heart, and it`s exciting that B.C. is able to produce it with its classic characteristics in mind. A perfect pairing for a BBQ night: think lamb and steak.
A couple years ago, I was introduced to Tyler Harlton’s wines, TH Wines. I experienced an instant connection with Tyler, as we share the same Saskatchewan farming roots. When you find a bottle of TH WINES 2016 Cabernet Franc, buy two; one for now and one for later. Only 411 cases (eight barrels to be exact) are made, as Tyler steers away from extraction, fining, filtration and additions. What you get is a beautifully balanced wine full of bright juicy fruit. This wine is great for pairing with your favourite summer dishes (beef tartare comes to mind) or as a glass to enjoy on its own (or the bottle).
I was recently introduced to Beaufort Winery, a cute boutique spot just outside Courtenay, owned by Titanic director James Cameron. All their wines are 100 percent plant-based and made without use of animal products. Their 2016 Franc Merlot is my top red pick from Beaufort right now (just released). The Merlot comes from Oliver and the Cabernet from Naramata, which creates a classic blend of cinnamon and spice with some Vancouver Island flair from winemakers Freya and Mark Timmerans. This is a perfect gift to bring over to a friend’s house, as chances are they have not tried it—they sell out quickly!
7. Focus on... The Bottleneck Drive
Tucked away between Kelowna and Penticton on the west side of Lake Okanagan, Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive offers up a fun bag of variety: from the cheery bordello-theme of the Dirty Laundry to the esteemed first estate winery of B.C., Sumac Ridge, plus two of my favourite wineries in B.C.: TH Wines and the Okanagan Crush Pad. I headed up there on a recent trip and found plenty of new favourites to get excited about. Taking in 19 wineries, three cider houses, one brewery and a distiller, with gorgeous lake and mountain views and plenty of delicious food stops along the way, start planning a Bottleneck Drive visit soon—and don’t miss these three wineries...
Nikki Bayley1. Lunessence
I adored pretty much everything I tasted here. Under a new name and ownership since 2014, Lunessence is now piloting an organic and biodynamic style of viticulture. The owners also believe in the healing powers of classical music, and so the vines listen to operas by composers such as Verdi and Rossini while they grow. Whimsical? Perhaps. But the proof is in the bottle and these wines are amazing.
2017 Sauvignon Blanc Muscat, $21.99: All Naramata fruit and—oh!—honey, silky, creaminess, like a crisp, clean beautiful apple pie.
2017 Muscat, $19.99: Like a mandarin jellybean with great acidity and a gorgeous grassy vibe.
2. 8th Generation
A multi-generational family of winemakers, dating back to 1783 in Germany, the hands-on approach here has their wines positively clinking with ‘best in show’ medals. Order up a case or two of their dinky 375 ml Integrity or Confidence frizzante for the perfect picnic or pre-dinner sparkler.
2017 Classic Riesling, $20: Done in a true German style, dry and fruit-forward from 32 year-old vines that’s beautifully fruit-forward with tongue-tingling honey blossom notes, just like biting into a juicy green apple.
2015 Cabernet Merlot, $23: Sage and black fruit, with fabulous tannins and a sexy long finish. This wine may be vegan but it os begging for a good steak, so let it have what it wants.
This is a charming family-run boutique winery with a stunning view out over the vines, and a great picnic spot to enjoy a bottle of something from the tasting room.
2014 Merlot, $32.90: Violets and blackberries, so sweet and fresh with silky integrated tannins.
2017 Riesling-Muscat, $22.08: Probably the perfect Thai food wine! Crazy mouth-watering with the acidity of the Riesling dancing with the honeyed sweetness of Muscat.
8. Seven reds to drink right now
1. Summerhill Pyramid Winery Alive Organic Red, $26.44
They say: "A juicy, ripe blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc bursting with summer berries." I say: "Oh man! What a total crowd-pleasing, easy-sipping red."
2. Van Westen Vineyards Violetta 2014, $34.90
There’s a divine smell of violets on the nose from this 100 percent Malbec from Naramata—pure heaven! It has silky smooth, well-integrated tannins and notes of cocoa and deep boozy plums. I had it with a juicy grilled steak and crisp potatoes and wanted to throw myself a goddam parade. So good!
3. Sperling Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016, $22.59
Give it a swirl and it’s like burying your face into a bouquet of blackcurrants! Fresh and full of berries, it’s so silky it almost kisses your tongue. It's amazing with prosciutto, bread, olive oil and mozzarella.
4. Black Cloud Winery Altostratus Pinot Noir 2014, $31.50
Decant and let this baby breathe. And then, wow! Delicious cherries, beautiful sexy bright fruit and a smoky earthiness. BBQ some salmon and enjoy.
5. 8th Generation Red One 2017, $20
This is a Merlot-Syrah blend made with no oak. Serve it a little chilled for a show-stopping pizza pairing; this is so velvety and pretty with juicy dark fruit.
6. Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Old Block 2016, $50
Splurge and get this superb powerhouse of a Pinot for a special occasion (like Tuesday night). My notes are ludicrously enthusiastic for this: cherry-bright and smells like sex in the best possible way. Looks like I loved it and I bet you will too.
7. Wild Goose Red Horizon Meritage 2016, $23
This is a luscious blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon that made me long for a juicy steak with maybe a bit of blue cheese melted on top. It’s a smidge spiky still, so cellar this and pay it a visit in a year or two and I bet it’ll be amazing.
9. Meet the maker
You’ll find his wines on some of the coolest lists in town, including Kissa Tanto, Wildebeest and Chambar. Based on an industrial park in Summerland and using grapes from growers across the Okanagan, Tyler Harlton of TH Wines takes a hands-on approach to wine-making and has attracted a hardcore fan base for his luscious Cabernet Franc and apricot-bright Viognier.
What’s your go-to patio wine?
This summer, heat is an invitation for wine al fresco, and I have a few patio recommendations if you’re visiting the Okanagan. The first two are here in Summerland. I like what Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards is doing with their sparkling wine program. Their Fitz Brut is made in a traditional method, which is more work for the winemaker Sarah Bain, but it pays off in flavour. I mention Jordan Kubek’s sparkling wines at Okanagan Crush Pad in the same breath, as they work hard to deliver authenticity, and you can taste it in their bubbles. When I head south to Oliver to check on the vineyard, I stop into Liquidity Wines. Winemaker Alison Moyes makes exceptional Pinot Gris, with lively acid and subtle texture. Drink alone or it's easy to pair with your oysters.
What food and wine myths would you like to dispel?
Red wines aren’t just for meat! Okanagan reds with lower tannins (think Gamay from Blue Mountain Vineyard or Vin Amité) pair perfectly with tofu, risotto or white fish. Some of the most memorable wine pairings I’ve had in the past few months have been with these atypical selections. Take a tip from Sommelier Kurtis Kolt and toss the bottle in the fridge for a quick chill before serving, and dispel another wine myth that reds can’t be chilled.
What to drink for the season ahead?
I’ll be drinking a lot of white wine from Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive. The whites are strong across the board, with styles varying from dry to sweet and minimal oak on my preferred list. I recommend the Sauvignon Blanc from Okanagan Crush Pad, the Blanc de Noirs from Lunessence, the Muscat from SummerGate Winery and the Pinot Gris from Saxon Estate Winery.
What’s on at TH Wines?
For a limited time, we’ll have four wines from 2016 on the tasting bar, meaning you’ll get to taste the variations within the vintage. Our Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc were picked at the same ripeness, fermented in a similar style and bottled without fining or filtration. Holding vintage and winemaking constant gives you a true comparison of the flavours inherent to the grape.
10. Ten essential whites
1. Moraine Viognier 2017, $24
Crisp but smooth and gentle around the edges, this is a gorgeous burst of lemons and honeyed apricots. Love it!
2. Deep Roots Sauvignon Blanc 2017, $22
I’m usually so busy banging on about how astounding the Gamay is here, I forget that their whites kick ass too. Let’s remedy that and whoop loudly for this Sauv Blanc with a smidge of Semillon with a great acidity and fresh floral nose that is your brand new roast chicken wine.
3. Therapy Chardonnay, $23.99
Brand new labels and a delicious neutral oak Chardonnay (their first since 2015), this is a delicious cool, crisp and creamy beauty. Think brioche and honey rather than oaky juice bomb. So good!
4. Black Widow Oasis 2017, $23
The super floral trip of Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Schönburger come together here to make the perfect aromatic patio-sipper. You'll taste peaches and pink grapefruit and it's deliciously dry.
5. Lang Viognier 2017, $25
Am I coming around to the Viognier, or is it just the pretty apricot honeysuckle vibe of B.C. ones that have so captivated me? I love this! It's pleasingly perfumed and juicy as a peach.
6. Road 13 Honest John White 2017, $14.65
Salute this excellent six-varietal blend which is cheap, hugely cheerful and a total people-pleaser. Crisp with green apples, then tropical fruit and grapefruit, I had this with a super spicy butternut squash risotto and it was amazing.
7. Quails' Gate Chasselas Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, $17.99
This is a whoosh of peaches and pears. It's so fresh and bright, you almost need shades to drink this wonderfully fruit-forward easy sipper. Pair with sunshine.
8. Upper Bench Riesling 2017, $23.10
Oh damn! How have I never tasted this before? It's a delicious juicy Riesling bursting with lime and gooseberries with a crisp green apple taste. Love!
9. Narrative Riesling 2016, $22.90
Here's another corker (well, screw cap, I guess) from the crew at the OK Crush Pad. This is a serious food wine with bone dry high acidity, bags of citrus and a fabulous minerality, and it's way less sweet than their last release. Fermented in concrete tanks and then aged in stainless steel tanks, zero intervention, this is superb.
10. Meyer Family Vineyards Stevens Block Chardonnay 2017, $28
This is such an amazing fresh Chablis-style Chard. Quietly give this to one of your ‘anything but chardonnay’ friends and prepare to be smug when they fall madly in love with this young, juicy stunner.