Monday, May 4, 2015

Naramata Bench 2015 tasting: Part two.






 Photo: Bench 1775's Val Tait

The most crowded wine real estate in the Okanagan is the Naramata Bench, a loosely defined area that stretches from Penticton to the Chute Lake turnoff north of Naramata.

Including a few virtual wineries, there are 38 producers. You can drive from one end to the other in 45 minutes, without breaking the speed limit. Only a teetotaller would fail to find something to drink here. Most wine tourists are just overwhelmed by the choices.

The Naramata Bench Wineries Association represents 25 of those producers. The association has just concluded its annual spring tasting events in Victoria and Vancouver. Those attending likely also were overwhelmed by the choices. Even after spending six hours at the Vancouver tastings, I still missed a few wineries.

That is not to complain. Two decades ago, there were not this many wineries in all of British Columbia. There certainly was not the quality of wine either. British Columbia’s wine consumers are fortunate indeed.

For those unable to attend, here are my notes on some of the wines. I am dividing the reviews into two parts. Just like you might never get to the far end of Naramata Road in one day, you might never get to the end of this in one reading.

The prices are close but sometimes not exact, thanks to the government’s decision to separate the taxes. Add about 15% to prices ending on odd numbers.

Bench 1775 Winery boasts that it has the best view on the Naramata Bench. From the winery’s patio, the view takes in vineyards and Okanagan Lake, with Summerland and Giant’s Head on the far side. The winery has beach access on the lake where it hosts weddings.

Bench 1775 Chill 2014 ($18). This seven-grape blend is anchored on Pinot Gris. The wine, as you might expect, is a total fruit salad, with flavours of mango and pink grapefruit. It is lively and refreshing. 90.

Bench 1775 Pinot Gris 2014 ($22). A wine with a juicy mid-palate but a crisp finish, this appeals with aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and melon. 89.

Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($22). This is a racy white, with aromas and flavours of lemon, lime and grapefruit. Winemaker Val Tait builds the layers of flavour by picking the grapes four different times. The early pickings contribute the vibrant character and the later pickings bring riper flavours. 91.

Bench 1775 Glow 2014 ($19.90). This is a Malbec rosé, Salmon pink in hue, it has aromas and flavours of strawberry and rhubarb. It is a light, refreshing and dry rosé recalling rosé wines of the south of France. 89.

Bench 1775 Grove 2013 ($20). This is a blend of 57.7% Malbec, 16.9% Merlot, 8.4% Cabernet Franc and 7% Syrah. The wine begins with the appealing perfumed aromas of Malbec. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, blackberry, raspberry and plum. The soft ripe tannins make this an accessible and easy-drinking red. 88.

Bench 1775 Merlot Collector Series 2013 ($30). This is wine with intense flavours of cassis, vanilla and black cherry, with flavours of sage, black currant and black cherry, accentuated with the oak notes from having spent a year in barrel. There is a touch of cocoa on the finish. 90.

Bench 1775 Cabernet Franc Malbec 2013 ($N/A). This is a 50/50 blend with all the brambly aromas and flavours of Cabernet Franc along with the aromas of violets and the black cherry and mocha flavours from the Malbec. The wine has a firm, age-worthy texture. 91.

Bench 1775 Malbec 2013 ($30). This winery makes good use of its Malbec, a variety of rising profile in the Okanagan. This wine has aromas of violets, black cherry and plum, supplemented by flavours of black cherry, loganberry and mulberry. 91.

Black Widow Winery opened in 2006 and began making wine a few years earlier. Winemaker and co-owner Dick Lancaster last year began treating his wine climb members to vertical tastings of his flagship Bordeaux blend, Hourglass. He was not pouring it at the Naramata Bench tasting but he is planning another vertical at the winery in July.

Black Widow Pinot Gris 2014 ($21 for 530 cases). A little skin contact has given this wine an appealing blush. It begins with aromas of citrus and spice, leading to flavours of citrus and apple with a haunting touch of anise on the crisp finish. 91.

Black Widow Gewürztraminer 2014 ($22 for 220 cases). The winery calls this off-dry but the balance is so exquisite that most palates would find it dry. The wine has aromas of spice and grapefruit rind, leading to intensely spicy flavours of lychee and grapefruit. 91.

Black Widow Oasis 2014 ($22 for 700 cases). This is an aromatic and fruity blend of Schönburger, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. It has refined spicy aromas and flavours with hints of herbs and citrus. 91.

Black Widow Schönburger 2014 ($25). This is a spicy Muscat cousin bred in Geisenheim in 1939 and commercialized in 1980. British Columbia may have the third largest planting (the acreage is miniscule) after German and Britain. It makes a lovely light aromatic wine, delicately spiced with flavours of orange and grapefruit.  92.

Black Widow Muscat Ottonel 2014 ($25 for 85 cases). Dick Lancaster seems to have an affinity for aromatic varietals. This is the winery’s first Muscat Ottonel, with grapes sourced from a nearby vineyard. It is spicy on the nose and palate with the classic grapey flavours of Muscat. A touch of residual sugar lifts both the aromas and flavours. 90.

Black Widow Syrah Rosé 2014 ($23 for 80 cases). This dry rosé  is loaded with flavour. It begins with aromas of strawberry and raspberry and goes on to flavours of cherry and plum, with a lingering finish. 90.

Black Widow Merlot 2012 ($30 for 240 cases). Bold and ripe, this has layers of flavour – black currant, plum, chocolate, vanilla. The wine has been aged 21 months in French oak (30% new). That polished the ripe tannins which frame the spoonful of ripe fruit on the palate. 91.

Black Widow Phobia 2013 ($27 for 150 cases). This is an effective blend of Syrah and Merlot (50% each). The Syrah provides most of the power. The wine begins with aromas of prune plum and black cherry.  On the palate, there are earthy flavours of plums with a touch of black pepper. The Merlot contributes structure and a note of black currant. 91.

Black Widow Red Back 2013 ($32 for 200 cases). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. The wine gets its firm and ageable structure from the Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a note of black currant. On the finish, the wine has notes of liquorice and chocolate. 91.

D’Angelo Estate Winery was opened in 2007 by Sal D’Angelo. He operates a winery of the same name near Windsor, now managed by his son, Chris. The Naramata winery has a more attractive setting and arguably a better terroir.

D’Angelo Viognier 2012 ($15). This is D’Angelo’s only white, from a one-acre block of Viognier. The wine begins with delicate honeysuckle aromas leading to flavours of peach and apricot. Medium-bodied, the wine has a crisp finish. 88.

D’Angelo Pinot Noir 2009 ($18). At six years of age, this wine still is firm and concentrated, seemingly needing a few more years or a vigorous decanting. There are flavours of black cherry, plum and chocolate, with a touch of vanilla from the 18 months the wine aged in French and Hungarian oak. 88.

D’Angelo Sette Copa 2010 ($25). This is a blend of 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 18% Malbec 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. It is an intense and brooding red with flavours of black currant, cola and dark chocolate. 90.

Kettle Valley Winery, which opened in 1996, is one of the pioneers of the Naramata Bench. Owners and winemakers Bob Ferguson and Tim Watts have a reputation for producing wines full of flavour, with remarkable longevity.

Kettle Valley Gewürztraminer 2013 ($22). This wine begins with dramatic aromas of spice and ginger. On the palate, there are herbal and spicy flavours mingled with grapefruit. The intense flavours stay on the palate for many minutes. 91.

Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2013 ($24). Kettle Valley is among the few wineries that give lots of skin contact to Pinot Gris, extracting a rose-coloured hue and a great deal of flavour. This has aromas and flavours of apples, citrus and rhubarb. 90.

Great Northern Viognier 2014 ($21). This is Kettle Valley’s Similkameen label. This is a ripe and luscious wine with flavours of apricots and ripe peaches. 90.

Kettle Valley Hayman Pinot Noir 2012 ($38). This begins with aromas of plums and prunes, leading to flavours of cherry and strawberry set against earthy notes of forest floor. This is built to age. 90-92.

Kettle Valley Old Main Red 2012 ($38 for 263 cases).  This is an intense, even brooding, red with aromas of black cherry, black currant and vanilla. This is echoed on the palate, along with flavours of dark chocolate and coffee. 92.

Quidni Estate Winery this year has taken over the winery and the tasting room formerly operated by the unsuccessful 3 Mile Estate Winery. When new owner Marty Gunderson took over the roadside property, his friends asked him why and he replied why not. That is more or less what Quidni means in Latin. His winemaker is Todd Moore who has long juggled a career as a consulting winemaker with a career as a fire fighter.

Quidni Viognier 2014 ($NA). This is a crisply refreshing white, with aromas of stone fruit and flavours of green apples. 90.

Quidni Gewürztraminer 2013 ($NA). This is another crisp and clean white, with spicy aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lychee. 89.

Quidni Merlot 2013 ($19). This is a juicy, approachable Merlot with long ripe tannins supporting flavours of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. 88.


Red Rooster Winery’s Karen Gillis rarely puts a foot wrong in the cellar, making wines that are eminently drinkable. Her marketing department seems so impressed that a number of the wines are designated “reserve.” That term is often overused in the Okanagan but perhaps not in Karen’s case.

Red Rooster Reserve Viognier 2014 ($19 for 317 cases). This is a lovely aromatic white, with a hint of grapefruit and stone fruit on the nose. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and apricot with lingering tropical fruit flavours on the finish. The finish is crisp and refreshing, a remarkable achievement in a wine with 14.4% alcohol. 91.

Red Rooster Riesling 2013 ($14.75). If I have ever met an underpriced Riesling, this is it. The wine is already developing the petrol aromas beloved by Riesling aficionados, along with grapefruit and tangerine. It has flavours of marmalade and grapefruit rind around a spine of minerals. 92

Red Rooster Reserve Rosé 2013 ($19.10 for 480 cases). This is a blend of  35% Malbec, 27% Cabernet Franc, 15% Syrah, 8% Mourvedre, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Pinot Noir and 3% Grenache. The winery’s tasting notes are a bit more verbose than mine but I totally agree with them. “‘Pretty in Pink’ colour with a summer fresh aroma of strawberry, watermelon, crab apple, red currant, cherry and rose petal.  The medium frame is supported by refreshing acidity.  Flavours of red berry, currant and red cherry fill the mouth.  Refreshing red fruits and red berry tea notes linger on the finish of this extra-dry rosé.” 90 

Red Rooster Cabernet Merlot 2012 ($16.50). Here is another bargain. The blend is 36% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Mourvedre, 3% Malbec and 3% Grenache.  The wine was tank fermented and aged in older (80%) American oak and (20%) French oak barrels for 14 months. There are aromas of cassis, black cherry and oak with flavours of black currant, blueberry, plum and spice. The soft tannins make this a candidate for drinking now. The winery advises drinking it by 2017. 90.

Red Rooster Reserve Meritage 2012 ($21.75 for 1,150 cases). The varietals in this blend were fermented individually in newer French and American oak barrels for 10 months. At that point, the best barrels were selected and blended, with another four months oak aging to follow. The blend is 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. This well-structured wine seemed a little shy on the nose but showed excellent flavours of black currant, blackberry and mocha. The wine is built to age. 90.


Terravista Vineyards is the winery that Black Hills co-founders Bob and Senka Tennant opened in 2011 after emerging from a brief wine industry sabbatical. Terravista only produces white wines, including the only wines in the Okanagan made from two Spanish varieties, Albariño and Verdejo.

Terravista Albariño 2014 ($18.90). This is an interesting white. It has good weight on the palate with a crisply dry finish. It has aromas and flavours of apples and honeydew melons with hints of herbs. 91.

Terravista Viognier 2014 ($18.90). This is an appealing and ripe Viognier, with aromas and flavours of apricots and peaches. The juicy fruit and texture effectively balances the 14% alcohol. 91.

Terravista Fandango 2013 ($24.90). This is a blend of Albariño and Verdejo. The flavours and aromatics are similar to the single varietal Albariño. The wine is fresh and lively with excellent length and persistence. 92.

Terravista Figaro 2013 ($23.90). This is the winery’s Rhone blend – Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne. It has aromas and flavours of stone fruit and shows good weight on the palate. A lovely hint of hazelnuts persists on the dry finish. 90.

Van Westen Vineyards was opened in 2005 by Robert Van Westen. The winery and the tasting room, which is open occasionally, has taken over a former fruit packing plant. The Van Westens have been fruit growers for decades and likely still are the largest cherry growers on the Naramata Bench.

Van Westen Voluptuous 2011 ($29.90 for 319 cases). This wine is always a blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc, reflecting the plantings in single vineyard that produces the wine. The wine has aromas of plums, mulberry and black olives, with flavours of plums, blueberries and black currants. The wine is still firm and is quite ageworthy. 90.

Van Westen V 2011 ($34.90 for 426 cases). This is called V because it incorporates all five Bordeaux varietals: 49% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 24% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. This is the third vintage of V, which Robert began making when he had access to all five varieties. This is a bold wine, with layers of dark fruit (cassis, plum, black cherry) with a note of sage. The firm texture also indicates the need to cellar the wine and be rewarded with your patience. 90-92.


Van Westen/DiBello Pinot Noir 2013 ($39.90 for 51 cases). Robert collaborated with winemaker Tom DiBello to make this wine. It is seductive and silky with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. 90.

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