As British Columbia wine continues to grow in both stature and popularity, the industry is sprouting new wineries like mad — there are now over 200 in total. These vineyards are emerging not only in the Okanagan Valley but in the adjacent Similkameen Valley, on Vancouver Island, and even in new areas of the southern interior like the Creston Valley. Imported and domestic winemaking talent abounds, leading to a big boost both in the quality of the grapes being grown and the wine being made. All these positives are fuelling demand from other provinces, and especially from Ontarians who travel regularly to Vancouver on business or take golf and ski vacations in the Okanagan Valley.
Last year, local fans of B.C. wines were cheered by news that the federal government had changed legislation to permit direct interprovincial purchasing and shipping from the wineries. Unfortunately, the stick-in-the-mud Ontario government has not bestowed its blessing, preferring to retain a hands-on approach that allows it to collect the maximum tax on B.C. “imports.” Still, Ontarians have already begun direct ordering, and no one will stop you if the winery is willing.
Here are some of the hottest examples of B.C.’s best varietals. You can track them down online or find them through the websites of their Ontario importers if you want to go the long and winding private-order road through the LCBO.
West Coast Winners
Painted Rock Estate 2010 Merlot
$40 • Okanagan Valley • 91 points
Merlot is B.C.’s most planted red grape, and this is yet another seminal success for Painted Rock, a leading red wine producer. Look for a gentle but lovely perfumed and floral nose of raspberry/mulberry fruit, tobacco, and fresh herbs effortlessly enhanced by gentle oak. It’s mid-weight, quite creamy, and elegant, with a touch of greenness on the finish from the cooler 2010 vintage. Best 2015 to 2020. liffordwine.com.
Quails’ Gate Winery 2011 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay
$35 • Okanagan Valley • 91 points
Well-heeled chardonnay is easy to find among leading producers. This sleek, seductive example has just the right balance of richness and freshness. Very spicy, toasty oak is sitting amid pear fruit mindful of Burgundy’s Meursault. It’s mid-weight, creamy, and quite powerful, with excellent length. hobbswines.com.
Tantalus Vineyards 2012 Riesling
$23 • Okanagan Valley • 90 points
This riesling has emerged as the top go-to, most sommelier-friendly riesling in B.C, a dry version based on great tension, freshness, and minerality from old vines on its Kelowna site. The 2012 vintage has punched up the pear and lemon fruit, while acid and minerality remain intact. A complete riesling. hobbswines.com.
Le Vieux Pin 2010 Syrah
$45 • Okanagan Valley • 90 points
Syrah from the “deep south” desert near Osoyoos is emerging as the firecracker red of B.C. This is an authentic, nicely focused example from a small premium house with a syrah specialist winemaker from the south of France. It balances fresh, lively currant fruit and great pepper, nutmeg, and Okanagan sage. There is fine tension, energy, and structure here. Some tannic grit, so age it to 2015 or 2020. bwwines.com.
Blue Mountain 2011 Pinot Noir
$24.95 • Okanagan Valley • 91 points
From one of the great pioneering estates of the middle Okanagan, this is a light, spry, savoury, and very complete pinot that sports lifted cranberry/currant fruit with floral notes and beautifully integrated oak vanillin. It’s slim, tight, and complete. Excellent length. Very easy to like now, but give it a few months to soften a bit. Should live through 2017. rogcowines.com.
Meyer Family 2011 McLean Creek Road Pinot Noir (shown up top)
$40 • Okanagan Valley • 92 points
Jak Meyer and Janice Stevens are achieving huge critical success with Burgundy varieties (pinot noir, chardonnay) from their small McLean Road site near Okanagan Falls. This one is a textural
masterpiece, both elegant and racy, with classic pinot raspberry and currant fruit, fresh herbs, and smoke. A delicious pinot for now or three years from now. terroirwineandspirits.com.
Mission Hill 2011 Chardonnay Reserve
$19.95 • Okanagan Valley • 90 points
Here is one great buy from B.C. that is actually on the LCBO shelves. Mission Hill has a long history with award-winning chardonnay, and the cool 2011 vintage has sewn a fine seam of acidity into this classy example. Expect Burgundian scents of poached pear, peat smoke, and almond. It’s medium-weight, fresh, and quite fine, with mouth-watering minerality on the finish. Vintages 545004.
Road 13 2011 Old Vine Chenin Blanc
$24 • Okanagan Valley • 91 points
Chenin Blanc is not widely grown in B.C., but Road 13 has lucked into a patch of old vines and is making excellent still and sparkling examples. This chenin blanc is lovely — poised yet quite rich, with fresh quince/pear and vague clover honey notes. It’s medium- to full-bodied, with a touch of sweetness that boosts the fruit. The acidity is excellent, the length as well. road13vineyards.com.
Moon Curser 2011 Petit Verdot
$29 • Okanagan Valley • 91 points
Moon Curser is hewing a reputation for massive and unusual reds, including Spain’s tempranillo and Portugal’s touriga nacional. Petit Verdot is a late ripening, high acid Bordeaux variety (Cabernet relative) that does well in the desert vineyards of Osoyoos. This is a thick, black wine with lifted blueberry, floral, dark chcocolate aromas. It’s intense and tannic — so into the cellar for about three years. terroirwineandspirits.com.
Sperling Vineyards 2012 Pinot Gris
$19 • Okanagan Valley • 89 points
B.C. has adopted Pinot Gris as a signature grape. Ann Sperling is the winemaker at Niagara’s Southbrook Vineyards, but she commutes home to her family’s old vines near Kelowna to fashion brilliant whites, sparklers, and pinot noir. This is a beautifully pristine, fresh pinot gris — a bit lean and lemony on the finish, but it blooms aromatically with floral notes, white peach, and green melon. It has a shimmering, crystalline feel. trialto.com.