BC Wine 101: Summer 2020

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

As I write this, the sun is out, vineyards are buzzing with workers, and grapes are slowly growing and ripening in the lazy heat. It’s another summer in the Valley, and yet, it’s so obviously not just another summer. Things are different here this year as wineries and tasting rooms deal with the fall out of COVID and try to work out what the ‘new normal’ will be.

Along with recommendations from sommeliers, my wine picks for the season and a great interview from Ursa Major’s Rajen Toor, I’ve invited the B.C. Wine Institute to share some insights on what you can expect when you visit wine country this year.

I’d like to add to this and echo Dr Henry: be kind. I’m seeing some incredibly disappointing posts online from wineries sharing that visitors have been rude to their staff. Folks, we’re in this together; we have to be kind, be patient and be safe. Or no drinking for you!


1. This season I’m drinking

I’ve tried some wonderful new-to-me wines over the past few weeks and also the new vintages of some old favourites too. Here’s what I think you should be drinking this summer.

  • Indigenous World Winery, 2017 Chardonnay—I uncorked this beauty on a cool summer night and sat under the stars, nibbling runny brie and toasted walnuts and savouring this creamy, buttery marvel. Swirl it and a beautiful bouquet of stewed pears floats up from the glass with a soft lemony finish. Heaven.
  • Hester Creek, 2019 Trebbiano—This is just so totally different from any other wine in the Okanagan! Bury your nose in the glass and imagine you’re on vacation somewhere hot—juicy papaya, an acidic hit of lime zest, then something tropical and totally delicious on the finish.
  • Quails Gate, 2019 Dry Riesling—The perfect foil for grilled chicken (crispy skin on and eating with your fingers, please!) this tastes like crisp Granny Smith apples with a zippy acidity. Just wonderful!
  • Calliope, 2019 Figure 8—A sister brand to the marvellous Burrowing Owl, this entry-level label has some excellent affordable wines, such as their aromatic white blend. Chill this baby off then dive into a fresh, bright blend of Pinot Gris, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc with bags of peachy-pears and lemon notes. Just gorgeous. Pssst: it’s pronounced ‘kah-lie-OH-pee’
  • Vanessa, 2019 Rosé—A fabulous ballet-slipper pink colour, this Syrah-Merlot blend is exactly how I want a rosé to taste: savoury, a little redolent of the wild sage which grows in the Similkameen and bursting with zippy grapefruit, crushed strawberries and raspberries. Terrific!
  • Gratitude 2019, Pinot Blanc—There’s plenty to be thankful about here with this splendidly smashable Pinot Blanc from the fine folks at the Okanagan Crush Pad who’ve collaborated on this with Jaks Liquor Store. Think super aromatic apricots, guava, fresh juicy pineapple. It’s only available at Jaks so head on over and get some!
  • Lang Vineyards, 2018 Viognier—We’re gonna check out some amazing Rhône varieties next edition, so get into the mood with this superb Viognier from Lang on the Naramata Bench. Bursting with white peach, bananas and almonds on the nose, the palate is all juicy apricot and fresh fruit salad. Just excellent!
  • La Frenz, 2018 Vivant—I took one sip and sighed with pure delight. This ticks all my boxes: almonds, something wonderfully chalky and mineral-y, and a bright vanilla-baking spice finish.
  • Fitzpatrick Winery, 2019 Unwind Ehrenfelser—Do you love fresh fruit salads? Do you enjoy drinking super crushable icy cold wines that scream ‘more please’? Well, say hello to this beauty. I adore Ehrenfelser; it’s a total hot tub smasher/patio crusher and this one is especially terrific. Hats off all round and bag a bottle now.


2. B.C. Wine Institute: What to expect when you visit

“B.C. wineries are reopening across the province with new and elevated winery experiences that ensure the health and safety of their staff, the community and you. While the processes may have changed, the people, the wine and the beautiful landscapes that envelop B.C. wine country have not. Before you visit B.C. wineries, please take the time to check winery websites and the Wines of BC Explorer app for the latest updates and hours of operation. In compliance with WorkSafeBC and the Provincial Health Officer, wineries are now implementing some of the following health and safety measures: ?

  • Tastings by appointment ?
  • Group bookings of six people or less ?
  • Physical-distancing guide markers ?
  • Hand sanitizers made available ?
  • Increased sanitization of customer-contact surfaces and objects ?
  • Staff commitment to increased hygiene ?Individual spittoons ?
  • Requesting that staff and visitors with flu-like symptoms stay home 

The BC Wine Institute’s Wines of BC Explorer app covers over 300 wineries and more than 5,000 wines and is the ultimate guide to exciting local activities such as elevated tastings, picnics on the terrace, and more. Download the Wines of BC Explorer app to help you plan your trip and #DiscoverWhatYouLove this summer all while supporting local wineries. For winery and hospitality best practice guidelines visit WineBC”.


3. Four kick-ass bubbles to pop

  • Stags Hollow, 2019 Muscat FrizzanteOh hello, brand new brunch bubble favourite! This is such a gorgeous wine: white flowers and guava on the nose with a peachy-honeysuckle finish and a little spritz of fizz.
  • Mission Hill Reserve BrutThis is a mouthwatering, super drinkable blend of Pinot noir and Chardonnay with a beautiful light bubbly mousse and lashings of mandarin oranges, lemons and hard, crisp pears on the palate. I adored this, and at $23.49, it’s a pretty great price too.
  • Township 7, 2017 PolarisI could not get the cork out of this. I tried and tried for 10 minutes before giving up, grabbing a kitchen knife and in frustration, sabering the bottle over my deck. I’m so glad I did! Super fine bubbles, crisp green apples, brioche and papayas on the palate. I love that I have a new B.C. bubble to whip out at celebrations.
  • Narrative, 2019 XC Sparkling Oh, yes! There’s something savoury and salty about this Charmat-method sparkling Pinot Blanc (made like a cava). Pale pink with a crushed papaya and pineapple palate, this has a nice acidity and zippy fine bubbles.


4. Sommelier Recommendations

We’ve got something a little different this month! Combined recommendations, as two of the best sommeliers in the business: Bryant Mao, wine director at Hawksworth Restaurant and Lisa Haley, sommelier at St. Lawrence restaurant are also life partners. Here’s what Bryant and Lisa are recommending you drink this summer. 

Bryant recommends

Syrah!  I think Syrah does really well throughout the Okanagan. In the right hands, it really shines here. The best versions are reminiscent of Rhone Valley Syrahsand could easily be mistaken for a Côtes du Rhône. They are bright with signature B.C. brambly fruit, and a good freshness without becoming jammy like some other new-world Syrahs. B.C. Syrahs are a perfect match for summer barbecue. The wines are full-bodied enough to hold up to any BBQ red meat and the smokiness and peppery notes that are found in almost all B.C. Syrahs are a natural match for food cooked over fire.

  • My favourites are Winemaker’s Cut Syrah 2018Medium-bodied, dead ringer for Côtes du Rhône with red fruit and peppery spice.
  • Le Vieux Pin La Violette Cuvee Violette 2018A B.C. classic. Dark fruit, earthiness. A freshness to cut through even the richest BBQ steak.
  • Nichol Vineyards Syrah 2018From the oldest Syrah vines in B.C. Hallmark B.C. brightness with lighter fruit. Save this for your poultry or pork.

Lisa recommends

Pinot Gris is a grape I have traditionally avoided in B.C.; I found most versions to be too ripe and too boozy. Enter the islands. The climate is cooler, and it suits Pinot Gris just fine. There are some lively Pinot Grigio-styles being produced as well as classic French-style Pinot Gris (it’s the same grape). I love them all and they all deserve a spot in your summer wine bucket.

  • Averill Creek Pinot Grigio 2019I was so excited to taste this! Crisp and bright with lots of lime zest and a hint of buttercream. This is not watery Pinot Grigio. Pair this Vancouver Island beauty with BBQ prawns or a zingy salad.
  • Kutatas Pinot Gris 2019This is the best B.C. Pinot Gris I’ve ever tasted. Period. It’s medium-bodied with orange blossom, white pepper and a touch of nutmeg. Pair with buttered scallops or a rich cheese plate. Salt Spring Island really delivers here.
  • Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2018—The Okanagan exception. The Mavety family makes delicious Pinot Gris. This has a great mouthfeel: citrus, biscuit and the fresh herbs we expect from the Okanagan. It’s a perennial favourite for a reason and one of the first B.C. wines I ever tried. This is my choice for a patio-sipper.


5. I’m super into these six reds right now

  • Burrowing Owl, 2017 Cabernet FrancTake a sip.. and hear angels sing and see lights sparkle! This has just the silkiest mouthfeel, and it’s all spiced plums, cedar wood and blackcurrants on the nose. Totally brilliant.
  • Clos du Soleil, 2016 CelestialeThis smells beautifully of a fresh morning forest and ripe blackberries. It has a luscious, silky mouthfeel with beautifully integrated tannins and then more rich blackberries and fresh raspberries.
  • Cedar Creek, 2017 Platinum Block 2—I drank this with my friend who took one sip and solemnly pronounced: ‘pie crust’—and yes! That’s exactly what this tastes like: a creamy pie crust bright with cherries.
  • Sperling Vineyards 2017, Old Vines Foch ReserveI wanted to bury my nose in this wine and never, ever leave: leather, blackberries, sarsaparilla. It smells reassuringly pricey and giddily grown-up. Super smooth on the palate, this is wonderful with all grilled meats and plays well with charcuterie and cheese plates too.
  • Time 2017 McWatters MeritageGently oaky, crushed black cherries and blackcurrants; I adore this softly silky, voluptuous wine.
  • Moraine, 2018 Pinot NoirI whooped when I tasted this and bellowed: “This tastes like Cherryade!” I adore a Pinot like this: so bright and fresh and pretty. Chill it off a little and enjoy right now!


6. Meet the maker

I first encountered Ursa Major Estate Winery last year and loved absolutely everything about themfrom their super cool stripped-down labels to the fresh, bright beautiful wine inside. And I’m not the only one. Their 2016 Syrah won gold and platinum last year at the prestigious Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada. So, meet owner and winemaker Rajen Toor (who is also assistant winemaker at Desert Hills).

What’s your go-to patio wine?
This year, it’s been Anthony Buchanan’s Ancestral Method Sparkling. It’s got this really fresh stone-fruit minerality that makes it a winner for pretty much every occasion. And anything by Bella really; this year the skin ferment Chardonnay PetNat was a standout. 

What food and wine myth would you like to dispel?
There are certain rules that apply to wine and food pairings, but honestly, eat whatever you want with whatever you want. If it’s enjoyable to you, then what does it matter if you’re breaking some rules?

What should we be drinking this summer?
This summer, you should be drinking the new series we’ve done at Desert Hills, Flora + Fauna! There’s an Amber Gewürtzraminer, Sur Lie Pinot Gris and Ancestral method Bubbles. Tropical, refreshing, zesty Else Wine‘s Muscat on Skins and Le Vieux Pin‘s Ava is always a classic go-to.

What should we be drinking from Ursa Major this summer?
You should be drinking our Folks Get Down in the Sunshine. It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, skin-fermented Muscat, skin-fermented Viognier and Chardonnay. It’s textured, refreshing, zesty, complex, sightly nutty and incredibly easy to drink a whole bottle to yourself. And the accompanying playlist on the back label should set the mood just right for a summer evening.