This formerly was Soaring Eagle Winery. It was renamed last July after Paradise Ranch Winery proprietor Jim Stewart acquired it with a partner. This spring, there has been another change of partners, with viticulturist Val Tait joining Bench 1775 as general manager.
Bench 1775 Chill 2012 ($15.90 for 1,744 cases). This is a blend of 46% Pinot Gris, 25% Chardonnay, 11% Sauvignon Blanc, and 6% each of Viognier, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer. This is an aromatic fruit salad in a glass, with hints of lime, apple and apricot and with a spicy, off-dry finish. 90.
Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($17.90 for 422 cases). This is a zesty, refreshing white, with notes of lime, lemon and grapefruit rind on the palate, and with grassy herbal aromas. 89.
Owners Dick and Shona Lancaster bought this Naramata Road vineyard in 2000 while looking property in the country. It was hardly surprising that they soon developed a winery: Dick has made wine since he was in high school. While pursuing careers in business, he became as skilled as any winemaker on the bench.
Black Widow Pinot Gris 2012 ($19.90 for 750 cases). This crisp and focussed wine has aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple. 90
Black Widow Oasis 2012 ($21.90 for 500 cases). This is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Schönburger. It delivers a luscious mouthful of tropical fruits, along with apple and pear flavours. 90.
Black Widow Gewürztraminer 2012 ($22.90 for 150 cases). The wine is packed with flavour of grapefruit, pineapple and lychee with delicate spice on the finish and a touch of sweetness on the finish. 90.
Black Widow Schönburger 2012 ($24.90 for 90 cases). There are abundant flavours of tropical fruit with spice on the nose and the finish. 90.
Black Widow Syrah Rosé 2012 ($21.90 for 275 cases). The wine begins with a striking dark hue. On the nose, there are aromas of strawberry and raspberry, leading to a palate of plum and black cherry, with a dry finish. 91.
Black Widow Phobia 2011 ($24.90 for 200 cases). This is an intriguing blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Merlot. It is a generous wine, with aromas and flavours of coffee, pepper, plum and raspberries. 91.
One of two wineries that pioneered Naramata Bench in 1990, Hillside
has evolved to become a medium-sized producer making wines almost exclusively from grapes grown on the bench. Kathy Malone, a Mission Hill alumnus, took over the cellar in 2008.
Hillside Gewürztraminer 2012
($21.99 for 1,280 cases). The label says this wine is off-dry and technically, it probably is. But the wine is so well balanced that will also appeal to those with a drier palate. It has spice and grapefruit aromas, leading to flavours of grapefruit and tangerine with a touch of ginger on the finish. 91.
Hillside On-oaked Pinot Gris 2011
($19.99 for 323 cases). This wine is so fresh and fruity that it could be labelled Pinot Grigio. It begins with citrus aromas and has flavours of pears, apples, white peach, with an herbal spice on the tangy finish. 90.
Hillside Reserve Pinot Gris 2010
($21.99 for 357 cases). This is one of those rare examples of Pinot Gris with oak treatment. A portion of this wine was fermented in Hungarian oak, with five months of battonage on the lees. The outcome is a complex and rich white with floral aromas and with flavours of pears, apricots and vanilla. 90.
Hillside Merlot Cabernet Franc 2010
($22.99 for 750 cases). The wine displays a bit of the leanness of the vintage. It begins with brambly blackberry aromas, leading to bright flavours of blackberry and raspberry. 89.
Hillside Mosaic 2009
($39.99 for 499 cases). This Bordeaux
blend is Hillside
’s iconic red. It begins with aromas of vanilla, prune plums and chocolate. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, chocolate, leather, cedar and spice. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous weight and texture. 91.
Jeff Martin and Scott Robinson, his winemaker, produce consistently high quality wines at La Frenz. As it happens, Scott is leaving this summer to work on a wine-related doctorate. He will be succeeded by a winemaker – the name has not yet been disclosed – who currently is with Leeuwin Estate, a very fine Australian winery. Jeff is also hiring an assistant winemaker. His ambition is to take La Frenz “to the next level.” That should be interesting.
La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($22). This zesty wine, with lime and grapefruit on the palate, has the bright acidity that recalls a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This won the top award for Sauvignon Blanc in the recent Best of Varietal Wine Awards. 90.
La Frenz Sémillon 2012 ($22). This wine is both crisp and juicy, with flavours of grapefruit and gooseberry. On the palate, there is a little more volume that with the Sauvignon Blanc, reflecting the fact that a portion was barrel-fermented. 90.
La Frenz Viognier 2012 ($22). This is an exceptionally focussed wine, with the delicately firm spine that Viognier often shows. There are aromas and flavours of apricot, pineapple and ripe apple. 91.
La Frenz Riesling 2012 ($20). This tangy, refreshing wine has aromas and flavours of green apples and lime. A touch of residual sugar balances the racy acidity so that the finish is crisp. 91.
La Frenz Chardonnay 2012 ($22). La Frenz always refers to its style as “peaches and cream” because the wine has exuberant peach and mandarin flavours and a rich palate, framed with delicately toasty oak (half the wine is barrel fermented). 92.
La Frenz Merlot 2011 ($26). Youthfully firm, this wine has good concentration of fruit, with aromas and flavours of blueberry and black currant. On the finish, there are notes of plum and chocolate. 90.
La Frenz Reserve Pinot Noir 2011 ($32). The pricing of this winery’s top Pinot Noir likely keeps something of a lid on the pricing of Okanagan Pinot Noirs. Dark in colour, this is a rich and concentrated Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry, mocha and vanilla and with classic silky textures. This was judged the best of the Pinot Noirs at the Best of Varietal Wine Awards. 91.
The other of the two original wineries on the Naramata Bench, Lang is re-emerging with new owners and management. The wines currently from 2010 and 2011 were made, or finished, by Richard Kanazawa. He was succeeded last vintage by Richard Kiltz, a German-train winemaker and the son of the former owner Blue Grouse Vineyards on Vancouver Island
. One should anticipate that Lang will again make legendary Riesling. Its 2011 Riesling was among winners at the Best of Varietal Wine Awards.
Lang Aurora 2010 ($12.90). Good value, this is a blend of 50% Riesling, 30% Gewürztraminer, 12% Pinot Gris and 8% Viognier. The wine is crisp and dry, with aromas and flavours of green apples and citrus. 88.
Lang Gewürztraminer 2011 ($18.90). The wine begins with spicy and citrus aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit. The finish is defined with good spice notes. 88.
Lang Bravo White 2011 ($15.90). Here is another fruit bomb of a blend. The varieties in here include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, with splashes of Viognier, Muscat, and Auxerrois. There are flavours and aromas of green apple and citrus, with a touch of spice on the crisp finish. 89.
Lang Maréchal Foch 2011 ($17.90). This is a good, jammy summer quaffer, with soft tannins and flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. Traditional fans of the Lang Foch should be alerted that this was finished drier than usual, making it a better table wine, in my opinion. However, in 2012, the winery has gone back to leaving a bit of residual sugar in the wine because that style has its following. 88.
This winery has developed such a strong following that, after having regular tasting room hours, it reverted to tasting by appointment. That also recognized the lack of parking near the winery, as well as the desire of owners David and Cynthia Enns to spend a bit more time with individual customers.
Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2011 ($25). The only way to find the varieties in this blend is to peel back the capsule. You might guess that, at the very least, there is Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay and one or two other varietals. There are abundant fruit aromas and flavours, notably pears, with spice on the finish. 90.
Laughing Stock Viognier 2011 ($26). Once again, this is a focussed Viognier with a spine from the tannins. There are aromas and flavours of apple and honeydew melons. The finish is crisp and lingering. 90.
Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2011 ($26). This rich and elegant wine has benefitted from very good barrel and lees treatment. The texture is creamy. It has aromas and flavours of citrus, with understated notes of oak. 92.
Laughing Stock Portfolio 2010 ($42). For the first time in the history of this flagship red, the blend has more Cabernet Sauvignon (42%) than Merlot (32%). The rest of the blend is 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Sauvignon shows in the minty aromas. On the firm palate, there is blackberry, red currant and cherry, tailing off to cedar on the finish. Even though the wine has had 19 months in barrel and additional bottle age, it still will benefit from cellaring. This is the most Bordelais style Portfolio every made, a reflection of a cool vintage. 89-91.
This winery, which opened in 2011, is run by Judy Kingston, a former Toronto lawyer who has transformed into a passionate wine grower.
Serendipity White Lie 2010 ($18). This crisp, even austere, white begins with aromas of pears and pineapples. It delivers flavours of green apples, pear and melon with a touch of spice on the dry finish. 90.
Serendipity Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($20). This intense and zesty white begins with herbaceous and grassy aromas and delivers flavours of lime and grapefruit. The bright acidity recalls New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 89.
Serendipity Viognier 2011 ($20). Excellent lees management have given this wine a richness on the palate. There are aromas of tangerine and flavours of honey and apricot, with a dry finish. 90.
Serendipity Rosé 2012 ($18). This dry rosé seems inspired by Provence. It has aromas and flavours of strawberry, rhubarb and raspberry, with bright, savoury acidity. 90.
Serendipity Devil’s Advocate 2010 ($25). This is a delicious blend of Bordeaux grape varieties back up with Syrah. The flavours are concentrated, with earthy flavours of black currant and chocolate and with a hint of pepper on the finish. 89-90.
Upper Bench Estate Winery
In the two years in which they have run this winery, Gavin and Shana Miller have breathed new life into a previously struggling property – Gavin with solid winemaking and Shana with exceptional cheese making.
Upper Bench Pinot Blanc 2012 ($16.90). This has a freshness that recalls Sauvignon Blanc, with lightly grassy aromas, flavours of apples and limes and a lively, refreshing acidity. 90.
Upper Bench Chardonnay 2011 ($24.90). The subtle oak treatment puts a spicy, toasty frame around the rich tangerine flavours. 89.
Upper Bench Zweigelt 2011 ($N/A). This dark and medium-bodied red, a mainstay of Austrian winemaking, delivers flavours of blackberry, lingonberry and cherry in this vineyard. 88.
Upper Bench Merlot 2011 ($29.90). The wine begins with aromas of blueberry and black current. It has good intensity of fruit with flavours of black currant and a hint of vanilla. 88
Upper Bench Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($34.90). One would hardly have expected a Cabernet this generous from the 2011 vintage. The grapes were well grown. The wine has the typical minty aromas of the variety, leading on to tastes of cedar, black currant and coffee, with tannins that will give the wine longevity. 90.
Robert Van Westen is a member of a well-known Naramata cherry-growing family. While he still grows cherries, he makes very good wines from those vineyards that have begun to replace the family’s fruit trees. He works from a former fruit packing house. It is so spacious that winemaker Tom DiBello, who recently collaborated with Rob on a Pinot Noir, will begin making his DiBello Wines in the Van Westen winery.
Vino Grigio 2011 ($18.90 for 499 cases). This crisp and fresh Pinot Gris with 13.4% alcohol has more weight than one expects with the Pinot Grigio style (which is a good thing). It begins with aromas of melon and pear, leading to flavours of pear, melon and cantaloupe. As the wine warms in the glass, lovely tropical fruit flavours emerge. 89.
($24.90 for 110 cases). Gold in Canadian Wine Awards. This wine is made in the ripe, mineral-drive style of the Rhone
. The 14.3% alcohol contributes to the rich texture on the palate. It begins with aromas of apricot, peach and honey and tastes of apricot and baked apples. 90.
Voluptuous 2009 ($29.90 for 204 cases). Gold in Canadian Wine Awards. This wine, 67% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc, was released on December 1 to various channels including the VQA stores. This is a bold and generous wine from a ripe vintage, with 14.6% alcohol that you hardly notice. It begins with aromas of cassis, vanilla and coffee. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, black cherry, chocolate, tobacco, even a hint of graphite. 92.
($49.90 for 42 cases). Rob took a risk with this wine by using no sulphur (except for traces in the topping wine). Sulphur
is an almost universal preservative in winemaking, an easy way to prevent oxidation. This wine, which is 100% Cabernet Franc, came through the entire winemaking process, including 19 months in French oak barrels and is none the worse for it. In fact, I think you could cellar this for a few more years. True to the variety, this is a wine with brambly berry aromas, along with oak and cloves. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, currant, raspberry and cocoa. 91.
VD Pinot Noir 2011 ($37.90 for 96 cases). This is a joint venture wine made by Rob Van Westen and Tom DiBello (who has just moved production of his own label to the Van Westen winery). The wine has a fine dark hue. The high-toned aromas of cherry, raspberries and spice just sing from the glass. The wine has flavours of cherry and raspberry on a platform of earthy and leathery notes. The texture is youthfully firm but another six months to a year will allow the wine to reveal the silken magic of Pinot Noir. 90