BC Wine 101: Early Spring 2019 Edition

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

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

It’s that weird time of the year when it’s just turned to spring, but it still feels a bit like winter on some days. In B.C. wine world, the first new releases are coming out and tasting rooms are beginning to open up all across the province. I’m going to wait until my next column in May before I start raving about the new season wines (and believe me there is a lot to rave about) and instead take one last chance to celebrate the brilliance of this past year in B.C. wine with some of my new favourites that I’ve tried over the past couple of months. We’ve also got expert recommendations from sommeliers on between-season whites and reds, the lowdown on buttery B.C. Chards and much more. Cheers!

Read on for all you need to know about B.C. wine this spring…


1. Check out all the cool events

Roche Wines on the Naramata Bench is hosting their version of a ‘Bordeaux en primeur’ tasting at the winery on Saturday, April 20th along with Perseval & Young Cheesemongers for some very tasty pairings! You can book a time slot to taste 2018 and 2017 wine from the barrel along with 2016 which is already bottled, with the winemakers. Contact the winery for details and booking by email. 

Intersection Winery in Oliver is hosting a pop-up escape room inside their winery for Spring Wine Fest from May 1st to 12th. Guests will be locked in the Vinstitute classroom with the task of exploring, collecting clues, and solving riddles in order to find the lost vintage of a mysterious winemaker. Wine tasting will play a component, but isn’t necessary for those who aren’t drinking. It’s appointment only, can be booked online, and costs $30 per person.

Explore the evolution of B.C. bubbles at Jak’s in Penticton where they’re hosting a vertical tasting with Summerhill at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 25th with sparkling wines going all the way back to 1996. Tickets are $20 and only 14 spots are available. There will be a raffle at the end for one of the rare bottles

Taste new releases from the Okanagan Falls Wine Association on Tuesday, April 9th at the Kelowna Yacht Club.

CheckMate Artisinal Winery is having a Spring Open House on Saturday, April 27th from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the winery for a celebration of the new season and five years of Winemaking at CheckMate. This event is complimentary, but please email to RSVP.

Evolve Cellars has a Winemaker’s Dinner with Graham Pierce on Saturday, April 20th as part of the “Opening Weekend” for Bottleneck Drive.

Celebrate the ‘Magic of Meritage’ Winemakers Dinner on Friday, May 3rd at TIME Winery & Kitchen with Harry McWatters.

Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery is holding a couple of events with moms in mind. On Saturday, April 27th, they have a Sip ‘n’ Scarves event where you can create a one-of-a-kind water marbled silk scarf and enjoy a glass of rosé. On Saturday, May 11th, the day before Mother’s Day, they’re hosting a bubbles and BBQ lunch.

There’s a Sensory Symposium on Sunday, April 28th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Okanagan College in Penticton, with blind tastings, seminars and panels with winemakers including Severine Pinte (le Vieux Pin/La Stella), Michal Mosny (Winemaker’s Cut), Rob Summers (Hester Creek), Kelsey Rufiange (Echo Bay), Mireille Sauve (Dames Wine), Charlie Baessler (Corcelettes) and many more.

Mayhem Wines, who custom crush at Meyer Family Vineyards in OK Falls, is celebrating their new release wines with a Mad Hatter party (go comfy hat or crazy hat!) on Sunday, May 19th from 1 to 4 p.m. with music and small bites from Catering Done Right. The party takes place at the Meyer picnic area, tickets are $34, $20 for Mayhem club members.


2. Five whites to transport you to a sunny place

  1. Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2017, $15.99: I tasted this on a drizzly day, and I swear I could close my eyes and feel like I was in a summer orchard. With golden-fleshed apples, crisp pears, a nice touch of mouth-watering acidity and a lovely buttery silky texture, this one is just heaven.
  2. Sperling Organic Pinot Gris 2017, $21: This pretty Pinot Gris has what I can only describe as an amazing ‘spikiness’ on the tongue, balanced out with juicy fleshy melon. I was meant to be just ‘tasting’ this, but I tried it with some Boursin spread thickly on rosemary crackers, well, that was that… glug, glug, gone.
  3. Road 13 Viognier 2017, $20.87: Oh, man—this is joyful—so clean and fresh and juicy! Close your eyes, breathe in… peaches and honey blossom. Summer! Take a sip and imagine the sun warming your skin, light sparkling on the lake… late nights… Mmmm.
  4. Lang Farm Reserve Riesling 2017, $19.99: Delicious. Peach and pineapple nose. Zippy on the tip of your tongue. Apples and lemon pith. This is so good.
  5. Mayhem Pinot Blanc 2017, $15.65: Fleshy guava on nose, then all peaches and lemon! This has a silky mouthfeel and just lives for cold roast chicken. Excellent price too.


3. Sommelier-recommended reds: Christina Hartigan, Wildebeest

“As early in the year as possible, I’m looking to fire up the BBQ and fill my glass with something bright enough to drink in the sun, but powerful enough to stand up to the charred food. TH Wines has a medium-bodied Cabernet Franc ($34.99) from the Okanagan which is incredibly food-friendly as it balances between the fruity ripe blueberry and raspberry notes and a savory herbal touch. A perfect BBQ wine to bring you from spring to summer, this will pair alongside herb-crusted grilled pork loin and BBQ vegetables.

Unsworth’s Pinot Noir ($30) is a lighter bodied red wine with pretty floral notes and refreshing bright flavours of ripe red berries and black cherries. Spending 15 months aging in oak barrels rounds out the Pinot Noir with spice and structure to complement a richer fish dish such as grilled salmon.

Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Carmenère and Petit Verdot makes up Echo Bay’s ‘Synoptic’ ($40). And when the rain returns (as it inevitably will in  Vancouver), I like to turn to a fuller-bodied blend from the Okanagan to pair with richer, warmer stews and red meats. This Bordeaux-style blend from Okanagan Falls sees 19 months in French oak barrels and is bold and powerful but retains an elegance. It is perfect for heartier dishes or a grilled bison flat iron.”


4. Bring on the buttery B.C. Chards

Recently, I got to thinking about how big Chards can have a bad reputation, so I asked sommelier and Experience Wine Tours’s Matt Wentzell to tell you why they should be your new favourite thing:

“I love Chardonnay! I think it may be my very favourite white grape varietal because of the incredibly diverse range of wine styles that can be made from it. I believe there is a time and place for every style of Chardonnay, but rich, buttery oaky Chards got a bad rap due to the proliferation of sappy, over-oaked, mass-produced versions from California and Australia that were popular in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

“I particularly enjoy indulging in buttery Chardonnays with similarly indulgent dishes; they’re an almost obligatory pairing with rich shellfish dishes. The next time you’re tucking in to a creamy bowl of New England-style seafood chowder, try it with Little Engine’s Gold Chardonnay from 2016. This big voluptuous Chardonnay has notes of ripe peaches, nutmeg, lemongrass and crème brulée that work perfectly with a creamy chowder chock full of scallops, prawns, halibut and silky potatoes.

“My absolute favourite pairing for buttery Chardonnay is alongside shellfish dunked unapologetically into a large bowl of garlic-y drawn butter! Try serving up some of the 2016 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay from Quails’ Gate the next time you have a crab or lobster boil. It’s a full-bodied wine with notes of lemon curd, green apple and shortbread with a lovely streak of acidity that helps cut through the richness of the crab and butter.

“For an amazing example of a full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay that won’t break the bank, pick up a bottle of Nk’Mip’s Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay. At under $30, this is a lovely, elegant wine that toes the line between elegance and richness. I get notes of cantaloupe, honey-baked pear and toasted hazelnuts. For a simple pairing that’s an absolute home run every time, try this wine with popcorn generously drizzled with hot melted butter. My wife has one particularly large purse that’s perfect for smuggling Chardonnay into the movies (not that I condone that sort of thing).”


My Buttery Chard Picks

This winter, I fell in love. It was Ex Nihilo’s Privata Chardonnay 2017, ($32) that did it, I took one sip and bellowed out loud, “Oh my God!” Buttered apple crisp! Silky! Just a little kiss of minerality and oakiness, but damn, I was into it.

Hungry for more, I tried the McWatters Collection 2017 Chardonnay, ($24.99), a sexy, creamy, Chard that’s all honey and buttery apple pie, lemon and pineapple, and I knew this was more than just a crush.

Then I found butter-chard heaven at the Mt Boucherie tasting bar with their Winemaker Reserve Chardonnay 2016, ($29.99), and I’d like to apologize now for the ‘happy place’ noises I made as I sipped and absolutely did not spit.


5. Five rainy-day reds

  1. Vanessa Right Bank 2014, $39.99: I kept this wonder over from our festive column. Although it was a bit too big for the turkey wine category that we tasted it for, I definitely wanted you guys to know about it. It’s just so beautifully balanced: bright blueberries and sweet raspberries with a whisper of something smoky on the nose, then juicy dark cherries and berries and a silky long finish on the palate. Treat yo’ self.
  2. Quails’ Gate Fortified Vintage Foch, $25.99: Does it feel like summer is far away? Then pretend you’re back in the festive season again and pour yourself a glass of instant happiness with this superb dessert wine. Pair with a salty blue cheese and revel in its wonderful silky-smooth Christmas-pudding aroma of cherry and spice and everything nice!
  3. Mission Hill Reserve Meritage 2016, $26.99: This is an awfully sophisticated, beautifully smooth blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot and Petit Verdot… and yet, I had a sudden urge for nachos while I was tasting this, and you know what? Perfect Pairing! Proving, yet again, that fancy wine doesn’t necessarily need fancy food. Give it a whirl!
  4. Moon Curser Touriga Nacional 2016, $39.99: Oof! If you find this wine, buy it! It’s so exciting with so very many layers. It bounces from incredibly fresh blackberries to a herbaceous sarsaparilla, then a dense earthy floor-of-the-forest, then black pepper and cloves… just a super-complex and completely wonderful wine.
  5. Bartier Bros Merlot 2016, $23.49: Don’t overthink it. This gorgeous wine was made for drinking with pizza and movies sprawled on the couch. Right now, it’s all fresh bright blackcurrants with a bright acidity that just loves tomato sauce, but I feel like this will be even more extraordinary after cellaring for a few years, and at that price, maybe tuck a few bottles away for a treat.


6. Sommellier-recommended whites: Kyle Gartlan-Close, Wine/Service Director Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

“With spring solstice past, and the chill of winter almost on the way out, it seems a fitting time to drink textural, bright, flavour-focused whites from our beautiful backyard of B.C. I am definitely the kind of sommelier who gravitates to the people behind the wines as I believe their philosophy in the vineyard and cellar shines through in the bottle. Here are three of the most talented winemakers I know working in B.C. right now…

“One of my all-time favourite producers from Kelowna is Tantalus Vineyards, and their winemaker David Patterson is a master at coaxing and developing flavour. The 2017 Juvenile Chardonnay is lean, mineral-laden, boasting yellow apple, Bartlett pears, and a flinty lemon meringue finish. I love the weight and balance of this Chardonnay, a perfect accompaniment for almost any food.

Le Vieux Pin has one of the most talented winemakers in B.C., Severine Pinte, whose dedication to Rhône varietals and ability to craft both simultaneously elegant and robust wines is unparalleled. The 2017 Ava white Rhône blend is a masterful combination of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. This wine is loaded with honey, crushed white flowers, roasted stone fruits and plums. Though drinking it now verges on blasphemy given its youthful nature, I’d recommend a nice double decant to wake up the fruit and enliven this tightly wound gem.

“My last selection is from a true farmer and bubble-fanatic, Jay Drysdale, whose sparkling wine-focused Bella is producing the most exciting B.C. wines out there. His 2017 King Vineyard ancestral-method Chardonnay is a zero dosage bubble on the lean, fresh and forward path. This wine is zippy, racing with green apples, lemon curd and a rounded yeasty finish. I love that Jay’s style and exploration is always evolving, and I believe this Naramata fruit provides a great canvas for his winemaking.”


7. Five bubbles to brighten up brunch

  1. Mt Boucherie Mt Bubbles, $21.99: A gorgeous creamy blend of Riesling, Semillon and Gewurtztraminer, this frizzante-style bubble is delish, with plenty of dancing green apples on the tongue. They also do a rosé version with a splash of Pinot Noir for the pretty pink colour and $5 from each bottle goes to help the local Mamas for Mamas charity.
  2. The View Pearls 2017, $29.95: Riesling with a dash of White Pinotage, this is a traditional method bubble (made the same way as Champagne) and it has a lovely toasty nose with a zippy mouth-watering acidity. It conjures up that juicy feeling of biting into a Granny Smith apple. Incredibly more-ish!
  3. Evolve Frizzante, $19.99: Sounding the dangerously crushable klaxon! It’s brunch, you’re feeling a tad worse for wear… order up a bottle of this Summerland stunner and let its effervescent aromatic magic work its tricks. Light, frothy, scented with lychee and apricot (maybe a spot of ginger and roses too?), this is guaranteed to turn a bad day good.
  4. Thornhaven 2016 infusion Rosé Frizzante $14.99: A blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this has a beautiful big jammy strawberry-and-cherry nose with a nice persistent bubble. If you like your fizz on the sweeter side, this is the perfect easy-drinking garnet-red rosé bubble.
  5. 8th Generation Confidence Petite, $14: Oh, how I adore this. A 375 ml half-bottle, which is perfect for solo brunching, sipping in the bath, pairing with pre-dinner salty olive-y snacks or really just about any occasion at all. Cherries, raspberries and a delicate Prosecco-like fizz. What’s not to love?


8. Meet the maker

Tucked away on the Upper Bench of the South Similkameen Valley, Clos du Soleil’s winemaker Michael Clark adheres to a philosophy of ‘minimal-interventionist winemaking and biodynamic viticulture’ which results in exquisite Bordeaux-style blended wines with a well-deserved cult following.

What’s your go-to patio wine?
For easy and enjoyable patio drinking, you want something light, crisp and refreshing. Many B.C. white wines fit that bill, but for reds, Gamay can produce wonderful wines that are both easy-drinking yet authentic. There are some great Okanagan ones, but from the Similkameen Valley, the Gamay wines of Orofino Winery and Robin Ridge come to mind—both great wines.

What food and wine myth would you like to dispel?
I’d love to dispel the myth that wine is complicated, or the domain of experts. It is a drink, it has a deep relationship with food, and it is meant to be enjoyed! It doesn’t need to be intimidating. Here is the secret to learning about wine: drink it! Drink lots of different kinds, from lots of different countries, and try it with lots of different foods. That’s my kind of learning!

What should we be drinking right now?
In springtime, I love wines with floral aromas… truth be told, I love floral wines all year long. Two very different varieties, but both of which can exhibit intoxicating floral notes, are Riesling and Viognier. British Columbia makes some great Rieslings: Little Farm, Orofino and Eau Vivre all make great Rieslings in the Similkameen Valley. 

Synchromesh, Tantalus, Kitsch and Sperling are just a few of the fantastic Okanagan producers, then, quite different but also floral, I love the dense and aromatic wines produced from Viognier: Vanessa Vineyards, Terravista, Bartier Brothers and Lariana. We are spoiled for choice!

What should we be drinking from Clos du Soleil and why?
At Clos du Soleil, we specialize in producing blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, and these wines have crisp acidity and ripe tropical fruit flavours that make them fantastic spring and summer wines. That being said, if you want something a little different, we have just released a small-lot rosé wine made from 100 percent Malbec that is a real knock-out. There is not much of it, but you can find it in our tasting room or on our website—try it before it is all gone!