B.C. Wine 101: Fall 2017 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

Welcome to our fall guide to everything you need in your glass from beautiful B.C. wineries. In this edition, we dig into the Naramata Bench; talk to ace winemaker Valeria Tait from award-winning winery Bench 1775; we have top sommelier recommendations for the reds and whites you need to drink this season; andat lastan explanation as to what the hell tannins are anyway.

Best read over a glass (or two or three) of something delicious and local, cheers…


1. ZOMYGOD the news

So the biggest news in the B.C. wine world right now is that Andrew Peller Limited (a megacorp based in Ontario) has snapped up Tinhorn Creek, Gray Monk and Black Hills Estate Winery. I’ll let Mike Klassen, aka B.C. Wine Lover get into the nitty-gritty but in short: what does this mean for B.C. wine?

Well, nothing for a short while but in the future, who can say? It looks like a power play before wine gets into supermarkets; after all, the loudest voice often gets heard the most. So, in the meanwhile, let’s keep supporting those smaller, quieter voices who won’t get a chance to even get near those financially rewarding shelves, and also raise a glass to the three wineries and all the incredible work they have done.

Enjoy a rare chance to try the dizzyingly tasty high-end wines of CheckMate Artisinal Winery at their Installation pop-up in Oliver at the winery. CheckMate produce what’s generally accepted to be some of the best Chardonnays and Merlots in the Valley and their doors are usually closed to the public. Seattle-based architect Tom Kundig, has created a “pop-up” tasting room, which gives visitors the chance to taste CheckMate wines for the first time on-site at the winery. This is a golden opportunity to try these incredible high-end wines in a unique setting. Tastings start at $20 and are worth every cent.

Every sommelier’s favourite, Sea Star Vineyards from Pender Island, is expanding! Owner David Goudge tweeted, “Heard it through the grapevine….” Well, in this case the rumours are true. “Sea Star Vineyards is under contract to purchase Saturna Winery. We think it’s the perfect way to slowly increase our ability to match the demand for our wines. With 44 acres under vine it’s an enormous vineyard but we are going to approach the opportunity to grow methodically with the same commitment to crafting excellent wines.” Best of luck!

Check out the #BCHarvest2017 and #BCHarvest17 hashtags and follow along in the vineyards with the harvest! This is really cool and you’ll get to see plenty of behind-the-scenes shots of your favourite wineries and winemakers. Grant Biggs over at Kitsch Wines has been posting plenty of fun stories and videos every day too.

Okanagan author, writer and all-round superstar Jennifer Schell has released her first wine under the Schell wines label. It’s a family collaboration between three siblings, Jonathan, Jennifer and Jamie. First up is the Schell Chardonnay with a red blend in the pipeline. Pick up a bottle at Marquis Wine Cellars.

Finally, more Tinhorn Creek newsthey’ve finally released a flagship wine! The Creek is a velvety, deep rich blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot, in their 23rd—and it seems final—year as an independent winery. Maybe they finally did so to mark an end to their time there? Who knows? But it’s a magnificent tribute to all that’s been done over at Tinhorn Creek and well worth snapping up a bottle to enjoy over something special.


2. All the fun events

It’s the 37th annual Okanagan wine fest and there are so many cool things to check out from awards, tastings and special dinners to Farmers’ Markets and chef contests. Get tickets here!

The incredible Joy Road Catering is teaming up with Stag Hollow for a special harvest winemaker dinner on September 29th. Buy tickets nowthis always sells out!

I love this: a wine and wags dog walk through the vines every Sunday in September at The View winery. No dog? No problem, go along anyway, guaranteed puppy pats included, along with a wine tasting. $10 and 50% of proceeds go to the BC SPCA.

CedarCreek is hosting a Starry Plates supper under the stars on September 30th. Join them for a canapé and wine reception followed by a small plates four-course menu paired with their ‘Vineyard Designate’ wines. Sounds delicious.

It’s the fourth annual Beale Street Festival at Wild Goose Winery on September 30th between 12 and 3 p.m. Join them for the last event in their 2017 Vineyard Stage Concert Series and celebrate with foods and music of the south. Dive into a Southern-style BBQ buffet lunch, with live blues music, teamed up with the wines of Wild Goose on the Vineyard Stage patio.
$75 per person (plus tax and service fee) includes Smoke & Oak Buffet lunch and a glass of Wild Goose wine

With some of my favourite wines and one of my favourite chefs, the Fall Feast with Tantalus Vineyards at Painted Rock Estate Winery sounds pretty unmissable. Painted Rock proprietor John Skinner welcomes Tantalus and guest chef/sommelier Mark Filatow of Waterfront Wines for an evening of Okanagan bounty inspired by the season on October 6th.


3. WTF are tannins?

We’ve all been there. Someone uncorks a red, pours a glass, swirls it thoughtfully and takes a sip. ‘Mmm, those tannins!” Um. Yeah. Tannins.

But WTF are tannins and why do we want ’em in wine anyway? Graham Nordin, Mission Hill Family Estate’s director of wine educations has the answers…

So, WTF are tannins?
Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols, found in plants, seeds and fruit skins. They add bitterness, astringency and complexity to a wine. Put simply: it’s that mouth-drying characteristic that you get not just in grapes but in foods such as walnuts, almonds, dark chocolate and black tea, too.

What’s a good D.I.Y. tannin taste test?
Peel a grape and take a bit of the flesh, then try just the skininstant mouth-drying! That’s the best example of tasting tannins; but put the skin and grape together and it’s the perfect blend. If you want to try that in wine, Pinot Noir is the classic low-tannin wine. You can have this as just a sipping wine, as it has a very light skin so has low tannins. At the other end of the scale is Cabernet Sauvignon, a classic food pairing wine with lots of tannins. Everything else comes in the middle: Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and so on.

Why do we want tannins in wine?
Think of tannins as the ‘skeleton’ in the ‘body’ of the wine; it’s what holds everything together.

What do people mean when they talk about tannins ‘opening up’?
Tannins take time to evolve. In wine there are two main types of tannins: the ones in the fruit and the ones in wood. For instance, when you have a wine that’s been aged in a barrel, that brings another type of tannin. Now think about a young bottle of red wine, say a Cabernet Sauvignon, that’s been aged in a barrel. Those tannins are just floating around in the wine independently, but as they age they form chains as the molecules bind together. As those chains get longer, they eventually dissolve and become integrated into the wine. When people talk about a wine that’s very soft and velvety, that’s what they’re describingtannins which have been given the opportunity to age and integrate into the wine.

Is there any way of speeding up the process?
There is a quick fix! Say you open a bottle of wine, taste it and think, “Wow! That seems really tannic and too intense.” You can let air help you out: decant it and swish it around, and it’ll definitely soften up.

Finally, how does food work with tannins?
Tannins bind with proteins, which is why steak is the perfect pairing for a tannic Cab Sauv! When you have steak, or charcuterie, the tannins in the wine will break down that protein and help you digest the meal.


4. Sommelier picks: Fall reds

Kieran Fanning, wine director, Farmer’s Apprentice and Grapes & Soda

“Autumn has always been a time for wine. Whether it’s thinking forward for what this vintage will become, or trying to remember what pairs with turkey stuffing (Gamay Noir… always Gamay Noir), here are a few B.C. reds which I see in my recycling bin more often than my cellar this time of year…

Daydreamer is one of my favourite new Naramata wineries. Helmed by Australian master of wine Marcus Ansems, all their wines show astonishing quality and balance—and sell out very quickly as a result. Try to get your hands (and mouth) on their 2015 Jasper, a blend of 72% Merlot and 18% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has both aromatic depth, and an impressive freshness for being based on a grape associated with ‘jamminess’ and Paul Giamati rants. Their ‘Amelia’ Syrah/Viognier blend is another favourite, with the new 2016 vintage being released very soon.

“In the meantime, pick up a bottle of the Kanazawa ‘Raku’. Another Syrah/Viognier blend (an astonishing 18% Viognier!), this wine has the smoked-meat-and-violets calling card of the great French Syrahs, with the body and weight of your favourite new-world Shiraz. Pair with Scrabble.

“On the lighter spectrum, I can never say enough about Gamay Noir. As with Riesling, it is a wine that works with an absurd multitude of flavours, and is easy-going and lightweight enough not to demand food at all! It also happens to be quite cheap. Reach for the ever-brilliant Blue Mountain or Pentage expressions for some true B.C. benchmarks.

“As no list of B.C. red wines would be complete without a Cabernet Franc: get up, go to the store, and immediately purchase Orofino’s 2016 Pozza Vineyard Cab Franc. Orofino has been steadily producing some of the best wines in the Similkameen Valley, and this bottling displays their predilection for more natural productioneschewing filtration, new oak and having undergone ‘wild’ fermentation.”


5. That time we got ‘hard for Chard’

Is there a more maligned grape out there than Chardonnay? Despised by many thanks to the long shadow cast by those overly buttery vanilla ‘n’ oak bombs from the late ’80s and ’90s, pouting and pulling a face, bleating that you ‘hate Chardonnay’ is essentially a dick move. Think about it: champagne is made from Chardonnay! Chablis, one of the world’s finest Burgundy wines is, you guessed it, 100% Chardonnay! Maybe it’s time to quit hating and start getting just a little bit ‘hard for chard’.

We gathered a small panel of expert hospitality industry pro-drinkers and brown bagged 21 different B.C. Chardonnays (no peeking) and worked our way through them to bring you our 10 favourites. The criteria were simple: we marked on flavour, balance and its essential ‘crushability’ value.

New Vancouver arrival Laure Hobein, a sommelier from Paris who’s now at Boulevard, was amazed by B.C.’s sheer variety, saying that “…some B.C. Chardonnay are definitely on the Burgundy-style and some are more in the New World-style; more powerful on the fruit and sometimes on the oak.”

The whole panel was amazed by the winner, with many not even knowing about the winery, so step forward Indigenous World Winery for their top scoring 2016 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, winner of the inaugural B.C. Wine 101 Best of Chardonnay! We thought this was the perfect food wine, a great California-style with good acidity, pretty fruit and great balance.

Liquidity was probably our favourite ‘most crushable’ patio wine, and Checkmate’s Queen’s Taken got applause for being an iconic B.C.-style Chardonnay. Congrats to the top 10, and a huge thank you to Forage for hosting us!

  1. Indigenous World Winery Single Estate Chardonnay, $29.99
  2. Mount Boucherie 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, $30
  3. Liquidity 2015 Chardonnay Estate, $26
  4. CheckMate 2013 Queens Taken, $125
  5. Misconduct 2015 Chardonnay, $25
  6. See Ya Later Ranch Chardonnay 2016, $17.49
  7. Nk’Mip WInemaker’s Chardonnay 2015, $17.49
  8. Haywire Secrest Mountain Chardonnay 2016, $24.90
  9. Tantalus 2015, $26
  10. Summerhill 2015, $27.99


6. Focus on Naramata Bench

The poster child for the Okanagan has to be Penticton with its lake, beaches and softly sloping hillside lined with vines on the Naramata Bench. I’ve always loved that some of the Naramata Bench’s three dozen or so wineries are within walking distance from Penticton’s town centre, and that you pack in visiting a few without clocking up the miles. You’ll find plenty of delicious crisp sparkling wine on the Bench, along with some great Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Merlot. Throughout summer there are plenty of places to eat and stay right on the Bench, and it’s bookended by the gorgeous Naramata Village at one end and Penticton with its kick-ass Saturday market, terrific restaurants and cool bars and brew pubs at the other. Here are my top picks…

Joie Farm Winery

Winemaker Heidi Noble runs a tight ship up at Joie and after a refurb this summer it’s become one of the more popular places on the Bench to hang out and enjoy a tasting in the orchard garden over fresh-baked pizza or ice-cream sandwiches from Picnique.
Don’t miss: The 2016 Plein de Vie Brut ($19), a terrific pink Prosecco-like sparkler that’s pure strawberries, fizz and herbs; and the 2016 Noble Blend ($24), possibly one of the best wines to pair with Thai or Indian food with its fruity zingy aromatic notes of grapefruit, lychee and juicy peaches.

Bench 1775

Head over to the Patio Bistro for superb seasonal treats with one of the best views on the Bench to pair with Val Tait’s sensational wines. Best known for their Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Bench 1775 also has a raft of excellent icewines too that just beg to be snapped up for dinners throughout fall and winter.
Don’t miss: The 2013 Cabernet Franc ($27.90). This is stunning, it recently won the Best Cab Franc in B.C. at the Best of Varietal awards and it’s a heavenly glass of leathery and mellow fruit; and the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($24.90). Cling doggedly to summer with this lemony-gooseberry stormer.


I’ve raved about Jay Drysdale’s bubble-mania before, so of course, Bella’s a must-visit when you’re on the Bench. The only solely sparkling winemaker in B.C., and one of the province’s natural non-interventionist winemaking pioneers, Jay makes single vineyard Chardonnay and Gamay Noir sparklers, and really nothing will give you a better sense of taste and place than his wines. Infuriatingly almost all their wine is sold out this year already, but there are still:
Keremeos Chardonnay ($15). I love that they are doing half bottles of this, perfect to pop on a Wednesday night when you can’t commit to crushing a whole bottle alone but still want bubble; and Chardonnay West Side Reserve ($55). It spends 42 months on the lees, with fruit from a single vineyard and has a fine mousse and heady biscuity aroma. Splurge and pop!

Lake Breeze

Winner of the 2016 Best Small Winery in Canada, winemaker Garron Elmes is making some cracking wines at truly excellent prices at Lake Breeze. With an Ocean Wise and sustainable menu at The Patio restaurant, and a friendly helpful tasting room team, this is a definitely one to visit.
Don’t miss: The 2016 Spice Jar ($18.90). I’m crazy about this aromatic blend of Gewürztraminer, Ehrenfelser, Viognier and Schönberger all exotic ripe fruit, and perfectly balanced joy in a glass; and the Bench Bubble ($20). This could be sold out, but if you can find it, bag a bottle (or two, or three?) immediately as it’s a totally easy-drinking frizzante-style bubble made with aromatic Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris.

Poplar Grove

Super-swanky winery and restaurant, Poplar Grove is where to go if you want the high-end Naramata experience. Gregarious owner Tony Holler’s 9500-square-foot, state-of-the-art winery is designed to showcase the dazzling lake and sloping hill views to their best effect and wowdoes it ever do that! And it’s not just about good looks and fancy settings, there’s plenty of superb wines to back up this 100 per cent estate-grown winery too.
Don’t miss: The 2016 Pinot Gris ($20). Terrific value for this Double Gold Best in Class white which is contradictorily crisp yet slightly buttery with a zingy zesty fruity finish; and the 2013 Cabernet Franc ($39.90). Splurge! It’s so worth it for this voluptuous, velvety dark berry dreamboat that spent 20 months in French oak and made me long for steak to pair with it.


I’ll be honest, I never gave this determinedly cheap-and-cheerful brand a second thought but man, was I wrong! Made with grapes from Poplar Grove which weren’t considered to be the right fit for certain blends, Monster makes wildly drinkable wines for under $20.
Don’t miss: Riesling ($18). Gorgeous bright lemon-petrol and apricot notes that could easily come from a wine three times the price; and the Merlot 2014 ($19.90). I was shocked by how silky and velvety this fruity Merlot is with cherry and chocolate notes. Again: a stunning price, if you’re worried about the label, just decant it and pretend it’s from its sister winery(!).


7. Sommelier picks: Fall whites

Kelcie Jones, Sommelier, Chambar

“Unlike thirst-quenching summer whites, I look for more texture and structure in white wines to pair with heartier root vegetables, soups and roasts for the fall. Weightier grape varieties rule for autumn menus and rainy days. Chardonnay and Semillon are two good examples of fuller-bodied grape varieties that you can find in spades here in B.C.

“Though it’s safe to say I’d drink anything Matt Sherlock puts his name behind, the Lock & Worth Semillon is textural and fleshy enough to stand up to roast potatoes or golden beets, but bright and stony enough to keep it interesting. It can be tough to find around town, but we do pour it by the glass at Chambar. If not, look for their Sauvignon/Semillon blend if you want a fruitier pep in your step.

“On an industrial-seeming stretch of road in Summerland (you might have to squint to see TH Wine’s tasting room sign), but make your way inside and find the Viognier! Though it’s an intensely aromatic grape, it has weight and structure to hold its own with cheese plates and charcuterie.

“Pét-Nat (or pétillant-naturel en Français, which refers to one long fermentation of sparkling wine) is the on the tip of everyone’s tongue lately, but Jay and Wendy Drysdale have been quietly turning out brilliant bubbles at Bella on the tip of North Naramata for the past five years. Their single-vineyard expressions of Ancestrale Chardonnay are fresh and flirty but serious enough to enjoy throughout a meal. For Chardonnay without the fizz, I can’t get enough of Little Farm’s Pied de Cuve. It’s full of crunchy stone fruit, flinty minerality, and a touch of nuttiness. Straight delicious!

“Finally, though I usually try and steer people toward other grapes (Pinot Gris gets all the love! Somebody else needs a turn…) Roche’s version of Pinot Gris isn’t what their Canadian neighbours have taught you to expect from the grape. I can’t help but love their round, peachy style of Pinot that is more reminiscent of a spicy Alsatian style than an Italian Pinot Grigio. It’s delicious with everything from herb pasta to roast chicken and rocket salad. Forget what you think you know about PG and pop a bottle!”


8. 10 Wines to Drink Right Now

  1. Arrowleaf First Crush White ($15) Look for this on lists around town at happy hour. It’s a delicious bright peach-lemon blend of Pinot Gris, Bacchus and Auxerrois.
  2. Liber rosé ($22) Keep that #RoseAllDay jam going with this 100% Merlot rosé from this small organic Similkameen winery which tastes like crisp strawberry jam and pairs incredibly well with peaches and goat cheese.
  3. Haywire Narrative XC Hard to track down by the bottle, but It’s on tap at Tap & Barrel for just $9 a glass, so you can try this crisp charmat method sparkler of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay right now.
  4. 2016 Mission Hill Viognier Terroir collection ($25) Basically the reason you needed to join Mission Hill’s wine club, this is a spectacular peachy dream, like inhaling summer in an Okanagan vineyard, only available to club members or from the winery.
  5. Township 7 Blanc ($18) Yes! So good. Crisp, aromatic fruit salad in a glass with this floral blend of Gewürtraminer and Pinot Gris.
  6. 2013 Fitz Brut ($32.99) This beautiful crisp brioche-y bubble is made in the traditional method and just bagged a gold medal at the 2017 Wine Align awards. Perfect for celebrations.
  7. Synchromesh 2016 Bob Hancock Riesling ($26) Soft and gentle acidity with just a whisper of petrol in this terrific Riesling with sweet apricots, peaches and apple blossom.
  8. Le Vieux Pin Syrah Oh my! So soft and beautiful and aromatic. I love this velvety red, which is available for $15 a glass at Botanist Restaurant.
  9. Vin Amité Chanson d’Amour ($21.90) A floral and oh-so-pretty blend of Pinot Gris, Orange Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay from this little family-owned winery in Oliver.
  10. Robin Ridge Gamay ($23.90) I’m crazy about this plummy and oak-y, but light and bright fruity red from the South Similkameen; bag a few bottles now in time for Thanksgiving. Perfect turkey wine.


9. Meet the maker

Bench 1775’s G.M. and winemaker is Val Tait. Currently in her seventh vintage there, Val loves to experiment with small-lot wines and makes everything from sparkling to icewine.

What’s your go-to patio wine?
Tightrope Wines’s Tip Toe blend of Gewürtraminer, Riesling and Viognier is so delicious and refreshing. Or really, anything crisp, dry and with layered complexity like a dry rosé, maybe our Malbec-based Glow rosé?! Malbec-based jlow rosé

What food and wine myth would you like to dispel?
Pair casual food—think pizza, a quick omelette or burgers—with your best collectable! It’s not a stamp collection to be looked at; drink your best wines on your most normal days. If I’m not drinking our best of B.C. Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc, I would love to have Poplar Grove’s Cab Franc which is just bursting with fruit and lots of complex flavours to pair with pizza or burgers.

What should we be drinking in fall 2017?
The bounty of awesome 100 per cent B.C. wines from family-owned wineries, like anything from Bella Winery, because who doesn’t love bubbles anytime! Hillside Winery’s Pinot Gris, and Moon Curser’s Syrah.

What should we be drinking from Bench 1775, and why?
Our small-lot specialty wines that reflect the best and unique wines which express our vineyard sites, like our Malbec Nouveau done in a Beaujolais style or our 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which is rich, dark, and fruity perfect for cozying up on those cold winter nights!