BC Wine 101: 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

After a winter that really didn’t want to release us from its clutches, it’s so good to say that sunshine days and long sunset nights are finally here! In B.C. wine country, tasting rooms are fully open for the season and it’s time to start making your plans to come visit.

New this year, the BC Wine Institute is offering a BC Wine Country Explorer Pass which comes preloaded with 30 redemptions to use at the 54 participating wineries offering everything from discounts on wine, free tastings, and even complimentary cheese and meat platters.

Pour yourself a glass of something delicious and read on for all you need to know about B.C. wine this season…


1. Check out all the cool events

Wine country will be visiting Whistler this summer with the Savour the Sun series of winemaker dinners at Nita Lake Lodge. Wineries include Road 13, River Stone and Covert Farms, pairing four courses of farm-fresh deliciousness from Nita Lake Lodge’s executive chef James Olberg with beautiful wines from Oliver Osoyoos.

Join Laughing Stock’s winemaker Nikki Callaway on June 14th at the Great Estates Wine Experience Centre in Penticton on a journey exploring different Merlot sites through the South Okanagan. You’ll taste four different barrel samples from four different vineyards from the Naramata Bench to Osoyoos. Learn about the importance of terroir and why that ‘sense of place’ has such an impact on what’s in your glass.

Quails’ Gate’s Dinner in the Vineyard series is back every Wednesday and Thursday from June 26th to August 29th. On offer, a four-course farm-to-vineyard long-table dinner, all perfectly paired with their award-winning wines.


2. Eight whites to enjoy right now

  1. Indigenous World Winery Chardonnay 2017, $29.99: This comes from a single vineyard in Cawston, and holy moly, it’s good! With baked apples, butter crisp, and that signature Similkameen mineral crispness at the end, this is your new favourite Chard!
  2. Pentage Pinot Gris 2017, $20: Held back for a year to perfectly integrate in the bottle, this beauty has a super long finish with lemon meringue and honeydew melon. Love it!
  3. Stags Hollow Blanc de Noirs 2018, $25: A gorgeous golden-coloured blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, this is an incredibly lush and voluptuous wine. Creamy and elegant with a little spice, this was apparently a fun harvest project, but please, please make more!
  4. Rôche Arome 2018, $18.90: Schoenberger grapes make for the most joyful fresh floral wines! This one has a juicy peach-and-papaya nose. It pairs perfectly with Parmesan and black pepper popcorn on a cool spring evening.
  5. Forbidden Fruit Organic Riesling 2018, $22: 100 percent organic grapes from the Okanagan and Similkameen give gorgeous crisp green apples on the nose and a silky, plush mouthfeel.
  6. Vanessa Viognier 2018, $24.99: Oh yes! I know I love the Syrah from the talented team at Vanessa, but this super peachy and lush Viognier could easily become my new favourite wine. With a nice long, bright mouth-watering finish, this just begs to be eaten with buttery shrimp or BBQ lobster.
  7. Quails Gate Chardonnay 2017, $22.99: You know what loves salt and vinegar chips? This bad boy. Your perfect Thursday night Chard, this is round and peachy with good bright acidity. I may have accidentally drank most of this in one solo sitting… #DangerouslyCrushable
  8. Fort Berens Camels White 2018, $15.99: A tasty blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat Ottonel, this is a terrific price and has a fresh, beautiful peachy pretty nose. I loved the silky mouthfeel of this wine. A true patio-sipper.


3. Opening alert

The long-anticipated new restaurant, Home Block at CedarCreek Estate Winery is finally open with ex-Vancouver culinary star, chef Neil Taylor (Espana, Fat Badger, Cibo) at the helm. Named for the Home Block Vineyard that surrounds the winery with gorgeous views over the lakes, vines and valley, this looks like an instant slam-dunk. I’m heading there to check it out next week and am already drooling over delights such as wood-grilled endive and radicchio, as well as stinging nettles and Gorgonzola risotto.


4. Somm recomends: B.C. spring reds

Joshua Carlson, wine director of both Provence Marinaside and TWB-The Wine Bar

“It’s always a wonderful task finding a suitable spring red, one that can be sipped on the patio, near the barbecue or with a lightly seasoned piece of fish. We’re incredibly fortunate in British Columbia with the abundance of exceptional wineries that produce fresh and bright, ready-to-drink accessible red wines.

“I’m really excited by a new urban winery in Kelowna called Ricco Bambino. They buy their grapes from different growers and work with Matt Dumayne at Okanagan Crush Pad who does the winemaking. Their Grenache is a few shades above a rosé and it has bright cherry notes, with a crunchy texture and a fresh clean finish. It’s a great wine to drink while eating burgers in the backyard, but could definitely be enjoyed anywhere at any time.

“From the Similkameen Valley, Orofino Vineyards is focusing on wine that not only expresses the grape, but also the vineyard and the region. The Celentano Vineyard Gamay is dangerously gulp-able. It’s juicy and fresh with a lot of fruit before showing a little spicy and earthy. Serve it a little chilled with some chicken or duck.

“While Synchromesh Wines is mostly known for its high quality Rieslings, wine maker Alan Dickinson is producing the prettiest little Cab Franc from Cachola Family Vineyards. It’s fresh and vibrant, light-bodied and easy drinking—perfect with a grilled steak and green vegetables.”


5. Fresh picks: Ten new-to-me wines that you gotta try this year!

  1. Lakeside Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2018, $17.97: From a brand-new winery opening this summer in Osoyoos, I love this bright white! It has a gorgeous round mouthfeel that stays crisp and pretty on the palate. Such a beautiful complex wine.
  2. Unsworth Allegro 2018, $25: You can try this super tasty blend of Vancouver Island grape varieties by the glass at Tap & Barrel at the Convention Centre. It’s got a gorgeous long finish and it’s wonderfully dry and bright.
  3. Phantom Creek Viognier 2017, $40: This year marks the first release of the South Okanagan’s first real mega-bucks wow-winery, Phantom Creek, a project some three years in the making which is set to open to the public hopefully later this year. Wine Align has a terrific story telling you everything you need to know and we’ll have more once they open—but in the meanwhile, treat yo’ self and bag this lush floral apricot beauty of a Viogner. So silky and pretty!
  4. Larch Hills Gewurtztraminer 2018, $15: This Salmon Arm winery is likely best known for its Ortega, but I totally fell for its complex fruity bubblegum-y-in-a-good-way Gew! You might be able to find it at Save On Foods, and look out for the delicious mineral-y roses-crabapple end. Such a cool wine!
  5. Intrigue Wines I Do 2016, $20: Super crushable, this sparkling Riesling is blended with three red varietals from Lake Country. It tastes deliciously of crushed strawberries and grapefruit and you can find it at Save On Foods!
  6. BC Wine Studio Siren’s Call Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2018, $22: Mmm… white flowers and a honeyed bright finish with a lovely touch of acidity. Bag a bottle of this winner from OK Falls at private liquor stores and serve chilled with BBQed seafood or just-shucked oysters.
  7. Backyard Wines Blanc de Noir NV, $34.95: Prepare to be wowed by this traditionally made bubble from the Fraser Valley as it’s a delight: lemony, crisp and beautiful fine bubbles. Yes, please! 100% Pinot Noir and available from Save On Foods.
  8. Liber Everyday Chardonnay 2018, $20: Oh my gosh, this is so much more delicious than their last vintage and I adore it! Much more structure, this is just a damn sexy Chard that I want to drink now, please.
  9. R & D by Culmina Red Blend, $23: Simply put, this is freaking amazing! Gorgeous colour and oh, the flavours! Deep, dark blackberries and something briny and very wonderful at the end. Mmm…
  10. Winemakers Cut Rosé 2018, $22: Well, this is exciting! I had thought that winemaker Michal Mosny was sticking to just Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, but no! He has this awesome rosé, an already sold-out Gruner Veltliner and a Pinot Noir this year too! This Cab Franc-Syrah rosé sings with crushed strawberries, creaminess and acidity. I want to drink this by a pool with all the chips!


6. Focus on… Oliver

Known as the wine capital of Canada thanks to its abundance of sun-soaked vineyards and more than 25 wineries, Oliver offers up plenty of wine touring fun in one of the warmest spots in Canada. Between sipping, sniffing and swirling in tasting rooms, balance your visit out with a hike along wildflower-sprigged bluffs breathing in the savoury scent of the wild grey sagebrush along the way, trout fishing on Vaseux or Tuc el Nuit Lakes, biking the 18.4km International Hike and Bike Trail along the Okanagan River, or just watching for golden eagles wheel overhead as California Bighorn sheep nimbly race up the hillside.

There are plenty of deservedly well-known wineries in Oliver—from Road 13 and Hester Creek to the excellent Tinhorn Creek and Burrowing Owl with their superb on-site restaurants, as well as sommelier darling Le Vieux Pin where talented winemaker Severine Pinte makes some of the best Syrah in B.C. However, there are even more wineries flying under the radar and here are my three picks for something new this season.

1. Rust Wine Co.

It’s easy to linger far too long on Rust’s sunny patio which has one of the best views of the Okanagan across the Back Sage Bench all the way to Osoyoos, tasting through their superb line up of single vineyard wines. I do like the philosophy here, showcasing crushable, drink-me-now wines as well as age-worthy reds with a focus on Syrah and Merlot. Geeks will love buying the full set of, say, Merlots, tasting the difference of terroir from the Similkameen to the Golden Mile. Everyone will love their zippy, fresh and floral Gewürtzaminer (serve it icy cold for a summery treat) and super sexy Gamay with its grown-up tobacco, bacon-and-pepper notes.

2. Platinum Bench

A winery with its own bakery? Yes, please! I love everything about Platinum Bench—from its gorgeous sun trap terrace with stunning views over the bluffs and vineyards where you can snack on charcuterie and cheese with their fresh-baked breads to its unpretentious welcoming belief that wine touring should just be about great wine, cheese, bread and kicking back. Head on over early to score that killer bread and try a wine and bread paired flight, or—do what I did with friends—and grab an Asiago cheese bread and a bottle of the gorgeous Mur-Fi white, a crisp blend of Viognier and Chardonnay, for an impromptu picnic outside their cute log cabin tasting room.

3. Here’s the Thing

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Here’s the Thing, a new solar-powered winery on the Black Sage Road with its funky stylish look, super-friendly welcome, and the most consistently delicious lineup of wines I’ve tried for a while—seriously everything from their rosé and Viognier to their Syrah and Gamay was outstanding! The brainchild of ex-VQA store owner Leah and her husband Jamie, put this little winery on your must-visit list.


7. Somm Recommeds: B.C. spring whites

Peter Sullivan, wine director, Forage

“I want to share my love for the entire Okanagan Valley, so I’ve chosen three separate regions to celebrate! First, West Kelowna: spring is the time we start hitting the patio with rosé and the Schlosser Family’s Niche Wine Co’s Pinot Noir Blanc reminds me of one from Provence thanks to its light peach colour and not-too-fruity style. Strawberry and peach on the nose, with farm-fresh strawberries and rhubarb on the palette, the finish has good acidity. Try it with Forage’s ‘Gemma’s’ Gem lettuce salad with lemon verbena dressing.

“Almost midway down the Valley on the plateau above Okanagan Falls, Stag’s Hollow Winery is a very special place. Fresh and lively, their Albariño always makes me think of travelling or experiencing something new… and spring is a time of renewal. Dry, with tropical fruit and citrus on the nose, there’s a little richness to this with ripe white peach, grapefruit, minerality on the finish and nice acidity. This baby goes great with freshly shucked Vancouver Island oysters or local spot prawns that are in season in the spring.

“Heading towards the South Okanagan, you’ll find the Bartier Bros. Black Sage Bench/Cerqueira Vineyard Sémillon. I felt an immediate connection with Michael Bartier when he sat at the bar and picked up a rock that was presented with the cheque (as we do at Forage). He launched into an explanation about the rock’s composition. I have always been fascinated by geology, especially how it impacts grapes, so he was speaking my language and his wine speaks of place: dry with lemon, a waxy lanolin on the nose. Lemon/stone fruit and herbs on the palate, again with good acidity. This one begs to be paired with Kootenay Alpindon cheese. Also, thinking of spring, the first of the season asparagus would pair nicely—and we all know that pairing with asparagus is a tough thing, so I share this recommendation to help you wow your wine geek friends with this pairing!”


8. Meet the Maker, Sarah Bain, winemaker Fitzpatick Family Vineyards

Sarah began working in the vineyards of Central Otago, New Zealand in 2004, and since then her career has been based mainly in New Zealand working with organic and biodynamic producers. After working vintages in California and Germany, she has now been the winemaker at Peachland’s Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards for almost three years.

What’s your go to patio wine?
Freeform Vin Gris made by Matt at Okanagan Crush Pad—organic Pinot Noir, pressed, fermented and aged in concrete tanks, it’s elegant, bright and tasty. A moreish drop to watch the sun go down over Skaha Lake… or a crisp Chardonnay like La Frenz Unoaked Chardonnay.

What food and wine myth would you like to dispel?
Chocolate and red wine. It has to be darkest of dark chocolate though, like 90 percent or more dark cacao goodness! Great with any of the Roche red wines, particularly Pinot Noir which is my favourite red varietal or Maverick’s Bush Vine Syrah.

What should we be drinking in spring 2019?
Riesling. Riesling all year round! Kitsch Dry Riesling. I love the team at Kitsch; they are doing some great work. Their dry Riesling is bright and refreshing for spring and beyond.  O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars’ Riesling is also a good one showing great minerality.

What should we be drinking from Fitz and why?
Being a traditional sparkling house, bubbles of course! My go-to at the moment is the 2014 Blanc de Blanc, which just won gold at the Decanter Wine Awards! However, the new Blanc de Noir is fast becoming a favourite. Both are crisp, dry and delicious.