Preview of the annual Naramata Bench Spring Release Tasting

The first big event of the BC wine season is next week, and very happy to have it in my home town of New Westminster! The Naramata Bench Spring Release Tasting offers the opportunity to taste some of the new releases from what I believe is the best part of BC’s wine country — the Naramata Bench, which is located above Lake Okanagan just outside of Penticton.

Full marks to all the wineries that are coming to pour their wines, which this year includes: Black Widow Winery, D’Angelo Estate Winery, Elephant Island, Orchard Wines
Hillside Estate Winery & Bistro, Kettle Valley Winery, La Frenz Winery
Lake Breeze Vineyards, Laughing Stock Vineyards, Misconduct Wine Co., Nichol Vineyard & Estate Winery, Poplar Grove Winery, Red Rooster Winery, Therapy Vineyards
Township 7, Vineyards & Winery and Van Westen Vineyards!

While I don’t know exactly what wines will be poured yet, I can unequivically recommend three wineries regardless of their offerings.

The first — and leading overall winery in BC, if not in Canada — is La Frenz. Whites, reds and rose, they do it all, both in terms of value and quality. Jeff and Niva Martin (orginally from Australia) have risen head and shoulders above everyone the last few years. For whites, they make the best Semillon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier — all for around $20 (which is outrageous, given the quality level). Their Rose is also usually the best in BC, especially when made from Syrah. It balances super ripe fruit with just the right amount of residual sweetness — adult soda pop for drinking on the balcony on a hot day (if we ever get that weather).

And reds? Well, the Martins are proponents of fruit forward red wines, including some of the best California-style Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Reserve Pinot Noir you will find (all for around $30, which is again a great value). Even their highest price wine — a Bordeaux blend called Grand Total Reserve — is great at about $40 (I wish real Bordeaux tasted that ripe and cost that little!). They also make great sweet wines, including Muscat, Tawny Port and a killer Vintage Port in the coolest half bottles.

The other two wineries I consider specialists. Even though they make good wines across the board, they stand out in my mind for what they do best. At Kettle Valley, that means Pinot Noir, and specifically their Reserve and Hayman Vineyard bottlings. More Burgundy than California in style (especially the Hayman, which is only made in very small quantities), they can age for 5 – 10 years. I have drunk the Hayman at 10 and been amazed — it is a dead ringer for Premier Cru Burgundy at about 1/3 to 1/4 the cost (about $40).

Last but not least is Nichol Vineyards, where Ross Hackworth makes the best Syrah in B.C. and Canada. Don’t just take my word for it — esteemed British wine critic Jancis Robinson said the same thing! This is real French-style Syrah — no jamminess or oak here, just deep purple colour, pepper, black cherries and a touch of licorice. Even more amazing, if you keep it for 6 – 8 years, it evolves into a wine that is exactly like a Crozes-Hermitage from the northern Cotes du Rhone (and at $32 about a fraction of the price!).

So there’s a primer for you! Tickets are still available for the event on April 24th at 6:30 at the River Market at Westminster Quay. You can get them at 604.521.7887 or 1.888.981.9886 or (website is



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