I had a great three day trip last week through the Okanagan’s different wine zones – tasted plenty of good wine, made some new friends and generated lots of future blog ideas!

To start, however, I will share what I found new or interesting from the trip:

1. Tasting Room Charges

First off, more and more tasting rooms are starting to charge a fee to taste – anywhere from $2 – $20 at Black Hills – with most waving that fee if you buy a bottle or two. Now, I don’t have a real problem with that, as the wineries must go through a lot of “free” wine. But you should be aware that if you go to taste, bring some cash with you.

2. Signage – and Hospitality – are top notch

I have tasted wine in many different places, and I have to say that the Okanagan ranks right up there in terms of both signage and hospitality. I used Google maps to plan my trip, but really didn’t need to, as the road signs were great and made it easy to find the wineries I was looking for. Similarly, the people working in the tasting rooms were all very friendly, regardless of whether you were a neophyte or serious “wine dweeb”. All this bodes well for the industry!

3. Price – it keeps going up!

While some winemakers are holding the line on price, others are raising theirs and putting out “premium” wines. I saw way too many above $40, including a couple listed for $80!! (which weren’t available to taste, of course).

This is a real problem and is something that a number of winemakers cited as an issue. Are these wines selling and, if they are, just who is buying them? I heard the answer “tourists”, but with our dollar being so close to the US and the economy being fragile, I’m not sure. Plus, I have yet to taste a Canadian wine over $40 that is as good as what you can get from Australia, the Rhone Valley or Spain for the same price. This one remains a mystery to me.

4. More Great Places to Eat…and Drink Wine

I was only there for a couple of dinners, so couldn’t try that many places, but the options for fine dining and drinking are increasing in Naramata and Osoyoos. The Naramata Inn and Spa continues to have the best BC wine list I know of, and their food is top notch as well. Sitting on their patio on a warm night, sipping Rose…well, it doesn’t get any better than that. And in addition to the increasing number of wineries with their own bistros, I went to Sol, in the Holiday Inn in Osoyoos, which had good food and an amazing wine list of its own that was ridiculously low priced ($10 above retail!!).

5. “Big Red Wine Syndrome” is still there

I mentioned a year or so ago this phenomenon out there in which many winemakers seem to see the need to make super tannic, woody and herbal red wines (perhaps modeled after Bordeaux). This, I also don’t get. I certainly admit to not liking this style of wine, so am biased. But if you can’t find the fruit in a wine when it is young, how is it still going to be there when the tannins mellow out?

6. Pinot Noir and Syrah are BC’s best red wines

Whether it is the soil, location, or climactic conditions, the wines I found were the best in all regions were made from Syrah or Pinot Noir. For the former, there are lots of examples in all regions that are full of black fruit and pepper, which are the classic flavours of the wine when it is made in the Rhone Valley in France. Pinot Noir is less consistent because of the use (or should I say overuse) of oak, but when treated the right way, there were some stunning Pinots as well.

7. Cabernet and Merlot continue to struggle

Aside from a very small number of wineries (like industry leader La Frenz and relative newcomer Cassini Cellars), the classic Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc continue to struggle. Tannic, woody, herbal, unripe – take your pick in the description, but most are not enjoyable to taste or drink.

8. Whites are solid but not often spectacular

I tasted more good to very good white wines, but very few that I would consider great. Again, except for La Frenz, Cassini (one wine), Howling Bluff (again, one wine), nothing really blew me away. Now, this could just be a personal bias towards red wines. But I wonder…maybe ‘very good” is as good as it gets?

9. Port – everybody seems to be making one!

I tasted very nice Port-style wines at a number of wineries, and heard that a number more were planning to make them. This is an interesting development for people (like myself) who like this style of wine but won’t pay $80+++ for real Vintage Port (and then wait 20+ years for it to be ready to drink).

10. And the best wineries/wines are…

Based on what I tasted (and what came home with me!), here is a quick summary of what I thought was the best in the Okanagan (stay tuned for future blogs that go into more detail):

a) Naramata – La Frenz (virtually all their wines), Nichol (for Syrah), Kettle Valley (for Pinot Noir), Marichel (for Syrah), Hilliside (Syrah) and Howling Bluff (for Pinot Noir and Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc).
b) Oliver/Osoyoos – Church and State (Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Cassini Cellars (all their wines), Moon Curser (Syrah and Malbec), Burrowing Owl (Syrah)
c) Similkameen – Eau Vivre (Pinot Noir), Orofino (Sparkling Muscat and Syrah),

So there you go – my “top of mind” thoughts from the Summer 2012 wine tour. Stay tuned for more in depth blogs in the future.




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