BC Wine 101: Holiday 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

Welcome to our festive edition of B.C. wine 101! Here you’ll find everything you need to fill your glass throughout the holiday season. We’ve got a great selection of holiday reds and whites for around $20, winter fun in wine country, sommelier recommendations and wines to blow the budget on. All that plus crowd-pleasing picks of bubbles and expert advice!

So have a fantastic time over the holidays, and don’t forget to treat your designated driver!


1. Bargain hunter: people-pleasing wines around $20

It’s the holidays, we’ve all over-spent but still want holiday cheer—don’t panic! There are plenty of excellent B.C. bargains out there to enjoy without busting your budget. I’ve got a few favourites, and I asked a group of B.C. wine lovers for their recommendations of any cheap, cheerful and crowd-pleasingly delicious reds and whites that may have passed under my radar.

There are plenty of killer whites around at great prices (and some good sales on at BC Liquor Stores until December 28th):

  • Mission Hill’s Reserve Chardonnay is a real winner.
  • Snap up Cedar Creek’s Estate Chardonnay and Riesling as they are both *chef’s kiss* absolutely great.
  • Wild Goose Gewürztraminer is wonderful at any time, but so good around the fire with a Thai or Indian curry.
  • For all-day snacking and sipping, I massively recommend Fitzpatrick’s Unwind Ehrenfelser (but don’t serve it too cold); Roche Wines Arôme; Upper Bench Estate Winery‘s Carte Blanche white blend; and Township 7’s Sauvignon Blanc (I’m not usually a SB fan, but this is terrific).

Sure, reds at a lower price are harder to find, but there are some excellent blends out there:

    • Monte Creek’s Hand Up Red pairs well with pretty much anything you throw at it, and I’m reliably told that their boxed wine is pretty tasty too.
    • Look out for Moraine’s Cliffhanger Red, a gorgeous soft and sunny Merlot-Malbec blend.
    • Lakeside Cellar’s Portage Red (absolutely outstanding for an inexpensive B.C. red)
    • Indigenous World Wine’s super crowd-pleasing Hee-Hee-Tel-Kin red
    • And  Hester Creek’s dangerously drinkable Character Red


2. Sommelier recommendations

Winner of the Best Sommelier of British Columbia competition 2019, Matthew Landry, general manager and beverage director of The Stable House Bistro in Vancouver recommends holiday whites to take you through the season.

“The weather has turned cold, you’ve switched to “functional fitness wear” and your problematic relatives have come to town—it must be Christmas. Here are my recommendations for some white wines of depth and texture, ballast to withstand the bullshit.

  • Rhone Blends—that is to say, Marsanne, Vigonier and Roussanne—are great options for white wines with a bit more body and roundness. As my teachers used to say about me, they’re “not too sharp” (though come to think of it, they might have meant something different). These grapes hail from France’s Rhone Valley but here in the Okanagan Valley, they thrive in the dry, semi-desert conditions. Look out for Terravista’s Figaro, a steal at $25.
  • If you’re looking for something a little more classic, Chardonnay is still king, of course. Don’t listen to those anything-but-Chardonnay folks at the office Christmas party, there’s no accounting for taste. Here in the cool northern reaches of Canada, Chardonnay retains enough acidity to keep it in balance. Look for Meyer Family Vineyards Chardonnay coming out of OK Falls.
  • Finally, let’s not forget Riesling, a grape as versatile and universally appropriate as Tom Hanks. You’re going to eat too much—that’s a given. Let the bracing acidity and touch of sweetness kiss you directly on the mouth. Kiss it back. Use tongue. It’s the holidays. There’s no judgement here. Syncromesh makes a great one, so does Martin’s Lane. The valley is chock-a-block full of great examples at all prices points.


3. Christmas in a glass

From brunch bubbles to slow-sippers over mince pies and Stilton, and my new favourite Chardonnay, here’s what’s gonna be in my glass over the holidays…

  • Cedar Creek Home Block, $24.99 Pop this baby on Christmas morning (or any other time!) to get all the holiday feels. This 100 percent Muscat bubble is bright and fresh and kinda orange-y like an instant mimosa. Crowd pleasing and super-more-ish.
  • Narrative Fortified, $44.90 This plummy Syrah-Merlot Port-style wine is so silky and redolent with holiday spices. I’m thinking fireside, Netflix and a box of chocolates.
  • Lightning Rock Chardonnay 2018 $30 My new favourite wild ferment (that means no commercial yeast is used) Chard from Summerland’s Lightning Rock is organically farmed with a phenomenal perfumed peachy nose and is completely wonderful. I can see this slipping down incredibly easily with a plate of cheese and crackers.
  • Heaven’s Gate Gamay 2018, $26 I love this smoky and bacon-y light 100 percent estate-grown red from Summerland’s Heaven’s Gate, it’s a little oaky with fresh cherries to balance things out and this is gonna be my go-to for any turkey-based shenanigans.
  • Volcanic Hills Bubbly Gewürztraminer, $19.99 I had friends over to help trim the tree and this super-floral, bright, easy sipper was the star.
  • And ’cause it’s the holidays, of course there are even more bubbles—and what better than sparkling wine, which tastes delicious and does good too from Dames Wine Brut, as each bottle sold helps fund food and wine education for women in B.C. This gorgeous fine apple-bright brioche-y bubble is the perfect pairing for a smoked salmon supper.


4. Ask the expert: winter in wine country

I asked Okanagan wine expert, Matt Wentzell (left) from Experience Wine Tours to tell us why winter is the best time to visit the Okanagan.

“Don’t tell anyone I let you in on this local’s secret, but winter is an amazing time to visit the Okanagan Valley. Tasting rooms are practically deserted in comparison to the summer months, and the employees in the tasting rooms are the full-time staffers who are truly knowledgeable and dedicated wine pros. And the best part is you get 100 percent of their attention. Want to feel festive? Wineries really go over the top when it comes to decking their halls; call up some friends and get ready to get festive! If you need to get some shopping done don’t forget that wine is a fantastic gift.

“And while you’re in the Valley, don’t forget there are plenty of awesome winter activities in the Okanagan. Go for a skate downtown in Kelowna at Stuart Park, afterwards you can celebrate how incredibly Canadian you are by grabbing a hot chocolate (or a craft beer). Come out for a few days and take advantage of our amazing ski hills; we’ve got the best snow around, and somehow wine tastes even better next to a roaring fire after a day on the slopes, especially if you let us take you there on an Experience Wine Tours’ shuttle!

“Take a cooking class up at Mission Hill Winery. They run all the time in their demonstration theatre and there are plenty of incredible themes to choose from, everything from Spanish cuisine to Ocean Wise seafood or Indian cuisine. The Winter Wine Festival up at Sun Peaks features some fabulous tastings and events—there are a couple of amazing wine and cheese parties with Canadian Cheese ambassador David Beaudoin that would not be smart to miss, and if you’re in Kelowna in the last half of January check out dine around; many of Kelowna’s best restaurants participate and offer a three-course menu at a great price.”


5. Treat yo’ self

‘Tis the season for giving and whether you splurge on someone you love or whether it’s a gloriously decadent act of self-care, here’s what I’d love to find under the tree (and in my cellar) this year…

  • Meyer Micro Cuvée 2017, $56.62 The first time I tried this I blindly handed over my credit card and tried not to think about what I’d done. If you love Chardonnay, this will knock your socks off. So. Damn. Good. It’s wine club only, but damn it, that’s only a 12-bottle-per-year commitment, so double down and treat yo’ self to membership to bag this.
  • Checkmate Fools Mate Chardonnay 2015, $80 It’s as though there are no edges at all in this wine; it’s buttery and velvety with a peachy lushness and clean mineral-y saltiness. Swirl, sniff, sip… sod the price, this is heaven. 
  • Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2016, $89.99 Almost certainly one of the very best Syrahs in Canada, let this be a gift to your cellar to open in a few years’ time to enjoy the accomplishments of winemaker Severine Pinte, whose violet scented Syrahs are the stuff of legend. 
  • Painted Rock Red Icon 2016. $54.99 Icon by name and deservedly iconic by reputation, this silky Bordeaux-blend from Okanagan Falls leads with Merlot and a whoosh of juicy blackberries-blackcurrants before opening up as you swirl into lush black cherries and a little cedar and spice.
  • Martin’s Lane Dehart Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, $100 Oh, my goodness. If ever a wine were to tempt doubters over to the joys of Pinot Noir, this would be it. Sure, it’s got a painfully high price point but damn it, don’t you deserve to splurge once in a while on organically farmed single vineyard expressions of the ‘heartache grape’? Swirl, sniff and swoon over this savoury cherry-scented beauty which ripens in your glass into something achingly sexy and silky with spiced cherry-berry notes.


6. Sommelier recommendations

Holiday reds with Martha McAvity, director of wine and beverage and Randy Chafe, sommelier from The Vancouver Club“With the holidays fast approaching, we start thinking about connecting with friends, old and new, colleagues, and family. These wines are always on the table at our Club, helping us say goodbye to the year gone past and looking forward to the new year fast approaching.

“Pinot Noir is the universal pairing for Christmas turkey and the Vancouver Club has been pouring Roche’s bright red for over a year now. With notes of sour cherry, tart cranberry and a hint of anise, this wine is pleasing on both the nose and palate. Located on the Naramata Bench, Roche’s Pinot pays homage to old-world style with a B.C. influence. It also pairs perfectly with seafood. We recommend it with our executive director of culinary, chef Ned Bell’s signature sablefish with cranberry and cauliflower.

“Andrew Windsor and Andrew Moon, the Andrews of Tinhorn have been experimenting with old-world techniques of whole cluster and native fermentation, using French oak—but you don’t need to know this—you need to know that the fresh cherry and spicy black pepper of their Tinhorn Creek Innovation series, whole Cluster Cabernet Franc will be a welcome addition to your holiday entertaining season. Try this wine with standing rib roast, duck cassoulet or with a selection of B.C. cheeses.

“We love the Legacy from Poplar Grove. This Bordeaux blend shows great restraint while showcasing classic French varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, just to name a few. Head winemaker Stefan Arnason blends this wine each vintage based on what Mother Nature allows. A truly iconic wine that will leave a Naramata Bench legacy, this a perfect pairing with winter braises, lamb, boeuf bourguignon and osso buco.”