While I typically spend much of my time globetrotting, I have embraced being grounded at my home base in Vancouver for the last year and a half. It has given me the opportunity to reconnect with my roots.
Career-wise, I have ‘grown up’ alongside the British Columbia wine industry, watching it evolve and witnessing the wines improve. I’ve proudly been sharing BC’s best with international colleagues for years. Some are still surprised that BC even makes wine. And when I bust out one of our beautiful Syrahs, most are shocked that we can produce a full-bodied red.
Categorized as cool climate, BC wine country is more aptly described as marginal and extreme. In the Okanagan Valley – BC’s main growing region – temperatures swing dramatically and can reach daytime highs of 40˚C in the summer. This contradicts Canada’s image of the cool, true north. The Okanagan is also very arid.
As I write, forest fires rage throughout British Columbia (and beyond). Wildfires are not new here but this year they have been particularly devastating making world news. Wine growing isn’t easy at the best of times, in these conditions it’s nerve-racking.
In British Columbia, the first Monday in August is a public holiday commemorating the province’s heritage. For many this year, celebrations may be subdued or non-existent. Nevertheless, I plan on marking the occasion by raising a delicious glass of BC wine to toast our hardworking producers (as well as the firefighters who are tirelessly toiling to stem the flames).
Below are 10 recommendations that demonstrate the diversity of styles that British Columbia’s unique terroir has to offer.
Kitsch Blanc de Blancs, Okanagan Valley, 2018 ($39)
I am all for the rise of traditional method sparkling wine (not just in BC but across Canada). Kitsch’s dry and zesty Blanc de Blancs is crafted exclusively from Chardonnay with two years on the lees. It opens with lightly toasted bread, preserved lemon and wisps of acacia. Bubbles are rambunctious up front, disappearing rather swiftly but leave the palate with flavours of fresh cut green apple and almond pastry.
Blue Mountain Estate Cuvée Pinot Blanc, Okanagan Valley, 2020 ($25)
Once one of BC’s most planted grapes, Pinot Blanc has been in steady decline. Kudos to Blue Mountain for persevering and preserving their now 35-year-old vines. This is not just one of BC’s top Pinot Blancs, it’s among the Okanagan’s best whites. Why? Because it’s unpretentious, transparent and eminently drinkable at a very affordable price. It shows elegance and restraint with scents of custard apple and lemon. Pear and savoury mineral nuances join in on the palate where a delightfully creamy textured mouthfeel is balanced by underlying juiciness.
Peak Cellars Terraces Dry Riesling, Okanagan Valley BC VQA, 2020 ($30)
Located in Lake Country, in the northern reaches of the Okanagan Valley, Peak Cellars proposes several different Rieslings. The bone-dry ‘Terraces’ is a new bottling from a single block and vehicle for winemaker Stephanie Stanley to express her penchant for acidity-driven wines. Initially shy, it gradually reveals white peach, lime and grapefruit zest with a mineral-like through line. Searing, assertive and lingering.
Tightrope Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Naramata Bench Okanagan Valley, 2020 ($22)
I’m often underwhelmed by BC Sauvignon Blanc but this estate blend with Semillon challenged my prejudice. Aromas of gooseberry and nettles lead to flavours of white grapefruit, nectarine and lime pith. Light, pert and steely with sneaky concentration, it offers really great value for money and is a snappy match with any green bounty from the vegetable garden.
Le Vieux Pin Ava, Okanagan Valley BC VQA, 2019 ($31)
I’ve long been a fan of this wine, which in all honesty, is the opposite of the lean minerally whites I gravitate towards. Ava blends Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne in varying proportions depending on the vintage. It’s a tip of the hat to France’s Rhône Valley but ultimately BC in personality with peaches and apricots underscored by fragrances of lavender and sage. The palate is voluptuous with a fairly viscous texture but not heavy – just rounded and flattering. Exotic ginger and orange honey kick in on the lively finish.
Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto Rosato, Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard, Okanagan Falls Okanagan Valley BC VQA, 2020 ($24)
This vibrantly magenta-hued rosato is decidedly ‘off-trend’ as pale Provençal-style rosé is today’s pink of choice. Think of it more like a really light, dry red. Joyfully fruity, it captures Italy’s agrodolce tang with sour red cherry as well as an herbal character and notes of juniper-like, citrusy pepper. Assertive and palate scrubbing but very charming.
Sperling Vineyards Ruby Pet Nat, 2020 ($30)
Based on red hybrid grape Maréchal Foch (with 15% Pinot Noir). The former was once widely planted in BC before vineyards were largely replaced with Vitis vinifera – post 1988. Some old plots remain, and Foch has a bit of a cult following. This Pét-Nat is a new take. With fermentation finishing in the bottle, some CO2 is trapped giving a light frothiness – somewhat reminiscent of a Lambrusco. It sports Foch’s signature tooth staining purple colour along with mouth filling, wild dark berries and grapy, bubble gum accents. Slight bitter twist piques the curiosity as well as the appetite. Simply a ton of fun. Adult pop?
Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir, Cowichan Valley Vancouver Island BC VQA, 2019 ($33)
With a cool maritime climate, long frost-free period and dry summers, Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley is particularly suited to Pinot Noir and Unsworth is a benchmark. The latest release is exuberantly expressive – strawberries, red currants and cranberry bush are interlaced by clove. Light and trim though not painfully lean, it boasts a vivacious personality, fluid texture and mouth cleansing finish. Give it a slight chill.
Anthony Buchanan Syrah, Okanagan Valley ‘William Dean’, 2018 ($34)
Under his eponymous label, Anthony Buchanan makes small batch, sometimes experimental wines. His William Dean bottling sees whole cluster Syrah co-fermented with just a dash of Viognier and aged in a combination of French and American oak. It is fragrantly compelling displaying telltale floral and black pepper nuances on a subtly smoky background. There is a voluptuousness to the dark brambly fruit, with soft mouth caressing tannins and balancing juicy acidity.
Osoyoos-Larose Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley BC VQA, 2016 ($49)
Getting grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon fully ripe and balanced in BC’s extreme climate can be tricky. Owned by France’s Groupe Taillan, Osoyoos-Larose has taken on that challenge since 2001. This Bordeaux-style red is typically austere and fiercely tannic in its youth but the 2016 has a slightly friendlier edge seducing with chocolatey cocoa, cedar, spice and black currant nuances. It remains, as always, full and firmly structured so I still recommend enjoying it with hearty grilled fare.