B.C. Wine 101: Winter 2018 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

The fireside snuggle-bug yin to the decadent sunshine patio yang, winter wine-drinking brings its own pleasures. From sommelier-recommended reds and whites for the season to tackling the thorny topic of just why exactly B.C. wine is so pricey, and the great B.C. Pinot Noir battle where 25 bottles throw down in a blind tastingwe have everything to guide you through until spring.

Read on for 10 reasons to indulge in B.C. wine this winter…

1. All the newsy news

Fun wine club idea: Liquidity in Okanagan Falls has launched the Equity Tasting Club apparently the first of its kind in Canada. It’s $75 a year to join, and you need to commit to purchasing 18 bottles a year, for which you receive a heap of tempting privileges, including 10 per cent off at the Liquidity Bistro, free tickets to member events and this super fun tasting-at-home idea: three wines in 200 ml mini bottles twice a year so you can try before you buy. (They come in adorable packaging too!)

Mission Hill is hosting a series of cooking classes from January through March covering everything from healthy cooking to Californian-style dining to Indian cuisine. The three-hour workshops are $99 per person and, of course, each course comes paired with wine!

Early bird tickets have gone on sale for one of the most fun events in the summer: the BC Chef Meets Grape Taste of the Okanagan extravaganza. It features more than 40 wineries, wine education seminars, chef demos and plenty of tasty food stations, so bag your tickets now!

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th with talented chef Aman Dosanj a.k.a. the Paisley Notebook, four other women chefs and four wineries. Proceeds will be going to the CMHA and Slow Food. For more details and tickets, contact aman@paisleynotebook.com. Last year’s event sold out in two days, tickets are $165 with a five-course meal and wine pairings at this year’s host venue, Tantalus. Last year raised $7,709.82 with 39 guests. This year, there are 52 seats and wineries include le Vieux Pin, Tantalus, Moraine and Roche.

2. Ask a sommelier for winter reds

Filippo Bevilacqua, Wine Director/Sommelier, The Victor at Parq Vancouver

“This season is about pairing wine with food that warms the soul, so save delicate varietals for the spring. Let’s address the elephant in the room: Merlot. A varietal that many are afraid to invite to dinner—much like that one uncle at Thanksgiving with unforgiving and often sideways political views—Merlot has seen a resurgence, thanks in part to the recent distinction as Top Wine of 2017 by Wine Spectator. I love Merlot, as it is often lush and fruit-forward but has nice tannin structure to cut through heartier dishes. CheckMate‘s Endgame Merlot (v.2013) has a rich, fruity palate with a lengthy finish of savoury eucalyptus and root beer notes. I’m also a fan of Lock & Worth‘s unfiltered and unrefined Merlot (v.2016); this single vineyard wine is light- to medium-bodied with an amazing nose of savoury herbs and fleshy plums.

“I also greatly enjoy Portfolio (v.2014), the Okanagan Bordeaux blend from Laughing Stock Vineyards: baked blackberry, cassis and raspberry command the nose, which carries through to the palate, complimented by complex notes of forest, spice and tobacco. Burrowing Owl‘s Cabernet Franc (v.2014) has a delightful floral aroma accompanied by a palate of black fruits, white pepper and elevated acidity that would pleasantly contrast any hearty winter fare.

“Finally, as a Napa Valley alum, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore my favourite varietal—Pinot Noir. My B.C. go-to is the McLean Creek Road single vineyard pinot (v.2016) from Meyer Family Vineyards out of Okanagan Falls. Switching gears to lighter flavours, you’ll find tart bing cherries and cranberry aromas with a rustic palate reminiscent of Chianti Classico. Mission Hill‘s Estate Pinot Noir (v.2016) is your classic example of great Okanagan Pinot Noirs: cherry cola, strawberries and raspberries, what’s not to love? Pinot Noir is the perfect wine for leaner winter fare, or for seafood dishes. These wines are no-brainers for duck, pork and, surprisingly, sushi.”

3. Check out all the cool events

February 24th to March 4th: Wine Fest! Wine Fest! Yes, obviously, it’s all about Wine Fest! Get tickets and then go nuts at Canada’s most amazing celebration of wine.

March 10th: Ski or board all day, then sip all night at the Verticals and Vintages celebration at Apex Mountain Resort with wines from the Naramata Bench and delicious tapas and chefs’ specialty creations served by Gunbarrel‘s gourmet kitchen.

February 2nd & 3rd: Gold Medal Plates Culinary Championships (pictured) is one of the most difficult challenges a chef can put herself through. The grand finale takes place in Kelowna with two tough days and nights of wine pairings, black box competitions, cocktail receptions, music and fun.

March 3rd: The one-night eating, drinking, socializing favourite Amuse Kelowna, formerly Devour, is back to wow in an all-new form for 2018!

January 12th to 20th: Sun Peaks is knocking it out of the park with another packed calendar of fun events at the annual Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival. There are tickets still available for some events, including the Progressive Tasting with some 30 different wineries and the Taste of Sun Peaks wine and food celebration.

4. The great B.C. Pinot Noir battle

Although famously tricky to grow, B.C.’s cool-climate take on Pinot Noir is a thing of elegant beauty. There’s even an annual celebration of the variety—and there’s a terrific piece about that and the grape here by Anthony Gismondi—and so the question is: which B.C. Pinot Noir should we be drinking?

I pulled together a crack team of pro wine tasters and then brown-bagged 25 different B.C. Pinot Noirs to find our top 10 favourites. This was very hotly contested with four ties on points and plenty of discussion! Congrats to all, and thanks to all the wineries who sent wines in for the tasting.

1. Carson
“Love it! Clean and bright. Alive with lots of sour cherry and juicy acidity. Slightly smoky.

2. 50th Parallel 2015
“Freshness with a cool, darker mouth feel. Hits the palate so elegantly! Cherry, good spice and balance with well integrated tannins. No overwhelming fruit.”

3. Quails’ Gate
“Fallen leaves and a rich garnet colour. Typically Pinot Noir, totally uncomplicated and a crowd-pleaser.”

4. Tantalus
Bright, fresh, silky, fantastic! A good finish. A party in your mouth! Spiced plum. Unique.”

5. Kitsch
“Sultry! Violets. Great without food too. Earthy, sweet perfume. Stewed fruit. Cherries on a country farm drive.”

6. Upper Bench
“Bright red berries. Cinnamon hint. A denser texture. Plummy spice complex heat at the end. Dried and fresh minerality with integrated oak.”

7. Noble Ridge
“Sweet cherry, definitely one to have with food. Tannic but velvety.”

8. Tightrope
“Dried herbs. Oak spice. Cherry and cinnamon. A pleasingly ‘slippery’ mouthfeel, works best with food; velvety and very consumer friendly.”

9. Roche
“On-the-nose, intense funk and mushrooms; swirl and be rewarded by bright, rich cherry. More of an old world, Burgundian style  and a good intro to a different Pinot style in the Valley.”

10. TH Wines
“Light, dry, fun. Cherries! Delicate perfume. Dried rose hips and a light herbal nose; not a typical Pinot, but just delicious!”

5. Seven sensational whites to drink right now

1. Indigenous World Wine Viognier 2016, $21.99
Peach! Peach! Peach! With a whoosh of Parma violets on the nose. Close your eyes and drink your way back into summer.

2. Sumac Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $13.99
This snuck up on me. Basically, do not serve too chilled. Let it warm up a little to reveal juicy, ripe peach and pineapple on the nose and a gorgeous easy-drinking sipper that’s great with grilled salmon or snacking on a creamy Beddis blue cheese.

3. Road 13 Roussanne 2015, $25.22
I loved this Okanagan take on the Rhone classic; all smoky with peach and apricots, but it’s sold out! Waggghhh! My recommendation? Bag some when they release the 2016.

4. Meyer McLean Creek Chardonnay, $33
Oh my. A sleek, mineral, Chablis-style Chardonnay with zippy, lemony acidity and what? A kind of banana-popsicle vibe too? Crazy. Delicious. Crazy-delicious. If you’re in an ‘anything goes’ mood, this is a great way to go.

5. Meyer Gewürztraminer, $18
I had no idea these guys made anything but Chard and Pinot Noir but, holy moly, this is good! Have it at room temperature to enjoy the silky tropical fruit vibe. Stupidly good with chicken dumpling soup. A true crowd-pleaser for a great price.

6. Haywire Freeform White 2015, $29.90
Love the insanely detailed notes from when they picked and where, to who made it. Then wow! Pure juicy guava! Smooth, crisp and delicious, just like eating fresh, juicy fruit. This is a zero-intervention wine and a great place to start for those who are alarmed by the idea of ‘natural’ wines.

7. The View Well Heeled White 2015, $25.95
Think Icewine is too sweet, but like the idea of a dessert wine? Give this fortified wine a whirl; it’s an aromatic Gewürtzraminer/Riesling blend that’s honeyed without being syrupy.

6. Why is B.C. wine so expensive?

We all love drinking local, right? But what’s with B.C. wine costing so much? On behalf of everyone who’s grumbled about wine prices to me in this column, that’s the question I put to Christine Coletta, co-owner of Okanagan Crush Pad. Spoiler alert: it’s not ’cause winery folks are sitting in hot tubs filled with $100 bills, Scrooge McDuck-style…

“The biggest factor in B.C. wine costs is cost of land; think about Vancouver West Side housing prices, the land in the Okanagan that is suitable for grapes is the equivalent of that. The vineyard space in the Okanagan is on benches on either side of the lake up and down the valley, it’s a thin band of land—it can’t expand.

“The next factor is that we are small! Of all the wineries, there are only two that sell over a million cases annually: Arterra and Peller, the majority make under 1500 cases each year. Wineries—like Bella, Lock & Worth and TH Wines—have to spread their costs over a very small base. There’s an impact to that on the scale of economy; there’s a higher cost of goods for everything you produce when you’re small.

“Every cost we have adds to the bottom line: we have to pay top dollar for our highly skilled winemakers and viticulturists and there just isn’t enough local talent to meet demand, so we have to attract international staff. Then there’s all the regulatory taxes, the grower levy, VQA, licensing, taxes, audits… and equipment, which mostly comes from Europe and is very expensive.

“Finally, the nature of business of a small winery is that we’re selling our wine one case at a time: we coordinate that sale, send it by courier, collect a cheque or pay 3 per cent on a credit card payment… which we have to process. The smaller you are, the more you have to do everything! There is no money to pay anyone: you are the delivery person, wine maker and so on. Everyone does everything. To make wine here is a labour of love.

“Are there cheap B.C. wines out there? Sure. There are cheap wines from bigger producers. They’ll be ‘commodity wines’ with various things added into them. Think of it like a cheap roasted chicken from the supermarket versus an organic, higher welfare one from Whole Foods. The difference might be $4 but, if you care, it’s worth it. It’s the same with wine; it may be more expensive, but you are getting the pure, real deal, made with care, thought, passion and good raw ingredients. B.C. will never have the economy of scale that other places have, but if you love local, love having a thriving industry in your backyard and love supporting those local farmers and being part of the unique stories behind each wine and winery, you can have that. We need your support!”

7. My eight kick-ass fireside reds

1. Fort Berens Red Gold 2015, $44.99
Probably one of the most memorable wines I’ve drunk in a while. I loved tasting the evolution of this over an evening: sipping, waiting, swirling and trying again a while later. WOW. It began all musty and mushroomy like a forest floor, but smooth and delicious with silky tannins. Olives, more forest, cherries and finally drunken raisins. Amazing!

2. Painted Rock Merlot 2013, $34.99
Just gorgeous: smooth, silky, a little vanilla, a gentle kiss of oak; black cherries and blackberries. Yes, it’s expensive but it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d break out for a night of fireside smooching if I wanted to impress.

3. Lang Marechal Foch 2015, $22
Decant this rich, dark, ruby-red wine and swirl by a fire, accompanied by a cheese plate. This is a slightly sweet, voluptuous end to a great night—kissing cousins to port but you get to enjoy in big glasses!

4. Clos du Soleil Signature 2014, $44.90
A delicious snapshot of the Similkameen, Clos’ flagship Bordeaux blend has deep cherry flavours and dances with a tiny hit of spice on the tip of your tongue.

5. Liquidity Dividend 2015, $30
Love the plum and dark berries on this velvety blend. Have with hearty chicken soup and creamy blue cheese for instant happy feelings.

6. Mt. Boucherie Zinfandel 2013 Reserve, $35
Not your Cali Zin! This heavenly, dark, rich, black-cherry coloured wine is all cardamom on the nose with a vanilla-pepper, silky-smooth finish. I tried this on a grey Thursday with spaghetti and tomato sauce; perfect! Sometimes things don’t need to be complicated. And the 2012 is currently on sale for $25 while stocks last.

7. Sandhill Cabernet Merlot 2014, $22
Decant, swirl and then swirl again. This baby needs to be oxygenated like mad! But once you’ve finished, you’ll be rewarded with dark cherries and a touch of toasty, grown-up oak and spice.

8. Nichol Cabernet Franc
One of the benchmarks for this varietal in B.C. and showcasing gloriously smooth, integrated tannins, this beautifully fruity baby is sold out now at the winery, but you can still track it down at a few private wine stores including Kits Wine Cellar and Liberty Granville Island. Best of all, you can try it by the glass at the Oakwood in Kits.

8. Ask a somm: Winter whites

Jenna Briscoe?, General Manager and Sommelier, Café Medina

“ABC: In the wine world, it typically stands for ‘Anything but Chardonnay’, though I think it should really mean ‘Always buy Chardonnay.’ While it’s true that there are some not-so-amazing examples out there, if you stick with Meyer McLean Creek Chardonnay or Little Farm Winery Pied de Cuve Chardonnay, you will not be disappointed. For a different take on Chardonnay, the gold standard for bubbles in B.C. is Blue Mountain. Their newly released Reserve Blanc des Blancs 2009 is made of 100 per cent Chardonnay.

“In the spirit of the new year, why not try something new! B.C. has some stellar wineries—just a short ferry ride away from Vancouver—that are growing interesting and lesser known grapes worth trying. In the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, Unsworth Vineyard’s Allegro is a 50/50 blend of Petit Milo and Sauvignette, while Blue Grouse’s ‘Siegerebbe’ (‘Victory Vine’) is made of 100 per cent Siegerebbe grapes which are a cross between Madeline Angevine and Gewürztraminer and make for a great aperitif-style wine. Over on Pender Island, Sea Star Winery’s Ortega, made of 100 percent Ortega grapes, is always a crowd-pleaser.

“Riesling is a great go-to at any time of year. It displays high acid for a refreshing hit as we (hopefully) head into spring or to get you through these rainy Vancouver nights. Its off-dry characteristic pairs well with spicy foods. Tantalus Old Vines Riesling and Syncromesh Storm Haven are ones I always recommend as an absolute must for anyone looking to try B.C. white wine.”

9. Focus on the Vancouver International Wine Festival

It’s the 40th annual Vancouver International Wine Festival this year, taking place from February 24th to March 4th and celebrating eight delicious days of wine and food. This year, the featured regions are Spain and Portugal, with some 177 wineries pouring more than 1,500 wines from 15 different countries at 51 different events. Among the hubbub at the exceptional Grand Tasting event, will be 24 wineries from B.C. A great opportunity to dive into some delicious B.C. wines and meet their makers!

I asked five wine fest pros how to get around and taste lots of different wines without A) making an idiot of yourself or B) having to leave on a stretcher.

1. Harry Hertscheg, Vancouver International Wine Festival
“Go to less-crowded tables. Don’t follow the crowds. This leads to more time tasting, discovering new wines and talking with principals.”

2. Jay Drysdale, Bella Wines
“If you’re nervous or new to wine, secretly stalk wine lovers who love to give tons of descriptors when tasting. It helps tune your palate. Just listen in at a tasting table and follow ’em around.”

3. Mireille Sauvé, The Wine Umbrella
“Talk to the winemakers. This is a great chance to ask questions. Where do the grapes come from? What was the oak treatment? How long will it age?“

4. Tim Pawsey, Hired Belly
“Spit. Spit. Spit. You’d be amazed how many people don’t know that. Or how to do it. Or think it’s gross.”

5. Sandra Oldfield, Elysian Projects
“Focus on something before going into the ‘big room’ like a country, a colour, a variety or anything else you are interested in.”

10. Meet the maker

Andrew Etsell, Singletree Winery, Abbotsford

What food and wine myth would you like to dispel?
That white wine is only for salads and seafood, and that you can only have red wine with meat dishes. My philosophy is that if you enjoy the wine and it tastes good with what you’re eating, drink it!

Tell me about Singletree wines and why we should be drinking them?
Singletree Winery is a fairly new winery in the Fraser Valley and we grow all of our white grapes right here. We also have some really fresh, crisp, fruit-forward white, and red grapes sourced from the Okanagan that are also amazing.

This year, we will be releasing our signature Siegerrebe, a very fresh, fruit-forward white, with amazing aromatics and a really nice fruity flavour in three different styles: well-fermented, still and sparkling. The naturally fermented pairs really well with goat cheese or savoury dishes. The still is good on its own, as well as with spicy food. As for the sparkling, we don’t know yet because we are still in the middle of production! Once we taste it, I’m assuming we will be great on its own, but it will be fun to see what pairs well with it.

Looking ahead to sunnier days, what’s your go-to patio wine?
The Sauvignon Blanc from Chaberton Estate Winery in the Fraser Valley and Haywire Winery’s Pinot Gris are two B.C. whites that I like to sip under the sun. If I have some smoked salmon with cream cheese on crostini, I like to pair that with a glass of Burrowing Owl Sauvignon Blanc. Then, when I want some effervescence in my glass, Gray Monk’s Odyssey sparkling is always a good choice.

What should we drink in summer 2018?
You can’t go wrong with anything from Rhys Pender’s Little Farm Winery. If you want something more specific, then Haywire’s Free Form from Summerland. The Pinot Noir from The Hatch is a good red if you want a red wine, but not something too heavy. Otherwise, any of Singletree’s fresh, crisp, fruit-forward white wines are good to sip on their own.