The Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wines (which inspired their Ontario counterpart) is one of the toughest competitions on the Canadian circuit. Each year only 10 or so wines from a field of almost 400 entries are singled out for recognition — judged blind over three days at Victoria’s Government House.
One of the standouts for 2012 was a southern Rhône–inspired 2011 Jackpot white from Oliver’s Road 13.
While BC’s modern industry was revived (particularly in whites) on single-varietal wines, more recently winemakers have been exploring with blends and choosing increasingly to work with varietals that, while not so common in Canada, are indeed well proven elsewhere.
Trailblazers (aside from Road 13) include Inniskillin Okanagan’s Sandor Mayer (whose Discovery Series celebrates Marsanne-Roussanne, Tempranillo and Pinotage) and Joie Farm’s Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn, who from the start have made wines “inspired by Alsace.”
Bob and Senka Tennant (who sold their iconic Black Hills Estate in 2007) look set to repeat the success of Nota Bene and Alibi with recently launched Terravista Vineyards and winery. The couple have planted Albariño and Verdejo on a rocky southwest-facing slope on the Naramata Bench specifically chosen to pursue their passion for these two varieties, whose roots on the Iberian peninsula can be traced back several centuries.
Their approach, well beyond single-varietal wines, is very much indicative of a whole new wave of BC white blends.
Terravista Fandango 2011 ($25)
This Albariño-Verdejo blend sports a lively floral and citrus nose, followed by a zesty and apple-toned palate wrapped in juicy acidity that cries out for cold cuts, grilled chicken or firm cheeses.
Terravista Figaro 2011 ($23)
A balanced blend of Roussanne and Viognier yields stone fruits on the nose in a generously textured, mouth-filling, lengthy pear-toned drop.
Road 13 Jackpot White 2011 ($29)
This well-crafted wine made by Jean Martin (JM) Bouchard blends Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne (with most of the fruit grown in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley) for a luscious, layered, honey- and stone fruit–toned drop.
Young and Wyse Amber 2011 ($20)
After a decade at his family’s Burrowing Owl winery, Stephen Wyse and partner Michelle Young have decided to go it alone, already with some good results. This blend of Viognier (43%), Pinot Gris (37%) and Gewürz (20%) seduces with stone fruit and apricot aromas before a lively palate of citrus and orange notes with hints of mineral balanced by bright acidity.
Joie Farm A Noble Blend 2011 ($24)
Joie’s flagship is a blend of Riesling (38%) and Gewürtraminer (33%) with Pinot Blanc (14%), Pinot Auxerrois (11%) and Schönberger (4%), mainly from the central Okanagan. A seductively Rubenesque drop on both the nose and palate, fresh floral notes and sweet, followed by distinctive lime citrus and tropical flavours wrapped in juicy acidity and complexity with a lingering end.
Black Hills Alibi 2010 ($25)
Every time we taste this Sauv Blanc/Sémillon blend it gets better. Look for up-front citrus and honey aromas, followed by zesty lemon lime on the quite broad palate, with some mineral hints before a lengthy close. Think scallops in lemon butter sauce.
Intrigue 11 2011 ($15)
A well-made, value-priced, apple-toned and juicy-tasting combo of Riesling, Gewürz and Muscatel from talented Gray Monk assistant winemaker (and long-time Riesling specialist) Roger Wong, who now has his own winery and tasting room nearby, Intrigue Wines.
Fort Berens 23 Camels 2011 ($15)
The initial releases from Lillooet’s first winery bode well for this fledgling region, 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. This wine celebrates the (failed) effort to introduce camels as pack animals during the Gold Rush. Pinot Gris plus Chardonnay and Riesling combine 40% estate with Okanagan fruit for a well-balanced sipper: lively stone fruit and juicy acidity.
Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2011 ($25)
The winemaker’s background in the world of finance makes for a clever play on words, while the Pinot Gris (43%), Pinot Blanc (29%) and Viognier (28%) blend is visible only once the capsule is removed. Lots of clean, green apple and citrus play with honey and a touch of minerality.
Clos du Soleil Capella 2011 ($25)
This Sauvignon Blanc (90%), Sémillon (10%) blend from Similkameen’s upper bench sports some grassy notes with citrus and gooseberry on the nose, followed by a broadly textured citrus and stone fruit palate from sur-lie aging, with moderate acidity and a lengthy close.
Bartier Scholefield BS White Table Wine 2011 ($19)
Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Michael Bartier and consultant (and former BCLS head buyer) David Scholefield are behind this smart blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Floral on top with a broad leesy palate, juicy acidity and bright apple and pear notes. Concrete “egg” fermented.
*Above photo of Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn of Joie Farm taken by Tim Pawsey.