Archive for May, 2013


May 22, 2013

With the May long weekend marking the unofficial start to the season — and most BC wineries now open for public tastings — I thought I would do a series of blogs on self-guided wine tours. I will start with my favourite region – Naramata!

Naramata – the isolated little conclave on the eastern side of Lake Okanagan – is an idyllic spot. Only five minutes outside of downtown Penticton, it seems like you are miles away from urbanity! It is also all about wine up there and, in my opinion, perhaps the best wine in B.C. (if not in Canada).

1. La Frenz

As you drive up the long, winding road into Naramata, the first place to stop is the best – La Frenz! Jeff and Niva Martin are from Australia and have been making great wine – that offers ridiculous value – since the mid-1990s. Having been tasting, drinking and cellaring their wines for over ten years now, I can confidently say the produce the best wines in Canada – red, white, rose and sweet. Their tasting room is small but nicely laid out, with a constantly changing selection of almost all their wines to try at a small cost (which is reimbursable with any purchase.

Tasting at La Frenz easy – just try everything that is offered! My favourite whites are the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Small Lots Riesling, Viognier – all easily the best in BC, and between $20 – $22 a bottle! The Reserve Chardonnay is also a beauty, like a baby Beringer Private Reserve. For reds, they have Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (again, the best in BC) as well as Shiraz, Malbec, and Pinot Noir (check out the Reserve…wow!). And don’t forget their Rose in the summer – an explosion of ripe strawberries and grapefruit – as well as three sweet wines (non-vintage Tawny Ports and Muscat, plus a Vintage Shiraz Port).

2. Hillside

The next winery I recommend for a short stop as you drive through Naramata is Hillside Estate. They have a nice tasting room as well as a bistro that is open for both lunch and dinner.

A full range of whites and reds are available for tasting at Hillside, with the standard small fee that is refunded if you buy anything. I recommend tasting the Gewurztraminer and Muscat Ottonel for the whites and the Syrah for the reds (the rest of the reds are made in more Bordeaux style).

3. Marichel

Marichel Vineyards is next up. Richard Roskell, the winemaker and proprietor, makes only Syrah and Viognier and has a small tasting room, but don’t let that fool you – these are artisanal wines well worth stopping to taste and buy.

Syrah and Viognier are the red and white offerings here, two versions of each (one more “serious” and the other less expensive and designed for immediate consumption). Both are Rhone style, although the Syrahs are fruitier than most in Naramata. The estate Syrah is particularly worth checking out – not cheap at $40, but a beautiful cross between Rhone and Australia!

4. Kettle Valley

This beautiful vineyard is at the bottom of a long, winding road that has a great view of the lake. The tasting room is about as minimalist as you can get – the back part of a house! But, once again, don’t let that fool you – Kettle Valley makes arguable the best Pinot Noir in B.C. (if not in Canada). And although you rarely get to taste their two best Pinots on site (because they are made in such small quantities), you can buy them directly from the winery’s website.

I stick to reds for tasting here…Pinot Noirs first, (whatever they have available to taste, and if they have the Hayman Vineyard or Reserve, well, enjoy! They are flagship Pinot Noirs for BC and Canada. I also like the Merlot, which is more fruit-forward than most, and they make an interesting Marechal Foch-based wine (Extra 4079) and a version of port called Caboose, both of which are worth tasting.

4. Howling Bluff

Another relative newcomer to the Naramata winescape, Howling Bluff burst on the scene a few years ago by winning a couple of prestigious Governor General awards for their Pinot Noir. It remains their best red wine, made in a cross between California and Burgundy with spicy cherry fruit.

There are now three whites – a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. All are very nice and great bargains at under $20. Another unpretentious tasting room in the back of their house, but amazing wines to be tasted.

5. Nichol Vineyards

Always the last stop in my Naramata trip, because it is the literally the last winery before
the road winds down into the town. Ross Hackworth purchased this winery from the Nichol family a number of years ago and – with it – the oldest Syrah vines in Canada (which is the reason I come to taste and buy every year!).

For whites, there are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris to taste, and both are worth it, especially the latter. It is made in a true “Gris” style, with the skins left on for a while so that the white wine ends up a shade of pink (how deep a shade depends on the year). But it is always bone dry.

With respect to reds, it all about Syrah for me. This is the best Syrah in Canada (don’t just take my word for it – British critic Jancis Robinson says so too!). Made in the classic Rhone style, it is nice young but after 4 – 5 years – well, it would embarrass many a Crozes-Hermitage, let me tell you!

6. Naramata Wine Restaurants

If you want to stop for dinner in Naramata (either after a day of tasting or a drive up from nearby Penticton), definitely check out the Naramata Inn and Spa restaurant. It may have the best BC wine list in the province, including some hard to find bottles (like the Kettle Valley Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir and Nichol Syrah Reservare) and the prices are very reasonable. The food is very good to – California/French, served either inside or on a beautiful patio.

So if you are in Penticton or the area, head up to Naramata for the afternoon and taste some of the best wine in BC…and Canada!



May 10, 2013

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and while my Mom passed away long ago, I think about her every day…and the wines she might want to have with a special brunch, lunch or dinner! So here are a few for your consideration – bubbles, pink, white and red!


It’s hard to go wrong with sparkling wine for any meal on Mother’s Day (even breakfast, if you mix in a little fruit juice!). For those on a budget, my “go to” wine remains the Segura Viudas Non Vintage Brut. This classic Spanish cava is full of crisp, green apples while still completely dry. And it is a bargain at about $16. For a BC version, the best remains Blue Mountain’s Non Vintage Brut or Brut Rose. At $24.95 (available from the winery or private stores), it is a step in quality but has the same cava aromas and flavours. Finally, if you want real Champagne, you can’t go wrong with Bollinger, the favourite wine of James Bond! Although expensive (even the Non Vintage Brut is $70 – $80), that yeasty, toasty style just exudes “special occasion”.


Rose is another good option for Mom, especially if the weather is already warm. There are two general kinds, and I prefer the ones with a little residual sugar (that leaves them just a touch off dry). The best in BC is from La Frenz – it is usually full of super ripe strawberries and red grapefruit, about as good a patio experience as you can find. Another option, more widely available, is from Quail’s Gate, which is not quite as fruity but made in the same style. Chill until very cold and then serve on the deck all day long!


The white wine I remember my Mom liking was a Premier Cru Meursault from Burgundy (on the rare occasions I could afford to serve it!). A couple of more reasonable – and available – options, though, come from California and B.C. One of the benchmarks for Cali-style Chardonnay (meaning vanilla/butter covered citrus, luscious mouth feel and medium body) is Beringer’s Private Reserve Chardonnay. Not cheap – at $45 – $50 – it is still worth it, an incredibly indulgent wine that is great on its own or with rich sauces. From BC, the recent Reserve Chardonnays from La Frenz are also made in this style (at $32), as are those from Cassini Cellars ($29) and Nk’Mip (the Qwam Qmpt for $30).


For red, a couple of options. I’m not sure if my Mom liked Pinot Noir (she preferred bigger red wines), but it is always a popular option. I would stay away from Burgundy because of cost and quality variability, and go to BC instead. Kettle Valley (Hayman and Reserve) and Blue Mountain (Reserve) make the best in BC – they are full of red and black cherries, spice and earth. While not cheap (at $35 – $40) or widely available (the winery or private wine stores), they are definitely special occasion wines.

The other option – which I know my Mom liked – was Zinfandel, and not the pink kind! Go for the best if you are going to serve this super ripe wine full of blackberry jam and herbs, which means Ridge Vineyards in California. My two favourites are the Lytton Springs and Geyserville, both of which are predominantly Zinfandel and about $50 a bottle. You won’t need more than a glass or two, as they tend to be higher in alcohol, but are a great drinking experience.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all out there!



May 3, 2013

I went to the annual Naramata Bench Spring Release last week (for trade and media folks) and was once again impressed with many of the wineries and their offerings. The best 2012 white wines are fully ripe and gorgeous; the 2012 Roses also ripe; and the 2010 reds released last year are progressing really well. Here are the highlights from my tasting notes:

1. La Frenz

As I tweeted at the end of the tasting, La Frenz is King of the Hill again, and it wasn’t even close, really. The 2012 versions of their regular whites – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier – are once again stunning in both ripeness and value ($19 – $22), making them the best in BC. A 2011 Reserve Chardonnay was also spectacular – “like a baby Beringer Private Preserve” – was what my notes said. And a new wine – a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend – was a bang on copy of a French white Graves!

For reds, the new vintages won’t be released till summer, but the 2010s were in beautiful shape, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon (vanilla covered black currants), Merlot (black plums and vanilla) and Reserve Pinot Noir (a beautiful cross between Cali and Burgundy).

2. Kettle Valley

No 2010 Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir to taste (no surprise, as they don’t make enough), but the 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir released a few months ago is amazing! Super complex red cherries and spice, ripe but not candied or jammy, and a bit of tannin to boot. It drinks fine now, but seems capable of 4 – 6 years aging.

3. Howling Bluff

Great showing for the 2012 whites here! The regular Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is gorgeously ripe, full bodied and dry, and still under $20. And two new wines – a Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc – in the same style, but even less expensive. Well done! The 2010 Pinot Noir was really tight, but it was just bottled. I have enjoyed the 2008 and 2009 vintages of this wine, so expect it will open up and compete with those.

4. Hillside

The new Muscat Ottonel was beautiful – so many different kinds of fruit on the nose, big body, but bone dry finish. The 2012 Rose was also gorgeous, with ripe cranberries and just off dry. Finally, last year’s Syrah (the 2009) continues to progress with classic Rhone flavours of peppery black cherries.

5. Miscellaneous

I liked the 2012 Roses from Monster and Therapy, which were full of ripe cranberries. The new Chardonnays from Poplar Grove and Laughing Stock were also nice, made in that buttery Cali style. And Van Westen’s 2011 Viognier was full bodied and complex, very Rhone in style.

Overall, another great tasting! Congratulations to the Naramata Bench Wineries Association for putting it on and thanks to the Hyatt Hotel for hosting.