Posts Tagged ‘Semillon’


October 5, 2016

We are heading into our Thanksgiving Day long weekend up here in Canada, and every year I get questions about what wine to have with the big celebration dinner.

So here are some ideas!

First off, it always depends on what you are having to eat, particularly if the food – or significant components of the meal – is going to be sweet. That sugar can play havoc with both red and white wines, so it is important to plan accordingly.

If you are having a sweeter meal – ham with a sugar glaze, sweet yams or mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce – then I would recommend two kinds of wines.

For whites, go with a Riesling. They are naturally on the sweet side (even the dry ones), so can stand up to just about any level of sweetness in your food. Also, they come in a wide range of price categories! You can get really nice ones from BC, Washington State and California for under $20, for example. Europe is the home to great Rieslings, of course – from France, in the Alsace region, and Germany – so you can also go there if you want a potentially great wine. One caveat, though – some of the best of those wines can get quite sweet, so if you or your guests don’t like sweet wines, that could be a problem.

For reds, that is tougher. Any kind of oak in the wine will not mix well with the sweetness in the food, potentially ruining the taste of both the wine and the food.

My “go to” red wine for sweeter or hotter foods is Zinfandel. It is chock full of sweet (ripe) fruit itself, doesn’t have oak or jamminess to it, and the alcohol level can help combat the sweetness in the food. California is the place, of course, to find it, and you can find options from $10 to $50++++.

It is easier to pair wines with more savoury dishes – turkey/lamb/chicken/beef with herbs, meat stuffing, that kind of thing.

My favourite red wine choice for these kind of meals is actually Grenache-based wines! Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras – all of these wines, even when young, have great herbal (called garrigue) component to them that pairs really well with herbal, meaty food. And they don’t have to be expensive! Basic Cotes du Rhone – solid wines – can be had for under $15.

As for whites, you do need to watch the oak. If you – or your guests – like it, then go for the big Chardonnay or Semillon/Sauvignon-based wines. They will be rich enough to stand up to the herbal meaty flavours. If oaked wines don’t work, you can try Pinot Gris or even Chenin Blanc – the best ones are full-bodied enough to handle the food without the oak.

That should give you enough to make Thanksgiving Dinner – here or in the US – enjoyable. But one last piece of advice.

If you really love wine and/or a certain type of wine, then have it! There are too few excuses to treat yourself, and not matter what the food is, you can still enjoy a fabulous bottle of wine.

Life is too short…so go for it!



2015 Victoria Wine Festival

September 23, 2015

I’m looking forward to my first trip to the Victoria Wine Festival. With family on Vancouver Island, we get there fairly often, and I try to ‘do’ the wineries once a year as well. But to date, I have been to their Festival.

And after scanning the wineries/wines, I am looking forward to it even more!

First and foremost, what a delightful surprise to see so many small, but great BC Wineries are going to be there! My tasting list will certainly include:

• Quail’s Gate – their Old Vines Marechal Foch is perhaps the best in BC, with rich, meaty flavours
• Moraine – a relative newcomer, Moraine is making great Rhone style Syrah, full of peppery, earthy cherries
• Howling Bluff – rapidly becoming the standard barrier for value-priced white wines, Luke’s
Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend is amazing, and his more expensive Pinot Noir shows great potential as well
in a Burgundy/Cali cross style
• Gray Monk – I stumbled across their sparkling rose (Odyssey Brut Rose) and was amazed at the fresh
strawberries in this wine
• Marichel – Richard is a Rhone-specialist! His Syrah is richer and riper than almost all others in Naramata
(think Aussie Shiraz without the jam) and his Viognier is old-school – floral, dry, with none of the fruit
cocktail flavours you get from many new world wines
• Perseus – another newcomer making great value wines, including a non-oaked Merlot that fairly bursts with
cherries and berries
• Eau Vivre – last but not least, this Similkameen Winery goes from success to success with its multiple award
winning Pinot Noir, which remains a steal at about $20!

With that list, I could spend a good part of my evening!

But it looks like there are other great wines to try as well. From France, I see Perrin’s Vacqueyras Le Christin, a Grenache blend from the southern Rhone that is accessible young but ages beautifully; it is an annual Robert Parker favourite, and I have multiple vintages in my cellar.

Italy is well represented with Barolos from Damilano, Altesino’s Brunello di Montalcino, and Amarones by La Dama. These are expensive wines and it is great to get a chance to taste them in this format! The challenge is deciding if there is enough fruit to survive the tannin…but I am up for it!

Finally, don’t forget California! Ravenswood has a couple of Zinfandels, which are classic blackberry bombs! Belle Glos’ single vineyard Pinot Noir is also there, which I have never tasted but heard good things about. And Stag’s Leaps’s Petite Sirah, usually a brooding giant of a red wine with years of aging in it.

Sparkling, white and red…that will be my tasting strategy, and I will try to tweet out my tasting notes in real time!

So stay tuned, and if you want more info about the event, check out the website at



October 16, 2014

I was asked a couple of weeks ago by Dave Vallee, a local realtor and friend, to select wines for a customer appreciation event he was having at the Fraser River Discovery Centre in New Westminster, and then be available to talk about the wines to the 150+ attendees. It was a great event – more on that in a moment – but what struck me most was that, once again, the definition of “good wine” is definitely a personal one!

My parameters for the wines were pretty specific. They had to be from BC and reasonably priced – whites around $20, reds about $25. And, of course, they had to be good!

Based on those guidelines – and what was still available in stores and from the wineries themselves – I chose the following wines:
• 2013 Semillon – La Frenz (Naramata/$22)
• 2013 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – Howling Bluff (Naramata/$20)
• 2011 Syrah/Viognier – Marichel Vineyards (Naramata/$20)
• 2012 Merlot – La Frenz (Naramata/$26)
• 2010 Pinot Noir – Averill Creek (Vancouver Island/$26)

Not bad, eh? All of these wines I have been drinking/cellaring for years, and buying for my wine club as well. They are also award winners, including the Howling Bluff wine (which won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award this year).

So there is definitely “no bad wine” here! But what would people think?

Most of the people I met I would say were wine drinkers, but there were probably only a couple of “wine dweebs” like me. So a fairly knowledgeable audience, if not so-called experts.

But the results still blew me away on a number of fronts.

First, the whites. Of everyone is spoke with, there seemed to be an almost equal split. Some liked the La Frenz, some the Howling Bluff. But that wasn’t the fascinating part. There were people – on both sides – who said they loved one, but…wait for it…hated the other! Yes, hated it!

I was gobsmacked! Resisting the temptation to disagree, I forced myself to ask them why? Not a lot of details were forthcoming…mostly a gut reaction (no pun intended). But a passionate one, none-the-less.

Now, if any of you out there have tried these wines, you will understand my incredulity. The La Frenz is the best Semillon not only in BC, but perhaps in North America – hands down. And the Howling Bluff wine is the essence of white grapefruit…incredible! So how could you “hate” either one?

The reds saw a similar kind of reaction, although this one was a bit easier to understand.

The favourite was the Marichel Syrah/Viognier, hands down…and after tasting all three, I could understand why. Closer in style to a Shiraz than a Syrah, it is super fruity (without being too jammy), with no tannin and no hard edges. How anyone couldn’t like that wine, I don’t know. It is easy to drink…for everyone, including the average wine drinker. So it made sense that it won.
The other two reds had more mixed reactions. Some liked them, a few loved them, and a few hated both of them. Again, I disagree with the latter reviews – they are both amazing wines. But they are also young. Andy’s Pinot Noir is a stunning Burgundy look-a-like, but still has some tannin to shed. And the Jeff’s Merlot – easily the best Merlot in BC – has more than just simple fruit in it. The earth and licorice are almost savoury, but it is also a bit young.

Now don’t get me wrong, I did find people who loved both of these wines. But far fewer than the Syrah/Viognier.

So the “lesson learned”?

Well, I couldn’t help thinking back to something a wine educator told me in one of the few formal wine courses I have ever taken. When asked “what is the best wine”, he replied by saying “the wine you like the best”. In a roomful of great BC wines, that was definitely the case!



July 31, 2014

We are heading into the BC day long weekend up here in British Columbia, so I thought it appropriate to blog on holiday wine dinners (particularly since we are having folks over on both Saturday and Sunday nights!) and, in particular, “hot” summer wines.

It has been hot here – very hot for the Lower Mainland of BC – so all we have really been drinking is white and Rose. And, given that heat remains in the forecast for the weekend, that will be the focus of my recommendations.

So let’s start with Roses, shall we?

Without getting into specific wines, it really comes down to two options (assuming you throw out the sickly sweet White Zinfandels) – bone dry, or slightly off dry. Personally, I like both, although the hotter it gets, the more I favour the slightly off dry versions. Same if you are going to have spicy food, and we are planning BBQ tandoori chicken, so that applies to us.

Either way, however, you have lots of options. The south of France is famous for dry Roses, of course, although some of them are getting quite pricy (well over $25!). Personally, I don’t think Rose should be more than $20, and I certainly found lots of those in our last trip to France. You can also look for dry Roses from many other countries, including Spain and Argentina.

For the off dry Roses, you need to be a bit more careful (so you don’t end up with something too sweet). My “go to” place is actually our home province, which produces a number of wines rated “1” in sweetness.

And what about white wines?

Well, the options are virtually endless, although once again the hotter it gets, the more I find that a touch of sweetness actually makes things better. Think Riesling and Gewurztraminer here, which also match well with spicy or bbq food. Alsace and Germany are the most famous locations for these wines, although many of those can be too sweet. So also look to California, Washington, Australia (for Riesling) and – again – my home province of BC.

Other whites worth looking at are those that finish crisp and dry – Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and even Pinot Gris. B.C., California, Washington State, and Oregon are good places to go for these wines. You can try France but white Bordeaux (Sauvignon/Semillon blends) and Condrieu (for Viognier) get real expensive, real quick.

The only white wines I tend to stay away from in the heat are wooded Chardonnays. While I love them, their richness can be a bit much sometimes when the thermometer gets red!

Speaking of “red”, what if you need to serve a red wine in the heat?

Well, I would go for something you can actually chill a bit, which means Gamay. The classic is Beaujolais, but that is getting expensive as well. So look to the new world (BC and California) for other cheaper options. Put in an ice bucket for 15 minutes before serving and then take out. There will still be structure from the red grapes – and nice berry fruit – but it will be refreshing when cooler!

So there you go – some suggestions for “hot” wines to celebrate any summer holiday!



July 16, 2014

I recently saw the winners of the 2014 Lieutenant Governor Awards for BC Wines and was once again…well, there are a bunch of descriptors for what I felt, some of which weren’t printable!

Rather than simply venting, like I usually do each year, I have decided to take a more positive approach – and do my own wine awards based on all the BC wines I tasted this year!

And mine won’t have some of the restrictions of the LG Awards either i.e. the wines don’t have to be designated VQA, and they won’t all be compared against each other (white/red/rose; sweet/dry; Cabernet/Merlot/Chardonnay, etc.).

Instead, I will do my awards by category. The only real criteria is that they have to be made in BC from BC grapes and have been released this year. And that I had tasted them, of course!

There ended up being quite a number of wines that made the cut, so I am going to break it down into two batches – whites first, and then reds next week.

So here it goes with the whites! I am simply listing the wine, producer, price, and where you can buy it. For tasting notes, you can either check out the tweets from my recent trip to the Okanagan (follow me @sbwinepage), or my new BC Wine Guide, which has tasting notes for past vintages of many of these wines as well (

• 2012 La Frenz Reserve ($29, available from the winery and select
private wine stores)
• 2011 Nk Mip Qwam Qmpt ($24.95, available from the winery, BC
Government Signature stores, and VQA stores)
• 2011 Quinta Ferreira ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
• 2012 Township 7 ($20.99, available from the winery and BC
Government Signature stores)
• 2013 Desert Hills ($22.99, available from the winery and at VQA
Pinot Gris
• 2013 Moraine ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
• 2013 La Frenz, ($29, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 Moraine ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
Sauvignon Blanc
• 2013 La Frenz ($22, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 La Frenz ($22, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 Howling Bluff ($19, available from the winery and at VQA stores
Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon
• 2013 Howling Bluff ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA
• 2012 La Frenz Ensemble ($29, available from the winery and select
private wine stores)
• 2013 La Frenz ($22, available from the winery and select private
wine stores)
• 2013 Marichel ($19.90, available from the winery and at VQA stores)

There you go! Quite a shopping list…and it won’t break the bank either. Red wines, and maybe a couple of Roses, next week.


Sauvignon Blanc – the “Other Other” White Grape!

June 11, 2014

With the warmer weather finally coming to the Lower Mainland of BC in the last couple of weeks, I have been drinking more white wines lately. And that has included a number of remarkable Sauvignon Blancs – so thought I would write about them!

Often, it seems, Sauvignon Blancs are ignored. Chardonnay gets the most attention – both good and bad – along with Pinot Gris and Riesling. Viognier is also becoming more and more popular.

But how many times do you hear people raving about Sauvignon Blanc?

And yet it has a fairly distinguished pedigree. In Bordeaux, it is a partner (with Semillon) of some great dry white wines. And it stands by itself in the Loire Valley, where it is the grape that makes Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. In the ‘new world’, as well, Sauvignon Blanc has made a name for itself, particularly in New Zealand.

But you rarely hear about ‘great’ Sauvignon Blanc wines! Why is that?

Part of the answer might be that is often a blended grape, not standing on its own, in the same way as Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot. Many people also see it as a wine that needs food (particularly shellfish) and doesn’t drink well by itself.

Finally, there is a style of Sauvignon Blanc — usually from New Zealand — that can be not only quite herbal, but even smell like cat’s pee! Nothing “great” about that…

In my experience, however, there are some great ones, as long as you define ‘greatness’ to mean flavourful, fruity, reasonably priced and easy to drink.

Giesen from New Zealand is a perfect example. Year after year it provides ripe — but bone dry — white grapefruit, crisp and delicious, all for < $15.

'White grapefruit' is my common theme when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, and two BC wineries are perfect examples. Howling Bluff – from Naramata in the Okanagan – is one, offering an explosion of grapefruit for a couple of bucks more ($18.95). Same with the wine from La Frenz (also from Naramata), which has a touch more finesse, making it at great wine for $22! Put either of these wines in a blind tasting and their foreign counterparts would be embarrassed!

So next time it is warm out and you are looking for a white wine option, try chilling a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The grape on the bottle might not make it sound 'great', but you may be surprised about what you taste in your mouth!



April 2, 2014

A couple of sunny days and you can’t help but believe that Spring is actually here! For us wine dweebs, that means new wines are coming…and white wines at that!

So what to look forward to?

Well, in B.C. there are a number of flagship wineries – and wines – that I look forward to every year. And most of the come from the Naramata Bench above Okanagan Lake.

First and foremost are the white wines from La Frenz, B.C.’s premier winery. It makes three white wines that I and my wine club buy year in, year out, because of their quality and value.

The first – and perhaps best – is their Semillon. It is dry, but with ripe fruit, grassy aromas and just a touch of oak. Like a cross between Bordeaux, New Zealand and California (in the best possible way). It drinks very well on release but also has a surprising ability to age. And still around $22 a bottle!

Next up, and not far behind in quality, is their Small Lots Riesling. It is made in the classic German/Alsace style, with green apples, petrol aromas and slightly off dry fruit. Also a candidate for short term aging, although it is so delicious that I have a hard time resisting it – especially at about $20.

Last, but not least, is the Viognier. Definitely Cali style here, with a fruit cocktail assortment of aromas and flavours, surprisingly big body, and a dry finish. It is also around $22, a price that puts other versions to shame.

The other premier white wine maker on the Bench is Howling Bluff. In particular, I love their Pinot Gris, which smells and tastes like white grapefruit! It is dry, but so flavourful and – can you believe it – is around $18!

Their other wine is a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend that is only a dollar more, but worth it. Like a white Graves but without as much oak, it is crisp, clean and bone dry as well.

And what about Chardonnay? Well, if you put aside the Reserve bottlings (which won’t be released to later in the year), I think Township 7 makes as nice a wine as you will find. It is my style of Chardonnay – vanilla, butter and ripe citrus, lush and full bodied from malolactic fermentation, and ready to drink. And do drink it up – the only downside of this wine is that the oak sneaks up on it within a year or so.

Finally, there is the Nichol Pinot Gris – a truly unique wine. Ross Hackworth makes the only true “Gris” wine in BC (that I know of), leaving the skins on the grapes long enough to impart an incredible colour to the wine. It ranges from a light pink to an almost deep orange! But don’t let the colour fool you – the wine is still bone dry, crisp and refreshing. I have a wine club member who buys it by the case every year!

So Spring – bring it on! The Naramata Bench Spring Releases are less than a month away, and I can’t wait.


To VQA or not VQA – is that the Question?

August 15, 2013

Back from a week or so off, and during that time I read an interesting article in one of the newspapers about the sale of VQA wines in BC, which are apparently declining. For those outside the province, VQA stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, and is a program that was brought in a number of years ago to increase the standards of wine in Canada. There are strict regulations involved in making a “VQA” wine, as well as costs to the wineries to participate.

The story was more about the costs and whether they were worth it…but I am not going to get into that! Instead, I thought I would look at what I consider to be the best BC wines and see which are VQA and which aren’t. That might give some indication about whether VQA and quality go hand in hand.

When I wrote them all down, the results were a bit amazing!

My favorite overall winery – La Frenz – doesn’t make any VQA wines – white, red, rose or sweet (all 18 of them). And, as anyone who reads this blog knows, I think they make both the highest quality and best value wines in BC.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, three of my favorites – Blue Mountain Reserve, Kettle Valley Hayman and Kettle Valley – are also not VQA, and I consider them to be the best Pinots in BC. However, three relative newcomers – Eau Vivre from the Similkameen Valley, Howling Bluff from Naramata and Averill Creek from Vancouver Island, are all VQA (with the wines of the first two being multiple Lieutenant Governor Award Winners).

A similar situation exists for Syrah. My favourite Syrah – from Nichol Vineyards – isn’t VQA. But other very good Syrahs from the Okanagan (Burrowing Owl, Church and State, Cassini Cellars, Hillside, Marichel and Moon Curser) are VQA, as is the one from Mt. Lehman in Abbotsford.

Finally, while La Frenz’s white wines are not VQA, many others I consider to be very good are, including the Semillon/Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from Howling Bluff, the Chardonnay from Cassini Cellars, the “Afraid of the Dark” Rhone blend from Moon Curser and the Viognier from Mt. Lehman.

So what does this tell us about the relationship between quality and the VQA designation?

Well, I can’t see anything conclusive here; quality can be found on both sides of the argument. It does seem interesting, however, that what I consider to be the absolute best wines in BC – the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and white wines from La Frenz; Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir; Hayman and Reserve Pinot Noir from Kettle Valley; and Syrah from Nichol – are not VQA. So that certainly seems to point to the fact that you don’t need to be VQA to be of the highest quality!

Conversely, it also seems to point out that VQA should not be seen as some kind of guarantee of a great wine.

So my final advice on this is to taste and make up your mind – and not let any designation influence what you think is good!



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 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.