10 Must-try Wines From the Naramata Spring Release

Support sustainable seafood, eat appies from the city's best restaurants, plus sip vino from 25 Naramata wineries at the Wine for Waves benefit

Support a good cause while enjoying vino from 25 Naramata wineries at the Wine for Waves benefit

The Vancouver food and wine calendar has several key events which tick off the seasons one by one. A favourite, which heralds the start of spring just as surely as the cherry blossoms on the trees, is the annual Naramata Spring Wine Release.

Along with being a joyful uncorking of the new season wines, the event is also an important fundraiser for the Vancouver Aquarium in support of the Ocean Wise program with an amazing silent auction.

While you’re there, you can support the conservation of the ocean while enjoying bite-size Ocean Wise appies from some of the city’s best restaurants, including YEW, Mosquito and the Vancouver Fish Company, plus tasting wines from 25 participating wineries.

To get you in the mood, click through for a preview of 10 of our new favourite wines…

Van Westen Voluptuous (2012)

I could get quite addicted to Van Westen’s inky-crimson Voluptuous 2012. A blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc, this is their tenth vintage and it’s rather like burying your face in a bouquet of violets… which then changes to plummy chocolates. It pairs perfectly with barbecued steak, which is fortunate as that’s exactly what I tried it with. The winery suggests that this will age well and develop over the next 10 years and yes, I could see there’d be a lot of fun in buying a case and opening just one bottle, every year, for that first barbecue of the season for the next 12 years. Also new from this winery is a bright, dry Viognier, fresh with tropical fruit aromas and a summery hit of peach at the end.

La Frenz Ensemblé (2013)

Neither of the La Frenz wines I tried are going to be available until July 2016, and trust me: both are so very worth waiting for. The 2013 Grand Total Reserve is a sublimely smooth example of Naramata winemaking at its very best. A blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon, make this one of the very first things you try at Wine for Waves. The Ensemblé 2013 already scored Gold at the Fall 2015 Intervin International and once you take a sip, you’ll find out why. Wonderfully creamy yet managing to balance out a savoury minerality, this wine is modelled after the Graves style from Bordeaux and made with 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% semillion.

Deep Roots Gamay (2015)

Swirl this velvety smooth Gamay from Deep Roots in your glass for a heavenly whoosh of cherries and blackberries. Smooth and gloriously fruity, we adored this $24 wine which pairs perfectly with roast chicken and would be my recommendation to bring with you for Thanksgiving dinner as I bet it’s an absolute joy with turkey too. If you can make the trip up to visit winemaker Will Hardman and the team, you’ll discover a family-owned property that’s been farming the clay cliffs above Naramata village for almost 100 years. The Hardmans switched to wine making just a few years ago and haven’t looked back since. The tasting room is perched on the high bluffs with views over the vines and Okanagan Lake.

Tightrope Viognier (2015)

Close to the Kettle Valley Railway Trail and within sprinting distance of Three Mile Beach and a cooling dip at Okanagan Lake, Tightrope is based on 10 acres of the Naramata bench, owned and run by Lyndsay and Graham O’Rouke, a wife and husband team. The winery is only in its third year of releases but has already scooped a shelf-full of awards with their 2014 Syrah scooping gold at the recent Cascadia Wine Competitions for its peppery floral violet notes and deliciously dark colour. But wow, their 2015 Viognier has to be a serious contender for patio sipper of the year. We sat and swirled our glasses in the spring sunshine and adored its apple pie aromas, all cinnamon and vanilla with a fresh summery smoothness. ‘First wine of the summer!’ pronounced one of my testers. ‘Perfect with oysters,’ declared another. ‘Pour me another glass!’ I said.

Black Widow Mirage (2014)

So much to love about this little winery halfway along the Naramata Bench from Penticton towards the village of Naramata. Black Widow released its first wines in 2006, and this year’s contenders are the 2014 Mirage, a super limited edition Muscat Ottonel fortified with grape brandy, and  their 2014 Phobia, a splendidly named Syrah/Merlot blend that’s ripe with fresh raspberry and plummy notes. I adored the Mirage. It’s fantastic, and my rather scribbled notes say that it ‘tastes like the perfect bubble bath feels.’ We tried it with dessert and it’s perfect with Earnest Ice Cream’s salted caramel and, at just $15.56 + taxes, it’s a steal. Available online and through the winery, this is your new favourite after-dinner wine.

Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs (2015)

I was lucky enough to visit Poplar Grove up in Penticton last year and if you get the chance, you absolutely have to as well. For a start, there’s the fantastic Vanilla Pod restaurant and also the tasting room, both with show-stopping views across the lake and vines. But most of all, I can’t think of anything more delightful than sipping the 2015 Pinot Gris and toasting the vines that created this superb wine. The floral bouquet hits you as soon as you unscrew the capthis is a light and airy wine, made for summer drinking with beautiful Granny Smith apple notes. If you’re unfamiliar with ‘white’ wines made from darker grapes (although you’ll probably have tried it with Champagne made from Pinot Noir), Poplar Grove’s Blanc de Noirs 2015 blend of Malbec, Merlot and Syrah is the perfect place to start (although to be fair, it’s really more pink than white). The tasting notes say ‘dangerously delicious’ and I can’t argue with that at all. It’s beautiful, easy-sipping, Okanagan sunshine captured in a glass.

Kettle Valley Syrah (2013)

In such a young wine region as the Okanagan, releasing a 25th vintage is a serious milestone, so cheers to Kettle Valley Winery and let’s open one (or two) of their terrific reds to celebrate. It’s a family affair here, with two brothers in law at the helm. Visit them in their cosy tasting room in their garage or just stop by to see them at Wine for Waves with everyone else! If you’re looking for a Naramata wine to cellar, then look no further than Old Main Red, a Bordeaux blend with the wines picked and crushed together to create a harmonious blend. But if you simply can’t wait to drink one of their new releases right now, then plump for the smoky peppery 2013 Syrah which just begs to be swirled and slowly sipped so you can enjoy those licorice-y and figgy notes.

Moraine Riesling (2015)

Already romping home with a clutch of gold, silver and best-ofs, could Moraine’s 2015 Riesling be the best canapé wine around? We tasted this and immediately thought of smoked salmon and maybe little fresh-made blini pancakes as well. I’m a huge fan of their 2013 Pinot Noir too, aged in premium French oak for 10 months. This is smooth and just a little oaky in the best possible way. Juicy with the aroma of berries and cherries, you know that you’ll be loved if you bring this over for Sunday lunch.

Upper Bench Yard Wind (2013)

You have to be pretty confident to name your wine ‘Yard Wine’ but that’s exactly what the fine folk at Upper Bench did, paying homage to the gallon or so of red which they’d make and keep to share with friends and neighbours over the years. This is the first time they’ve commercially released ‘Yard Wine’ and I’m only sad that we didn’t get to make friends sooner. Plummy with a fresh hit of raspberry on the nose, this is a beautifully berryish wine with a slightly spicy chocolate-y finish. One wine to tuck away to age a little would be their 2014 Chardonnay. One or two years would soften up and balance out that buttery oak and tropical fruit flavours. Buy some and set a reminder to make 2018 instantly delicious.

Serendipity Rosé (2015)

Serendipity thinks that its 2015 rosé is best described by the word: ‘pink.’ I’d argue no. The best word is ‘more.’ This is such a cheery patio sipper of a summer drink, all strawberry and citrusy and beautifully balanced, staying exactly the right side of ‘dry’ and not venturing anywhere near ‘sweet.’ This works brilliantly with food and I’d suggest it’d be the perfect wine to bring if you’re responsible for the appies at any party. Mix it up with some cheese and charcuterie, olives and tapenadethis wine was made for them all.

Buy a ticket for the event on Thursday, April 28th at the Four Seasons to spend the evening in the company of the growers and winemakers of the Naramata Bench.