Photo: Liquidity Winery near Okanagan Falls
What was perhaps my most embarrassing moment in wine came to mind during the recent Okanagan Falls Wineries Association annual tasting in Vancouver.
Another guest remarked to me how good the wines were and how far British Columbia wineries had come in the last 30 or 40 years. I agreed totally.
Substitute “Canadian” for British Columbia and it brings to mind the occasion in the early 1990s when, just prior to a trip to Bordeaux, I visited a fairly new winery at Niagara on the Lake. The winery had gained some acclaim for its red wines. I left with a bottle of Merlot and took it with me to France.
One afternoon, the group I was with were hosted to a tasting of Merlot-dominant reds in a chateau not far the famed Château Pétrus. After we had tasted through a table full of Bordeaux wine, I presented the Ontario Merlot. The French winemakers politely did not comment on the poor quality of the Canadian wine compared to what we had just tasted; but the expressions on their faces said enough.
As I was tasting the world class wines from the Okanagan Falls wineries, I thought I would like to take some of those to my French hosts, showing them how dramatically Canadian wine has improved. No one would be embarrassed embarrassed these days, especially with wines from the 14 members of the Okanagan Falls Wineries Association.
As hard as I worked that afternoon, I still did not have time to get to all 14 tables (plus a special rosé table). Here are notes on those wines which I did taste.
Blasted Church Vineyards opened in 2000 and has been operated since 2002 by Evelyn and Chris Campbell. The winery is named for the old United Church in downtown Okanagan Falls. It has been known locally as Blasted Church because, when the church was moved there in 1929 from a mining ghost town, the movers used a small charge of dynamite to loosen the nails when taking the structure apart.
Blasted Church Holy Matrimony 2014 ($16.50 for 250 cases). This is a blend of 57% Pinot Blanc, 33% Ehrenfelser and 10% Viognier. This wine gets aromatic aromas from the Ehrenfelser, green apple flavours from the Pinot Blanc and a spine of tannin and minerals from the Viognier. The wine has a crisply dry finish. In some markets, the same wine is released as Marital Bliss. 89.
Blasted Church Gewürztraminer 2014 ($16.50 for 1,720 cases). Spicy in the aromas, this wine delivers intense flavours of lychee and grapefruit. It is balanced to finish dry. 89.
Blasted Church Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($19.50 for 334 cases). Tangy and refreshing, this wine begins with aromas of herbs and citrus, leading to lime flavours. 90.
Blasted Church Cabernet Merlot 2013 ($26 for 1,045 cases). This vintage is almost sold out. I would bet the 2014 will have a similar lush style. The 2013 is 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. The wine begins with a whiff of oak, black currant and vanilla, leading to flavours of black cherry and blackberry. Long ripe tannins give this a generous texture. 90.
Blasted Church Nothing Sacred 2011 ($36 for 200 cases). This is 53% Merlot, 24% Petit Verdot and 23% Malbec. It is an elegant red with aromas of spice, cherries and cassis and with flavours of black cherries, chocolate and coffee. 91.
Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The winery is notable for the focus and consistency both of its table wines and of its sparkling wines. The late disgorged sparkling wines released in recent years are the match of Champagne.
Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs 2008 ($39.90). This wine puts on a fine display with an active mousse. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon mingled with the bready notes of prolonged lees aging. The finish is dry and very elegant. 92.
Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2014 ($17.50). This is a crisply dry wine with a good spine of minerals. On the nose and the palate, there are notes of apple and apricot. 90.
Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2014 ($20.90). This is a sculptured wine, with aromas and flavours of citrus and pear. The subtle oak treatment adds a richness to the texture. 91.
Blue Mountain Pinot Noir 2014 ($29.90). This will be released in a month or so. It is a classic Pinot Noir in the Blue Mountain style, with aromas and flavours of strawberry, with spice on the finish. The texture is silky. 91.
Liquidity Wines has made quite a splash since opening in 2012, and not just with wine. The winery restaurant – one of just two winery restaurants in the Okanagan Falls area – is a top rank restaurant. The winery has begun specialize in Pinot Noir and will be releasing two reserve Pinot Noirs later this year.
Liquidity Pinot Gris 2015 ($N/A). The wine appeals with its juicy texture and with its aromas and flavours of citrus, pears and apples. Bright acidity makes for a lively palate. 90.
Liquidity White Blend 2015 ($19.90). This is a complex blend of 32% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier, 20% Pinot Gris and 18% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine delivers aromas and flavours of tropical fruit including ripe peaches and grapefruit. It has good weight, a lively palate and a dry finish. 90.
Liquidity Chardonnay 2014 ($24.90). This delicious wine has a superb balance of fruit and subtle oak. The wine has aromas and flavours of butter and tangerine with refreshing acidity. 91.
Liquidity Rosé 2015 ($N/A for 117 cases). What makes this wine stand out is the grape variety: it is made with Dornfelder. Liquidity inherited a block of that German variety when the winery’s founders took over the vineyard. The wine has a vibrant hue, with aromas and flavours of raspberry and cranberry. The finish is dry.
Liquidity Pinot Noir Select 2013 ($N/A). This wine includes some purchased grapes although the winery’s thrust in the future will be on estate-grown Pinot Noir. This is a well-made wine, somewhat on the lighter side, with aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry and with a fine silken texture. 89.
Liquidity Pinot Noir Estate 2014 ($N/A). The depth of colour and the concentrated texture certainly make the case for estate-grown fruit. There also are five clones in this wine. The wine begins with aromas of raspberry and cherry, leading to black cherry flavours. There is a subtle spicy, earthy note on the long finish. 91.
Meyer Family Vineyards, which opened in 2008, is focussed on elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, both from its two estate vineyards and from other Okanagan vineyards.
Meyer McLean Creek Chardonnay 2014 ($30). This is an intense Chardonnay with a crisp finish. It begins with citrus aromas. On the palate, there is a medley of tangerine and stone fruit flavours around a good spine of minerality. 90.
Meyer Tribute Series Chardonnay 2014 ($30). The fruit is from the mature vines on Meyer’s Naramata Road vineyard. All of the Tribute wines are dedicated to someone; this vintage is dedicated to Art and Viv Meyer, proprietor JAK Meyer’s parents. They are being honored with a superb wine: aromas and flavours of grapefruit, apple and tangerine. Bright acidity and good minerality add focus to this complex, age-worthy wine. 91.
Meyer Rosé 2014 ($20 for 220 cases). This may be sold out since the winery’s website is set up to pre-order the 2015. On the strength of the 2014 vintage, the 2015 would be a good bet. The 2014 has a good dark salmon hue, with intense aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. The finish is zesty and dry. 90.
Meyer McLean Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014. ($40). The wine has aromas and flavours of cherry and raspberry with spice and even a hint of licorice on a full and silky palate. 91.
Meyer Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 ($40). The terroir of the Reimer Vineyard in East Kelowna is quite different from McLean Creek. This wine has a slightly lighter hue but, as is often the case with Pinot Noir, surprises with a fleshy and silky texture. There are aromas of cherry and strawberry, echoed on the palate with notes of strawberry and spice. 90.
Nighthawk Vineyards is the newest Okanagan Falls winery. It opened last year in Green Lake Valley, just west of See Ya Later Ranch Winery. The 10-acre vineyard is planted to three varieties: five acres of Gewürztraminer, three of Pinot Noir and two of Chardonnay. Some of the vines are 15 years old. The two business couples who own it also buy fruit to extend the portfolio. Their winemaker is Matt Dumayne, the chief winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad.
Nighthawk Gewürztraminer 2014 ($19.90 for 112 cases). This wine has the intense aromas and flavours – lychee, spice and ginger – for which this terroir is noted. The wine has a lingering dry finish. 90.
Nighthawk Viognier 2014 ($21.90 for 112 cases). The winery describes this as “decadent” – which I take refers to juicy, fleshy texture. The aromas of apricot and peach are intense, lingering on the long finish. 90.
Nighthawk Pinot Noir rosé 2014 ($21.90 for 48 cases). This is a
Nighthawk Merlot 2012 ($24.90). This is an appealing Merlot with bright, brambly aromas and flavours of black currant and blueberry. There is a note of spice on the long finish. 90.
Nighthawk Syrah 2012 ($31.90). Twenty months in French oak have added a polished texture to the wine. It has aromas of plum and figs and flavours of plum, black olive, dark chocolate and earthy spice. 90.
Noble Ridge Vineyard & Winery owners Leslie and Jim D’Andrea have made an almost complete transition from Calgary, where Jim was a top lawyer, since opening the winery in 2005. Unfortunately, the tasting ended before I had time to get to this table. They will also be at the BC Wine Institute’s “Bloom” tasting on May 19.
Painted Rock Estate Winery has its elegant wine shop and an immaculate 60-acre vineyard just belong the famed Skaha climbing bluffs. Given the acclaim this winery is receiving, one day we will write that the Skaha climbing bluffs are just above the famous Painted Rock Winery.
Painted Rock rosé 2014 ($21.69 for 419 cases). To my knowledge, this is the winery’s first rosé. It is made with juice from Merlot (39%), Cabernet Franc (29%), Malbec (23%) and Petit Verdot (9%). In each instance, the juice was bled from crushed grapes after a day of skin contact. This is a dry wine with flavours and aromas of cassis, cherry and cranberry. 90.
Painted Rock Red Icon 2013 ($47.49). This is a blend of 33% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 21% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). It begins with an inviting aroma of vanilla, black cherry and chocolate. On the rich and full palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum, dark chocolate and coffee. On the finish, there are notes of cloves, pepper, vanilla and chocolate. The texture is elegantly polished. 94.
Painted Rock Merlot 2013 ($34.69). Dark in colour, this brooding Merlot begins with aromas of plum, cassis and spice, leading to flavours of cassis and blueberry. There is a hint of chocolate and espresso on the finish. This is another wine that benefits from decanting, to allow the concentrated texture to reveal the aromas and flavours. This wine will blossom with five or more years of cellaring. 92
Painted Rock Syrah 2013 ($34.99). The aroma is ripe and inviting, with notes of plum, black cherry and pepper. Svelte and polished in texture, the wine has flavours of red fruit with hints of dark chocolate and black coffee. The pepper on the savoury finish punctuates a delicious wine. 93.
Pentâge Winery, which opened near Penticton in 2003, has a remarkable winery in a cave carved from bedrock. The winery is worth the visit just to see this feat of engineering by owner Paul Gardner. The wines are pretty interesting as well. Again, I just had time to taste one wine.
Pentâge Rosé 2014 ($17.30). This a rosé of Gamay and Zinfandel grapes. Those raised on off-dry white Zinfandels should note that this is a seriously dry rosé with spicy cherry and plum flavours. 89.
See Ya Later Ranch is the winery formerly known as Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards. The apocryphal story is that an early owner of the property, Major Hugh Fraser, brought a bride there after World War One. Rebelling at the isolation, she left one day, leaving a “see ya later” note. The apparent real story is that the Major signed his letters “See Ya Later.” Time constraints limited me to tasting just the rosé.
See Ya Later Nelly Rosé 2015 ($N/A). The major always had dogs. The winery’s current owners have named several of the wines for his dogs, one of which was Nelly. This wine is an unusual blend of 55% Merlot, 18% Schönburger, 15% Gamay and 12% Gewürztraminer. It is a bold, juicy rosé with a big dollop of fruit – cherry, strawberry and raspberry – on the palate. 90.
Skaha Vineyard, aka Krāzē Legz Vineyard and Winery, was the first of three wineries in the village of Kaleden. In recent vintages, it has been making the transition to Skaha Vineyards because that is a label better accepted by sommeliers.
Skaha Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2015 ($16.39 for 185 cases). This is a textbook example of this varietal: crisp, fresh, with aromas and flavours of apples and with a spine of minerality. 91.
Skaha Vineyard Chardonnay Unoaked 2015 ($17.29 for 118 cases). With this wine, Skaha Vineyards has begun to ferment with wild yeast. This is another crisp and refreshing with aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. The wine’s generous texture and mineral backbone give it good weight. 90.
Skaha Vineyard Mystique 2015 ($17.29 for 185 cases). This is a blend of 70% Pinot Blanc and 30% Chardonnay. The wine delivers a big palate of citrus, apple and peach flavours around a backbone of good minerals and bright acidity. 91.
Skaha Vineyard Rosé 2015 ($19.85 for 118 cases). Made with Merlot, this is a plump, deep-hued rosé with 14 grams of residual sugar. It is a crowd pleaser, juicy in texture with flavours of plum and strawberry. 88.
Skaha Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013 ($22.49 for 120 cases). This wine aged in French oak for 22 months, polishing its tannins and texture. It is a bright brambly red, with aromas and flavours of blackberry and cherry. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Winery celebrates the 20th anniversary of opening this year. Owners Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger have had a succession of good winemakers but none have had the impact of Dwight Sick, the winemaker since 2008. He has persuaded the owners to add several exciting new varieties.
Stag’s Hollow Riesling 2014 ($16.99). A crisp and refreshing wine, this has begun to evolve the way a Riesling should, showing notes of petrol (marmalade is you prefer) on the nose and palate. There are flavours of apple and lime. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Moscato Frizzante 2015 ($21.99). Here is another fine emulator of Prosecco. The wine begins with aromas of lime and peach, leading to spicy stone fruit on the palate. The texture is light, with a creamy fizz and a dry finish. 90.
Stag’s Hollow Albariño 2015 ($21.99). This Spanish white variety produces excellent dry, aromatic wines in the Okanagan, judging from this debut wine from Stag’s Hollow. (Terravista on the Naramata Bench has also released a very good Albariño.) This is a crisp and dry white, beginning with herbal and floral aromas and delivering flavours of green apple and pineapple. 91.
Synchromesh Wines, which opened in 2011, has made a name for its well-crafted Riesling wines. Time constraints limited me to tasting just the rosé.
Synchromesh Cachola Family Farms Cabernet Franc rosé 2015 ($23 for 88 cases). The colour is light rose petal but the weight on the palate is much more substantial, with flavours of strawberry and raspberry. The finish is dry. The winery’s website says this is already out of stock. A pity. 90.
Topshelf Winery is based on a Kaleden vineyard owned by Leonard and Myra Kwiatkowski. Former Saskatchewan residents, they greet everyone with Prairies warmth and enthusiasm. The winery is so named because two of their sons have been hockey players.
Topshelf Slapshot Chardonnay 2014 ($18). An unoaked Chardonnay, this wine is crisp, with aromas and flavours of apples and citrus. The finish is tangy. 88.
Topshelf Point Shot Pinot Gris 2014 ($18). This has classic flavours of pear and pineapple with a crisp and refreshing finish. 90.
Topshelf Over The Top Merlot 2014 ($20). The wine begins with aromas of black cherry and vanilla, delivering those flavours along with a juicy texture. 89.
Topshelf Hat Trick Meritage 2014 ($33). This is a delicious and accessible Meritage with long ripe tannins and flavours of black cherry, cassis and vanilla. 90.
Wild Goose Vineyards is 26 years old this year. Operated by the Kruger family, it is one of the original “farmgate” winery. Wild Goose has won just about more Lieutenant Governor awards of excellence in wine than any other Okanagan winery. It has made its reputation with white wines in particular.
Wild Goose Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2015 ($15.69). This wine was bottled very recently and is in bottle shock. It has the classic green apple flavours but still was disjointed on the finish. 88 -?.
Wild Goose Gewürztraminer 2014 ($16.29). This wine delivers aromas and flavours of grapefruit and citrus, with the pleasant spice that one expects from this variety. The wine is balanced to finish dry. 90.
Wild Goose Pinot Gris 2015 ($15.69). This is crisp and refreshing, with aromas and flavours of citrus, pear and apple. There is a note of spice on the finish. 91.
Wild Goose Red Horizon Meritage 2013 ($19.19). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The wine is deliciously generous on the palate, with flavours of black currant, black cherry, vanilla and chocolate. 90.