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
That is not to complain. Two decades ago, there were not
this many wineries in all of British
. There certainly was not the quality of wine
either. British Columbia
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
($21). This is Kettle
label. This is a ripe and luscious wine with flavours of apricots and ripe
Kettle Valley Hayman Pinot Noir 2012
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
($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.
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.