BC Wine 101: Fall 2023 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

Welcome to the fall edition of BC Wine 101! As I write this, there are only an alarmingly few weeks before the holidays, and although we’re not quite deep in PNW rain season yet, it’s looming on the horizon. Brighten your days with some delicious B.C. wines and start planning your holiday shopping list with these top picks.

Here are a few dozen to check out as recommended by sommeliers and myself. Happy drinking!

1. B.C. wine: Use it or lose it

Last summer, I drank wine with friends and enjoyed live music as we snacked on charcuterie boards. The adults took turns escorting the kids on an organic farm tour, and I did a shift watching them whoop with delight bouncing on a giant inflatable. Summer season at Covert Farm is well-known to every parent in the Okanagan for its commitment to family-friendly fun, and to wine geeks for its commitment to sustainable viticulture and regenerative farming—and for me, for their terrific fruit-forward Pinot Blanc.

Alas, this past season was its last, and Shelly and Gene recently announced that they will no longer be offering visitor experiences. The estate will continue to produce their wines, for purchase online and at restaurants and retailers, but this is just one of the many changes that’s happening across the Valley. Crop loss after the devastating cold of last winter is around 60 percent and after a terrible tourist season this summer, more of your favourite wineries are going to close.

In short: use it or lose it. If you love small owner-run wineries, then support them right now. Join a wine club or two yourself, or buy memberships as holiday gifts. If you’re in charge of corporate gifting, go for the little places who are losing their minds right now, wondering how the heck they will keep the doors open. In short: be the cheerleader that B.C. wine needs right now, please, so that there is a still a local wine industry in the years to come that’s still bubbling with smaller producers as well as the huge conglomerates.

2. Treat yo self: Three bubbles to drink right now

It’s always a good time to open a bottle of sparkling, and here are the three that I’m loving right now.

  • Fitz Brut 2018 $34.50: I absolutely adore the bubble on this. Bags of lemon meringue on the palate and a super persistent fizz. This is a crowd-pleasing traditional method B.C. sparkler that’s made with 100 percent estate-grown fruit.
  • Moon Curser 2021 Eclipse $34.99: I was absolutely convinced that this crisp, aromatic smasher of a sparkler was for wine-club members only, so imagine my delight when I just checked and yes, it looks like you can buy it online (honestly, it would be worth joining the club to enjoy it anyhow). This is a terrific traditional method bubble made with a rather less traditional Roussanne and Marsanne blend. Yes, please.
  • Time Chronos Brut $34.99: This crisp Granny Smith apple-and-lime-zest blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir has a gorgeous bread-y nose and a lovely zippy finish. Devour with chips, French fries, friends or solo. It pairs perfectly with all of that.

3. Ask a sommelier: Fall reds

Meet Shawn Jones from The Jungle Room

“As the days grow shorter and the nights get a bit colder, I find myself craving red wines a little more often than usual. In fall, red wines can be versatile and super-fun. I like pairing high-acid, lighter-bodied reds with fall favourites like squash and turkey, all the way to fuller reds with roasts and braised meats.

“I always think that sparkling reds are one of the most versatile food wines available. The Whispering Horse 2022 Adorn is no exception. This wine is made in the traditional method; it’s made with 100 percent Dornfelder grapes from Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley and fermented in stainless steel on the lees for 30 months. It has beautiful aromas of raspberry, red currant and pomegranate. On the palate, it has flavours of red apples, juicy red berries, and citrus. I love this wine with pizza, pasta and pretty much anything you want to cook.

“The 2022 Liquorice Daddy from Rigour & Whimsey in Osoyoos is hands down a winner. The label was even designed by the owner’s son and is named after a dance that he made up. It’s 100 percent cabernet franc and aged for four months in French oak. The nose has juicy red fruits, like raspberry as well as notes of red liquorice. The palate is juicy, earthy and has notes of raspberry, cherry cola and chocolate. I would drink this wine with spaghetti pomodoro, aged cheeses and roasted duck.

“The Keenan & Zoe Whole Berry Pinot Noir is from the winemakers’ Juno Block in Summerland. It’s a fun, grippy, fruity, zero-zero wine (no added yeast or sulfur). The nose is lively with aromas of cranberry, red plums and spices.The palate has cherry, nutmeg, cola, slate, Swedish berry gummies, and well-balanced acidity. This wine pairs really well with our roasted chicken taliwang and cashew curry sauce.”

4. Raise a glass to my new favourite fall whites

  • Fairview Cellars 2022 Sauvignon Blanc $26.90: I tasted this with a couple of winemakers, and we were all swooning over its heavenly nose! Grassy, juicy gooseberries and a lovely rich mouthfeel. This is terrific. Hurrah for the new owner-winemaker over at Fairview Cellars. Danielle has a wonderfully delicate touch and everything that I’ve tasted from them so far is so, so good.
  • Culmina 2020 Dilemma $38: Classy oak! Peaches and cream nose. Oh my gosh, I know I raved about last year’s vintage too, but seriously, if you love plush, sexy rich Chard, then you’ll pop your cork for this one. (I am fighting to not make a super-lame it’s-no-dilemma-to-buy-this joke. See. I didn’t do it.)
  • Hester Creek 2022 Semillon: $23.99: I went on a little bit of a journey with this as when I first opened it, I did not like it. But, I do love Semillon and I always enjoy Hester Creek, so I left it to breathe for 30 minutes, and wow, am I glad I did. First, this wine loves cheddar, so make sure you have something mature to pair with it, and then enjoy the intriguing jasmine tea note on the nose of this herbaceous-citrusy Sem.

5. Ask a somm: Fall whites

Meet Mike Cooke from Wildlight Kitchen + Bar

“Fall calls for richer and heavier wines—no more rosé and crisp dry whites. I look for wines like the Roche Pinot Gris with less stirring and oak treatment. This wine is bursting with orchard fruit pear and lemon blossom.

“I also love the Le Vieux Pin ‘Ava’  (Viognier, Roussane, Marsanne), a Rhone-style wine that can be described as voluptuous, rich and structured. From canned peaches, grapefruit rind and yellow plums to beautifully toasted cereal notes and honey-drizzled grilled brioche, I love this 2021 vintage and all the other many back vintages kept at Wildlight Kitchen + Bar.

“Another fall favourite of mine is the Checkmate Attack Chardonnay 2018. It has hints of vanilla, toast and nutmeg, which pretty much sums up this little bad boy. I have always admired all of Checkmate winery’s impressive portfolio. With this chardonnay I love the fatness, density and persistent length of the finish. The wine’s structure is fresh with a backbone of great minerality, representing the terroir. When it cools down outside, I always love warming up to this one.”

6. Gather ’round the fire for my new favourite fall reds

  • Township 7, 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon $33.97: There’s something pleasingly festive and figgy on the nose of this entry-level Cab with a blend of fruit from Oliver and Osoyoos, and there are lovely floral violets, too. I’d definitely decant it, as there’s a gentle greenness there, but leave to unwind and it’s a happy match with spicy meats and blue cheeses. I spotted that they have magnums of the 2019 vintage for $86.97 on the website and honestly, if you’ve never shown up for a dinner party with a magnum, now’s the last time to do that. That’s a terrific price and who doesn’t want to look like a total baller?
  • Horseshoe Found 2019 Pinot Noir $22: I could not believe the price of this single vineyard, low-intervention wine from a lovely micro-winery in Cawston in the Similkameen Valley. Cherries. Raspberries. Mushrooms. Super silky! It’s a terrific price so think about stocking up with a case for the holidays. So good!
  • Orofino 2021 Red bridge Red $27.65: Another well-priced winner from Cawston, with fruity blueberries and juicy black cherries on the nose and then soft, pretty, well-integrated tannins on the palate with a hit of cocoa and that characteristic Similkameen Valley wet-pebble minerality. Love it!

7. Meet the maker

Celebrating their 20th vintage at their beautiful strawbale winery in Cawston, meet Orofino’s co-owner and winemaker, John Weber

What should we be drinking this fall?
There are so many good B.C. wine options to reach for. I immediately start thinking about B.C. syrah and all the great examples of what our region does with this grape. It’s a star varietal but comes with so much risk to plant and grow. Pair a Le Vieux Pin Cuvee Violette or an Old Vines Syrah from Nichol with something braised and it’s magic. Another stellar option for fall is the classy Sauv-Sem blend Capella from our neighbours Clos du Soleil. Buy three and hold a couple back for three to four years. So good!

What food and wine myth would you like to dispel?
Word on the street is that aged wines are better with food, but many wine drinkers actually prefer the fresh, fruity taste of young wines to the earthy, more mature older styles. The best advice is get to know what you like about each varietal and then go with that. Fresh and fruity riesling can be just as sublime with food as a slatey, petrol-nosed 10-year-old riesling.

What to drink from Orofino right now:
Cool weather makes us want to lean into bigger reds and our Beleza 2020 (Bordeux blend) is a terrific choice for Sunday dinners and late-night sips—classic Similkameen dust and stone with an elegance. It’s great now or cellar for 10 years and share with your closest friends and family.

Our newly released Syrah 2021 showcases just why we love syrah here in the Similkameen—it’s big and rich but soft and cuddly, a perfect fall wine.

And if I can give a nod to one more Orofino wine, I’d mention our 2022 Crossroads Vineyard Riesling. It’s such a perfect balance of acid and sweetness with concentrated flavours of tropical and citrus. Blink and the bottle is empty!