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Friday, September 11, 2009

Dispatches From B.C. - Eureka! A Pair Of Solid Canadian Wineries

I really haven't kept my disdain for Canadian wines a secret on these pages.  While some of the Canadian wines I have reviewed have been less than awful, apart from Jackson-Triggs Meritage from that winery's Okanagan Estate near Oliver, B.C., which I think is consistently good albeit over-priced, most have been mediocre.

On a recent run through the Okanagan Valley however, Osoyoos and Oliver to be precise, I decided to visit 3 area wineries for a quick tasting at each, before continuing with my journey to the West Coast. 

The first was supposed Canadian heavy-hitter and stalwart Burrowing Owl.  While I have always found Burrowing Owl's wines drinkable, I have never found them worthy of their North-of-the-border hype.  At their best they are ok and at their worst, they are downright offensive.  Much like all Canadian wines, their wines are also over-priced.  I did grab a bottle of their 2006 Meritage to compare it to the Jackson-Triggs version and while I have yet to try it, I wake up with night sweats over the fact that it cost $40.00, and likely will not be anywhere near as good as other $40 or under bottles like Justin's "The Orphan" Cabernet/Syrah blend from Paso Robles, California, Barone Ricasoli's Chianti Classico "Brolio" or any of Achaval-Ferrer's Malbec bottlings from Argentina, among many, many others.

Next, I hit Nk'Mip Cellars, North America's first native-owned winery.  As always with Canadian wine, my expectations were low.  However, after pulling into the winery at the shockingly nice Spirit Ridge Resort (of which the winery is part and where we had a mind-blowingly good meal at its flagship restaurant, Passa Tempo), I was immediately intrigued.  The resort and the winery were clearly the result of serious planning, effort and focus.  The wines reflect this.  Both the 2007 Pinot Blanc and the award-winning 2006 Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon were worthy of much praise.  While still not really challenging more established wine areas in terms of depth and downright quality, these wines were solid, well-made wines that were very nice and drove me to buy a half-case of each.  The Pinot Blanc is really a standout white.  Fresh and chrisp and perfect for a hot day on Lake Osooyos.  The Cabernet is just a typical well-made version of that varietal, which shows some distinction of place in that it tastes different than cabernets from anywhere else.  While not cheap, its $29.99 price tag also made it more appealing.

Last, a place that we visited on a drive-by whim - Stoneboat Vineyards.  This tiny, clean-lined and contemporary winery, with its welcoming attitude really delivered.  We tried the 2008 white blend "Chorus", the 2008 "Faux-Pas" Rose and the 2007 Pinotage.  All were outstanding and not just by Canadian standards.  These small batch, carefully crafted wines that are really only available from the winery, VQA stores and on a few restaurant wine lists, are something special and hover around the $20 price tag.  I picked up a full case and wish that I had grabbed more (especially now that I see that the Rose is sold-out).

In any event, maybe there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.  A hope that maybe, just maybe Canadian wines will deliver on their much balleyhooed promise and that they won't empty your wallet in the process.  Oh, and check out Noble Ridge Winery too if you're in the area.

Posted by Knox Harrington on September 11, 2009 | Permalink


I live in BC, a province which, happily, permits U-brew places to operate. I make my own wine there, from commercial kits. I buy the most expensive kits they sell, and a batch of 30 bottles costs about $200. That's about $7 a bottle, and after a year, they are the equivalent of a $25 or more bottle from a liquor store. I can't imagine paying $40 for a bottle of wine, unless I was dining in a restaurant at someone else's expense. The only hitch is that you have to make enough to let them sit for a year, which most people don't have the discipline to do. My wine guy says that the vast majority of his customers take the stuff home and drink it right away....

Posted by: BillBC | 2009-09-12 10:15:30 AM

You should also try Black Hills, especially the Nota Bene.

Posted by: Craig | 2009-09-13 4:56:26 PM

Mr. Harrington:

Although I don't claim to have your sophisticated palate for good wine, I think you need to explore some more of the Golden Mile in Oliver/Osoyoos.

I grew up there, and my grandfather's original orchard was one of the very first vineyards in Oliver. It broke my grandmother's heart to see their life's work cut down and turned into grapes, but I digress.

There are many, many wineries in That region that make some particularly good wine. I could rattle off many of them but suffice it to say, they have definitely come into their own. I'd also like to add that many are still small to the point they can't bottle enough to supply a large market. This however, does not diminish their quality.

I will offer a few labels now that you may have missed on your quick trip.

Quails Gate, Westbank
Stag's hollow, OK Falls
Hester Creek, Oliver
Quinta Fererra,(sp?) Oliver
Road 13, Oliver
Silver Sage, Oliver

Please, Sir, spend some more time exploring these small, but unique gems. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by: arctic_front | 2009-09-13 5:36:17 PM

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