Vineyards along Naramata Bench
How much time should you set aside for
visiting wineries on the Naramata Bench?
As much as you can. Here are my notes from
a day and a half on the Bench, during which I covered perhaps a quarter of the
producers. That included a break for a delicious lunch at the bistro at Red Rooster Winery, washed down by a glass of one of
the best Pinot Blancs I have yet had in the Okanagan.
As I have the opportunity, I will review
other Naramata Bench wines (as I have been doing throughout the year).
1775 Winery is the new name for the former Soaring
Eagle Winery, now under the ownership of Jim Stewart and Peter Wille. The name,
quite simply, uses the winery’s address on Naramata Road. The owners are clever in
other ways as well: this summer, they hired the excellent Richard Kanazawa as
1775 Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17.90). This is
a delicious white and well priced. There is lots of lime and grapefruit on the
nose and on the palate, with herbal notes. The finish is refreshingly tangy.
1775 Winery Chardonnay 2011 ($18.90). Here is a
refreshing unoaked Chardonnay, with fruity flavours of peaches and citrus and with
a crisp dry finish. 89.
Widow Winery is operated by Dick and Shona
Lancaster. He is a former amateur winemaker who has made a very successful
transition to the professional ranks.
Widow Winery Pinot Gris 2011 ($21 for 360 cases).
Crisp and refreshing, this wine has flavours of apples, peach and citrus. 90.
Widow Winery Gewürztraminer 2011 ($23 for 90 cases
and now sold out). Light and crisp, the wine has spicy aromas and spicy lychee
Widow Winery Oasis 2011 ($22 for 320 cases). This
is a blend of Schönburger, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Not surprisingly, it
is quite aromatic, has flavours of herbs and spice and a pleasantly off-dry
Widow Winery Schönburger 2011 ($25 for 105 cases,
and sold out). This rare varietal appeals for its floral aromas and its spicy
citrus flavours. 91.
Widow Winery Syrah Rosé 2011 ($22 for 35 cases and
sold out). Juicy and refreshing, this off-dry rosé tastes like a mouthful of
wild strawberries. 91.
Widow Winery Phobia 2010 ($25 for 240 cases). This
is 80% Syrah, 20% Merlot. It is an accessible red with flavours of cherry and
currants and some leather and coffee on the finish. 88.
Widow Winery Merlot 2010 ($28 for 140 cases). A
wine that merits cellaring, this still shows youthful grip on the palate, with
flavours of black currants. The winery recommends cellaring it for a few months
“minimum” but I would cellar it for about three years to let all of the sweet
fruit and complexity emerge. 90.
Widow Winery Hourglass 2010 ($38 for 100 cases).
This is the winery’s signature red. In this vintage, it is 80% Merlot, 20%
Cabernet Sauvignon. The flavours are bold and ripe, including black currants,
blueberries, chocolate. 92.
Widow Winery Vintage One 2010 ($25 for 580 half
bottles). This Port-style wine is fortified Merlot aged 20 months in old oak.
The flavours are rich; it tastes of figs, plums and chocolate and has a
lingering sweetness of fruit on the finish. 88.
Winery’s Kathy Malone, formerly with Mission Hill,
now crafts interesting wines on the Naramata Bench.
Hillside Winery Viognier 2010 ($21.99 for 318
cases). The wine was given a year of bottle age before release, allowing for
the development of complexity. The surprise is that the price is not higher!
The wine shows herbal aromas and flavours – the winery’s own notes speak of
“spring blossoms and honeysuckle, with notes of chai spice.” Having grown up on
a farm, I was reminded of fresh hay. The finish is tangy. 89.
Hillside Winery Pinot Gris Reserve 2010 ($19.99
for 357 cases). A quarter of this wine was aged in Hungarian oak but the oak
does not cover the juicy fruit aromas and flavours of pears and citrus. 90.
Hillside Winery Syrah 2009 ($25.99 for 300
cases). This is an elegant, Rhone-style Syrah, with a touch of white pepper and
with flavours of plum, black cherry and fig. 90.
Hillside Winery Merlot Malbec 2010 ($24.99 for
190 cases). This is primarily anchored around Merlot and is still youthfully
firm and should be cellared a few years. The aromas include cherry, plum and spice.
The flavours include black currant, chocolate and tobacco. 89-90.
Hillside Winery Gamay 2011 (barrel sample). Hillside consistently makes one of the Okanagan’s best
Gamays, with the depth and concentration of a fine Beaujolais Cru. It has
aromas and flavours of cherry framed subtly with oak. The texture is almost
Hillside Winery Pinot Noir 2011 (tank sample).
This was tasted just before the wine was bottled. The wine is firm and full on
the palate with flavours of cherry and raspberry. I won’t try to score it until
it has been in the bottle for a year but it will be a delicious wine.
Frenz Winery is run by Jeff and Niva Martin (left), who
first came to the Okanagan in 1994 from Australia. Jeff’s winemaking put
Quails’ Gate on the map before he moved on to his own winery on the Naramata
Frenz Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($22). This is a
zesty and racy wine with lime and herbal aromas and refreshing lime flavours;
the finish just won’t quit. 91.
Frenz Winery Sémillon 2011 ($20). This varietal has
slightly softer acidity than the Sauvignon Blanc, leading to juicy flavours of
lemon and lemon pie. 90.
Frenz Winery Chardonnay 2011 ($20). This is always
quite distinctive, with aromas and flavours of peaches and nectarines, cushioned
in buttery and toasty notes. The oak is well in the background, allowing the
fruit to be the star. 89.
Frenz Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2010 ($29). Here is a full-on, hedonistic, gold medal
barrel-fermented Chardonnay, with rich tangerine and cashew flavours. 92.
Frenz Winery Rosé 2011 ($18). This wine was made by
bleeding some juice (a traditional method) from various lots of Merlot, Pinot
Noir and Shiraz.
The wine’s colour alone sets you up for
a delicious taste experience; on the palate, there are flavours of rhubarb,
cranberry and strawberry. 90.
Frenz Winery Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 ($32). This
was a double gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and was named the best
Pinot Noir in the show. Intense and concentrated, the wine has aromas and
flavours of black cherry with toasty oak on the background and spice on the
Frenz Winery Malbec 2010 ($25). This is a big red,
with spicy blueberry aromas and with flavours of blueberries and other dark
fruits. The tannins are long and ripe, making for a wine that drinks well now
but also has several years of development ahead of it. 91.
Frenz Winery Montage 2010 ($22). Here is an easy
drinking blend (not that any of the La Frenz wines are hard to drink) of
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Malbec. It has aromas and flavours
of black currant and plum with earthy notes of chocolate and liquorice. 90.
Frenz Winery Merlot 2010 ($26). This is a dark and
concentrated wine a nice chewy texture and flavours of black currant, fig,
chocolate and tobacco. 91.
Frenz Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($28). This
has the classic varietal notes of eucalyptus on the nose. On the palate, there
are flavours of mint, blackberry and chocolate. The structure is elegant and
Frenz Winery Grand Total Reserve 2009 ($40). This
fine red lives up to its slightly pompous name. It is a blend of Merlot,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France
and Malbec from the excellent 2009 vintage. Inky dark in colour, it is
full-bodied, with aromas and flavours of blueberry, black currant, mint,
chocolate and vanilla. 93.
Estate Winery was formerly sardonically named Zero
Balance when it was the last winery opened by Keith Holman before going into
bankruptcy. It has reopened under the management of Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov who, in a change of lifestyle, have moved to
the Okanagan from Alberta. They have retained Jacqueline Kemp as their
Estate Winery Pinot Gris 2011 ($21). Almost
austerely dry, this wine shows chalky notes from extensive lees stirring.
Flavours of pears and pineapples come through on the finish. 87.
Estate Winery Cliffhanger White 2011 ($19.50). This
is an interesting blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier, with flavours of pear and stone
fruit and with a crisp, dry finish. 88.
Estate Winery Viognier 2011 ($23). The wine has
aromas and flavours of lemon and stone fruit with a crisp tangy finish. 88.
Estate Winery Cliffhanger Red 2011 ($24). This wine
is 70% Gamay, 22% Syrah, 7% Merlot with a dash of Dunkelfelder for colour. It
is a soft, easy-drinking red, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and
Estate Winery Meritage 2008 ($23). A blend of the
reds, this wine is still a touch firm, with aromas and flavours of black
currants and leather. 88.
Winery & Vineyards is located in a heritage house in Penticton (vineyard view to left). The winemaker
is Tom DiBello, formerly the winemaker at CedarCreek Estate Winery. He took
over from Lawrence
Herder, who made the 2009 and 2010 vintages.
Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17.90). This is a crisp,
flinty Sancerre style wine with tangy notes of lemon and lemon rind and with a
dry finish. 88.
Pinot Gris 2011 ($16.90). DiBello says this is his
favourite among all the Pinot Gris he has made. It is a crisply focussed wine
with aromas and flavours of apples and citrus. 90.
Merlot 2011 ($21.90). There are simply gobs of
juicy berry flavours. The wine has generous ripe textures. The grapes for this
come from the winery’s Similkameen Vineyard. 90.
2011 ($21.90). This is another juicy, ripe red with
luscious textures on the palate. It tastes of spicy plums and has enough tannin
to age for a few years. 89.
Invictus 2009 ($32.90). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, along with
small quantities of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It is a delicious,
mouth-filling red with flavours of spice, vanilla, black currant, cherry and
Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($50). Only 88 cases were
made of this elegant red; the grapes come from Inkameep Vineyard’s U2 block,
arguably the most legendary Cabernet Sauvignon in the Okanagan. The wine shows
mint, figs and black currants but it would be infanticide to drink this before
Blues Winery is where Prudence Mahrer, the co-founder of Red
Rooster Winery, now meets the public in one of the liveliest
tasting rooms on the Naramata Bench.
Blues Winery Riesling 2011 ($20). This is a wonderfully
intense Riesling, with aromas of green apples and citrus and flavours of citrus
spun around a core of minerals. The wine is well-balanced with residual sugar
popping the flavours and aromas while the racy acidity give the wine a dry
Blues Winery Pinot Gris 2011 ($20). Juicy in
texture, this wine has aromas ands intense flavours of pears and citrus, with
lingering finish. 89.
Blues Winery Gewürztraminer 2011 ($20). This wine
is made from 36-year-old vines. That accounts for its full-bodied intensity,
with aromas and flavours of spice and
grapefruit. This won a Lieutenant Governor's award. 90.
Blues Winery White Stiletto 2011 ($20). This is a
blend of 40% Viognier, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Muscat Ottonel. This is a delicious, off-dry
sipping wine with aromas and flavours of peaches and apricots. The Muscat adds a delicate
floral spice note. 89.
Blues Winery Red Stiletto N.V. ($25). This is a
soft, accessible blend (about 80% Syrah) with flavours of black cherries and
Blues Winery Syrah 2009 ($30 for 120 cases). This
wine begins with aromas of spice, white pepper black cherry. On the palate,
there are flavours of plum, blackberry and spice. Medium-bodied, the wine is
Blues Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($30). The grapes
for this wine were picked November 7, 2009, with the winery taking full
advantage of moderating impact of the lake on the Naramata Bench vineyards. It
has aromas of vanilla, blackberry and blueberry, with flavours of black currant
and chocolate. There is a hint of liquorice on the finish. 90.
Blues Winery Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($30).
There is 55% Merlot in this blend. It is a big ripe red with aromas of vanilla
and red berries and with flavours of plum, black currant and chocolate. The finish
is long. 90.
Blues Winery Merlot Grand Reserve 2009 ($40). Dense
and concentrated, this is a ripe and complex red with flavours of figs, plums,
black currants and chocolate. 91.
Mile Estate Winery was opened last year by Jake and
Colleen Gunther (left) and Gayle and Darry Rahn. The women are sisters and provided a
cheery tasting room welcome all season.
Mile Estate Winery Gewürztraminer 2011 ($21.30 for
190 cases). The wine begins with floral and spicy aromas. On the palate, there
are flavours of grapefruit and lychee. The finish is defined by a spicy note of
Mile Estate Winery Pinot Gris 2011 ($19.95). The
wine is fresh and juicy with aromas and flavours of peach, ripe pear and guava.
Mile Estate Winery Pinot Gris Viognier 2011 ($21.30
for 135 cases). The wine begins with aromas of pear and toastiness from lees
contact. It has a rich palate with flavours of tangerine and apple. There is
only about six per cent Viognier in the blend but that added significant
Mile Estate Winery Cabernet Merlot 2010 ($24.90 for
160 cases). The wine begins with aromas of cherry, black currant and vanilla.
Those are delivered on the palate, along with notes of pepper and chocolate.
The tannins are still firm. 89.
Mile Estate Winery Trio 2010 ($29.90 for 225
cases). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with
a dash of Syrah. The texture is still youthfully tight, suggesting this is an
age-worthy red. There are flavours of black cherry, black currant and cedar.
Mile Estate Winery Late Harvest Viognier 2011 ($24.95
for a 350 ml bottle; 94 cases made). This delightful dessert wine is sweet, but
not overly sweet. There are aromas and flavours of apricot and peach. The
balance is clean and refreshing. 89.
7 has an enviable location at the start of Naramata Road. I
have stopped at the tasting room many times just on impulse, because it is
right there. Many others do the same.
7 Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($18.99). This is a crisp
and tangy white with hints of herbs, grass and green beans. 87.
7 Chardonnay 2009 ($19.99). This is a classic oaked
Chardonnay, fat and rich on the palate with notes of caramel, nuts and
7 Unoaked Chardonnay 2011 ($17.99 for 388 cases).
Crisp and fresh, with aromas and flavours of green apples. This is a tangy,
refreshingly dry white that cries for pairing with seafood. 89.
7 2011 7 Blanc ($18.99 for 508 cases). This is a
blend of 60% Gewürztraminer and 40% Pinot Gris. The wine is bright and crisp
with aromas of citrus, herbs and spice and with flavours of apples and citrus.
7 Rosé 2009 ($15.99 for 465 cases). Salmon pink in
colour, the wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. 88.
7 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($19.99 for 400
cases). This is 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter varietal adds
a note of mint to the aromas of black currant, chocolate and tobacco. On the
palate, there are flavours of black currant and cherry. Another year of bottle
age will polish the firm tannins. 88.