BC Wine Country Tours 2012 – Naramata Bench Wineries

Well, although the weather has yet to really cooperate, summer is almost here and for many that could mean a trip to BC wine country. Today I will kick off a series of blogs on the different wine regions, with my “short list” of wineries to visit and wines to try.

The format I will use will be consistent all the way through — a short intro on the location, and then my top five wineries to visit (and the wines to taste there). The rationale for choosing just five is in recognition that people may not have the time — or interest — to spend more than a day in any one region. With five wineries, you could do them all and still have time for a nice lunch and dinner!

To begin, what I think is the best wine region in BC — the Naramata Bench!


The Naramata Bench is located above Lake Okanagan and can be easily reached from Penticton. It is literally 5 minutes from downtown Penticton, so can be done by car or bike (although the hills are pretty steep, so be careful). If taking your car, make sure your gas tank is at least half full, as there are no gas stations in Naramata. There is also a “wine bus” service out of Penticton that I haven’t tried but may be worth checking out. And if you get hungry for lunch or dinner, a number of the wineries have restaurants cafes. although my personal recommendation is the Naramata Inn and Spa. Great California/French style food, reasonable prices and perhaps the best BC wine list in the province (and that includes Vancouver). A beautiful outdoor patio as well for when the weather warms up.

1. La Frenz

Anyone familiar with this blog knows my view that La Frenz is far and way the best overall winery in B.C. Year in, year out — both for value and quality — Jeff and Niva Martin do a fabulous job with fruit forward wines that are, frankly, under priced given the quality.

For red wines, La Frenz makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in BC — period. Made in a California/Aussie style with super ripe but not jammy black fruit, lovely vanilla and touches of licorice and mint, they drink well on release but can age as well (with the Cab great at 5 years old). And as for price? Well, at $28 and $26, respectively, they aren’t cheap but compared to others in BC and California/Australia, you get way more wine for the price.

Other reds to consider are the Grand Total Reserve (their Boardeaux blend), Montage (a Shiraz/Merlot/Cab mix), and Reserve Pinot Noir. All are excellent examples of their varietals and gorgeous wines to drink.

The whites at La Frenz may be even stronger than the reds! Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viogner — all are the best in BC and, at $20 – $22, ridiculous values! My personal favourites are the Riesling and the Semillon; jus try to find this quality anywhere else in the world!

Finally, don’t miss out on the Rose and a trio of sweet wines — NV Muscat, NV Tawny Port and Vintage Port. The Rose is also the best in BC, often made of Syrah and just a touch sweet. Meant for summer, it is one you can drink all night on the deck or patio.

The prices and availability of these wines is as follows:
* 2010 Merlot ($26) – currenlty available
* 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) – July 2012
* 2009 Grand Total Reserve ($40) – July 2012
* 2010 Montage ($22) – July 2012
* 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir ($32) – July 2102
* 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) – currently available
* 2011 Semillon ($20) – currently available
* 2011 Riesling ($20) – currently available
* 2011 Viognier ($22) – currently avilable
* 2011 Rose ($18) – July 2012

2. Nichol Vineyards

Most of Ross Hackworth’s wines at Nichol are good, but he makes one great wine — Syrah!

He has the oldest Syrah vines in BC and makes a true French (read – Northern Rhone) style wine that is full of pepper, earth, black fruit and, as it ages, meaty/smoky aromas. And it does age — I have had this wine at age 10 and it is fabulous, a dead ringer for a mid-weight Crozes-Hermitage. At $35 it isn’t cheap, but when French or California versions of this kind of wine sell for $40 and up (and I mean way up!), it is actually a bargain.

The other wine he makes that is worth tasting and buying is his Pinot Gris. It is what is called a “true Gris”, meaning he leaves the skins on this white wine to impart colour, which can range from pink to orange depending on the vintage. But it is crisp, bone dry and –at $22 — cost competitive.

Current prices and availability of these wines are:
* 2010 Pinot Gris ($22) – currently available
* 2009 Syrah ($35) – currently available

3. Kettle Valley

Kettle Valley makes a number of good wines, but for me they are the Pinot Noir specialists. In particular, their Reserve and Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noirs always compete with Blue Mountain’s Reserve for the best in BC. The Kettle Valley Reserve Pinot is California in style, with lots of super ripe red cherry fruit, along with a touch of earth, vanilla and spice. The Hayman is even more special – as close to Burgundy as you will get in BC (or anywhere else). Ripe red fruit, yes, but the earth, spice and mushroom overtones are amazing! And it ages…I have had them at 10 years old and it is like a Premier Cru Burgundy! Priced at $38 they certainly aren’t cheap, but what amazing wines!

Other red wines of interest include the regular Pinot Noir, the Merlot (a very fruit forward wine) and the Extra 4079, which is made of Marechal Foch. .

For whites, I like the Chardonnay, but don’t have a lot of experience with the rest.

The prices and availability of these wines is as follows:
• 2008 Hayman Vineyard Noir ($38) – currently limited availability
• 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir ($38) – currently available
• 2009 Pinot Noir ($26.00) – released late summer
• 2008 Merlot ($26.00) – currently available
• 2009 Extra 4079 ($26.00) – currently available
• 2011 Chardonnay ($22.00) – currently available

4. Marichel Vineyards

A relative newcomer to Naramata, Richard Roskell at Marichel is known for his Syrah and Viognier. I really like the Syrah, which is super ripe and an interesting cross between France and Australia – more ripe and full bodied than the French but just short of being a jammy Shiraz from Aus. At $40 it is pushing the price point a bit, but there is no denying the quality. Richard also makes a Syrah/Viognier blend called “Deep Roots” that is lighter but still very ripe, and for less than $20 it is a good deal.

There are two Viogniers – the Estate and Raisin d’Etre – and both made in the French style. Look for that classic fruit cocktail of fruit aromas and flavours, medium body and a bone dry finish.

The prices and availability of these wines is as follows:
• 2008 Syrah ($40) – currently available
• 2010 Deep Roots Syrah ($19.99) – currently available
• 2010 Estate Viognier ($24.95) – currently available
• 2010 Raisin d’Etre Viognier ($19.99) – currently available

5. Howling Bluff

The other relative newcomer on his list, Howling Bluff has made a name for itself in the last few years mostly with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

The former wine won a coveted Lieutenant Governor’s award for the 2009 vintage and it is a beautiful Cali/Burgundy clone – ripe cherry fruit, earth, spice and surprising tannins. At $35 it isn’t cheap, but the quality is very good.

The Sauvignon Blanc has a bit of Semillon with it and at $20 is more price competitive. Dry, not a lot of wood, it is gorgeously fruity but also crisp.

The prices and availability of these wines is as follows:
• 2011 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon ($20) – currently available
• 20010 Pinot Noir ($35) – currently available

That’s five from Naramata! Look next week for a review of where to go in Oliver area.




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