Naramata on the River Tasting a Huge Success

The first major “BC wine” event of the year is really the Naramata Bench Spring Release. It sees a selection of the wineries located on the ‘bench’ above Lake Okanagan offering a selection of their upcoming wines for both the trade and public to taste.

This year’s event had one major difference – it moved from downtown Vancouver to the newly renovated River Market at the Quay in New Westminster. That change turned out to be a fantastic success (and not just because it was in my home town!). Close to 400 tickets were sold and everyone seemed to have a fabulous time – kudos to Trudy Van Dopp and company who put the whole thing on!

I went to both the trade and public events, which this year include 20 of the Naramata Bench wineries. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, my usual ‘stars’ were shining once again!

Leading the way was La Frenz. Jeff and Niva Martin showed once again why — at least in my opinion — theirs is the best overall winery not just in BC, but in Canada as well. And that is for quality and value!

Their 2011 whites are ridiculously good and significantly underpriced. They were pouring the Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier and…wow! The SB is a classic varietally, with fresh grasses and citrus on the nose, medium body, and tart (but ripe) grapefruit with nice, refreshing acidity.

The Riesling is made just a touch off dry in the German/Alsace style, although not heavy or cloying at all. Classic petrol and mineral aromas are followed by a smooth, lush, fruity wine. Of note is how this wine ages – I have kept past vintages for 5+ years and it just gets better!

Finally, the Viognier — and I bet Rhone producers in France would be afraid of this baby. One of the most aromatic of white wines, it has literally a fruit cocktail of aromas and flavours. Surprisingly big in body, it is also bone dry on the finish.

All three of these wines are the best made in BC each year and, amazingly, their prices stay the same — in the $20 – $24 range! As I said, ridiculous value (easily worth $10 a bottle more). I can’t wait for the Semillon, which is also one of my favourites.

Being early in the year, there were only two new reds — the ’10 Merlot and ’10 Reserve Pinot Noir (the latter for restaurants). But boy – what wines!

The Martins are clear leaders in producing fruit-forward red wines, which I love (and, since wine is made from fruit, is what it should taste like…but that’s another story…). The ’10 Merlot is, again, the best made in BC, with cherries, plums, a touch of vanilla (from the oak) and a bit of mint. It once again drinks very well now, but I suspect based on past vintages will age for 3 – 5 years easily. And at $26 — well, just try to find a California Merlot of this quality for that price!

The ’10 Reserve Pinot is also really good, a Cali/Burgundy style with sweet (meaning ripe) cherries, earth and spice components lovingly wrapped in a vanilla “velvet glove”. My experience is this wine also improves with a few years of age. And while it’s not cheap — at $32 — it is worth the price tag.

The other two stars at the tasting were Nichol and Kettle Valley. The former had the new vintage of its Pinot Gris, and the ’11 is very good once again. Almost pink in colour (from time on the skins), it is classic non-oaked Gris – bone dry, with citrus flavours and good acidity. A good value at $22.

The true star at Nichol, of course, is the Syrah. And while the ’10 had just been bottled (literally that morning, meaning it is 6 months away from release), the ’09 is in fabulous shape! Purple, with classic Rhone aromas and flavours of pepper, earth, meat and black cherries, there is virtually no oak and only ripe tannins. A 5 – 7 year wine, it is good value at $32.

Finally, Kettle Value, and first some disappointing news. Stop the presses – there will be no ’09 Hayman or Reserve Pinot Noirs! The explanation was a ‘mixing error’. The only upside is that all the fruit will go to make the regular 2009 Pinot Noir, with no price increase! At $26, this could turn out to be the red wine bargain of the year when it is released

I did taste the ’08 Reserve and regular Pinots, however, and both are in great shape, particular the former! Classic Cali style — with ripe red cherries, vanilla and earth, very ripe but not candied or jammy at all.

So all in all, a great event, and the great producers continued to lead the way. I can’t wait to get up to Naramata this summer to taste the more of the reds and see I can find some new stars to look at!



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