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How to Choose a Wine to Drink

The wine shelf in your local gro­cery store may...

The Top 10 Best Wines

Few exer­cises are as much fun, or teach us as...

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How to Choose a Wine to Drink

The wine shelf in your local gro­cery store may present the most intim­i­dat­ing shop­ping expe­ri­ence most peo­ple face in their day-to-day life. The bewil­dered shop­per is faced with an end­less sup­ply of both obscure and fan­ci­ful labels that either:

  1. Tease us of the deli­cious juice inside, or
  2. Warn us of pos­si­ble disappointment

There may be stick­ers or tags on the shelf sell­ing us on the mer­its of one bot­tle over another. There might even be a reas­sur­ing point score from a pres­ti­gious critic. But which wine do you choose for your­self? Hope­fully, you see some­thing you know you like and head hastily to the cash register.

Imag­ine for a sec­ond if other ele­ments in the store pre­sented a sim­i­lar chal­lenge – like the cereal aisle. What if you could not rec­og­nize any of the boxes? This may seem hard to believe, but you could encounter this by mov­ing to a new neigh­bour­hood with a dif­fer­ent eth­nic pop­u­la­tion or even by mov­ing to a new coun­try. You’ll prob­a­bly do the same thing that you would do in the wine sec­tion – judge a book by it’s cover – or in this case, it’s packaging.

We all have a nat­ural incli­na­tion to make safe choices. How can you get more effec­tive at choos­ing wines that you like and avoid­ing more dis­ap­point­ments? Unlike the cereal aisle, when you are pick­ing out wine, part of your deci­sion is based on the notion of romance and excite­ment. Part of us all wants to take a chance and make a dis­cov­ery. Clearly you need a strat­egy when approach­ing the pit­falls of such a vast array of wines. After­all, the bet­ter you pick, the more you will enjoy wine, and the hap­pier you’ll be. So here is my advice to you:

Tip #1: Trust What You Know You Like

When choos­ing a wine to suit your tastes, your first frame of ref­er­ence should be to find a wine that you at least know some­thing about. Don’t read all of the tags or adver­tis­ing, and don’t assume that the critic knows more about wine than you do. Your taste buds prob­a­bly work as well as theirs. Just make a safe choice in the first bot­tle. Have you tried this wine before? Have you tried the spe­cific win­ery before? Maybe a friend rec­om­mended the wine? Or maybe you’ve tried the region before. What­ever the case maybe – choose one thing that you like and play it safe.

Tip #2: Try a Risky Wine

Instead of head­ing straight to the cashier, choose one more bot­tle of wine – one that is risky. Your cri­te­ria for this bot­tle will change day-to-day. Maybe you like the label, the crit­ics rat­ing, or the coun­try that the wine is from. It can even be as sim­ple as buy­ing a bot­tle that is sim­i­lar to your “safe” choice, but just a few dol­lars more or less expen­sive.

In my exam­ple above, the store pre­sented us with an entire shelf of unknown wines to explore. Tak­ing a chance on a new type of wine is one of those rare times in life where the thrill of a dis­cov­ery vastly out­paces the dis­ap­point­ment of a less than stel­lar bot­tle. Even if you don’t love what you took a chance on, you most likely got a decent enough bot­tle of wine that will serve its job at the din­ner table. You might not get inspired, but your night is cer­tainly not ruined. You’ve learned and advanced your knowl­edge about wine in a way. What makes this sit­u­a­tion pos­si­ble is that the qual­ity level of wine today is so high across the board, at just about every price point.

I always think: if that wine is on the shelf some­one must have liked it enough to put it there in the first place.

The Top 10 Best Wines

Few exer­cises are as much fun, or teach us as much about our­selves, as mak­ing top ten lists. What are your top ten favorite music albums? How about top ten hockey play­ers of all time? What we pick holds hints not just to our aes­thetic taste but also our his­tory and place. My favorite hockey player of all time hap­pens to be Pavel Bure. I think he’s the great­est sin­gle goal scorer ever. But hav­ing him at the top of my list might tell you that I grew up in Van­cou­ver in the 1990s. My list is a bit biased.

Part of enjoy­ing wine is devel­op­ing biases as well. While all of our palates do tend towards some basic truths such as sweet­ness tastes good, there are other ele­ments at play that affect our per­cep­tion of taste. Time and place can have a pro­found impact on our taste. How often have you heard, “I was in the south of France and there was this €2 bot­tle that tasted bet­ter than $20 wines I drink in the US!”

If we acknowl­edge our biases, we under­stand why we like cer­tain things and can begin to pre­dict other things that we will like and maybe even what other peo­ple will like. When I worked at a small wine shop in Uni­ver­sity, the most com­mon ques­tion I was asked was, “What are your safe bot­tles?” I always preached to my cus­tomers that they should by two bot­tles of wine:

• One bot­tle of wine that was a safe choice
• One bot­tle of wine that was a small step out­side of their com­fort zone

Essen­tially, I was ask­ing my cus­tomers to take a chance. They had to trust me a lit­tle, trust that I had their best inter­ests at heart, and trust that I wasn’t just try­ing to get rid of something.

My picks for “safe” bot­tles of wine, is essen­tially my top 10 favourite and best wines. This may not be the sin­gle great­est bot­tles of wine I have ever had, but rather, they are the safe ones that I know – vin­tage in, vin­tage out. They are wines that are excit­ing and pro­vide a place of ref­er­ence. If I’m going to rec­om­mend wines to my peers, it’s only fair that they are privy to my own biases.

My top ten wine list has a few com­mon threads:

• The wines tend to have a his­tory of con­sis­tency.
• Most of them are pretty good even in bad weather years.
• The pro­duc­ers care about these prod­ucts.
• Most of them are not large brands, but are large enough that I can find them all over the place – even in other coun­tries.
• They all pro­vide value at their price points (the most expen­sive one on the list is $35CA).
• These wines taste good as a social drink or can be poured along­side great food.

So what are my top ten? As you might imag­ine this list could have been much longer but I must cen­sor myself. I real­ize that in a year from now, it may change again. I will pick this list apart one by one in upcom­ing weeks, but here it is, and not in any par­tic­u­lar order:

Masi Cam­pofiorin
Dr. Loosen Ries­ling
Chateau Chasse Spleen
d’Arenberg Foot­bolt Shi­raz
Mar­carini Moscato d’Asti
Mar­cel Lapierre Mor­gon
La Rioja Alta Arana
Ridge Vine­yards Zin­fan­del
Heitz Chardon­nay
Cono Sur Carmenere

Wine Guide for Beginners

For a wine novice, the world of wine can be very over­whelm­ing. There is so much infor­ma­tion about wine avail­able and many dif­fer­ent types of wine to choose from, that you might find it hard to get started.

This is where wine guides come in handy. I came across a guide from Wine Folly, which is fan­tas­tic for wine new­bies. The guide covers:

  • Types of wines and colors
  • How to read a wine label
  • Types of wine glasses
  • The proper way to store wine
  • Wine and food pairings
  • Tast­ing tips
  • Aro­mas and flavors

 

wine-guide-wine-store

 

Did you find this chart use­ful? I would love to hear what you think is miss­ing in the com­ment box below.

 

 

Learn About Wine: WSET

 

If you have ques­tions or are con­fused about the dif­fer­ent types of wine edu­ca­tion and wine titles, search no fur­ther. In this blog I will explain the Wine and Spirit Edu­ca­tional Trust (WSET) path of edu­ca­tion and hope­fully answer your ques­tions. In a pre­vi­ous blog I dis­cussed the Som­me­lier edu­ca­tion path. Both are valu­able course of study but dif­fer slightly in their focus, deliv­ery, and tast­ing model.

The Wine and Spirit Edu­ca­tion Trust was estab­lished in Lon­don, Eng­land in 1969.The Trust was set up with the finan­cial sup­port of a Vint­ner and is still reg­is­tered as a char­ity orga­ni­za­tion today. It was estab­lished to pro­mote, pro­vide and develop high qual­ity edu­ca­tion in wines, spir­its and other types of alco­holic liquors for peo­ple that worked in this field (sell­ers, hospitality).

Today the WSET is rec­og­nized to be the world’s lead­ing provider of wine and spirit edu­ca­tion. They have over 500+ approved providers world-wide and in 2012 they reported to be in fifty-eight coun­tries in six­teen dif­fer­ent languages.

What is the struc­ture of the program?

The pro­gram is bro­ken down into 5 levels:

Level 1“Con­fi­dence for front line staff”
a. Award in Wines – 1 day course that pro­vides basic wine knowl­edge as well food and wine match­ing.
b. Award in Wine Ser­vice – 1 day course that shows par­tic­i­pants the proper ways to serve wine. This course is really aimed at peo­ple that are look­ing to develop some pro­fes­sional skills for work­ing in a restau­rant.
c. Award in Spir­its – 1 day course that pro­vides basic knowl­edge of dif­fer­ent types of spir­its avail­able and how to cor­rectly serve them.

Level 2 “Look­ing behind the label”
a. Award in Wines and Spir­its – Stu­dents study the major grape vari­eties and where they are grown. They also learn how to taste wine pro­fes­sion­ally using the WSET Sys­tem­atic Approach to Tast­ing.
b. Award in Spir­its – Here the stu­dents learn about Dis­till­ing process and explore the world of spir­its and liqueurs.

Level 3 “Explor­ing the world of wines and spir­its”
a. Award in Wines and Spir­its – This a more com­pre­hen­sive course that explores a wider range of wines and spir­its. In order to com­plete this course the par­tic­i­pants must iden­tify two wines that are brown bagged using the WSET Sys­tem­atic Approach to Tast­ing.
b. Inter­na­tional Higher Cer­tifi­cate in Wines and Spir­its – This qual­i­fi­ca­tion is only avail­able through Inter­na­tional WSET providers.

Level 4 “Cre­at­ing the trade pro­fes­sional”
a. Diploma in Wines and Spir­its – The Diploma builds on the level 3 cer­tifi­cate and any­one that is look­ing to do the Diploma must com­plete level 3 require­ments. The Diploma is a spe­cial­ist qual­i­fi­ca­tion where detailed knowl­edge is com­bined with com­mer­cial fac­tors and a thor­ough sys­tem for the pro­fes­sional eval­u­a­tion of wines and spir­its. After com­plet­ing this course stu­dents can apply for a Mas­ters of wine, which will be explored in the next blog.

Level 5 – “Iden­ti­fy­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for the indus­try
a. Hon­ours Diploma – This is an indi­vid­ual research project that enables stu­dents to develop skills in research, eval­u­a­tion and analy­sis in a wine and spirit related subject.

What is the dif­fer­ence between get­ting ones Som­me­lier train­ing or WSET training?

The Inter­na­tional Som­me­lier Guild (ISG) courses were cre­ated by a pri­vate indi­vid­ual in Ontario who devel­oped a series of courses and exams and then cer­ti­fied stu­dents as “som­me­liers”. The ISG courses are pri­mar­ily offered just in North Amer­ica, and are not well known inter­na­tion­ally. The ISG is not rec­og­nized by the Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers in Lon­don, England.

The WSET is an inde­pen­dent accred­ited edu­ca­tional insti­tute based in Lon­don that has offered the WSET courses for forty years in thirty nine coun­tries. The courses are rec­og­nized by The Insti­tute of Mas­ters of Wine who over­see the syl­labus. The WSET courses are well known through­out the world and are con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard in wine education.

What types of careers are avail­able, if I obtain a WSET qualification?

Com­plet­ing your level three cer­tifi­cate will give you the same accred­i­ta­tion as ISG that we had dis­cussed in a pre­vi­ous blog, so some stu­dents will take their knowl­edge back to a fine din­ing restau­rant. Oth­ers will explore the areas of wine edu­ca­tion for a win­ery, wine spe­cial­ist for wine retail store, buy­ers for a wine retail store, sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives for an agency, brand man­agers for a spe­cific brand, wine writ­ers and even entre­pre­neurs start­ing a busi­ness in the wine indus­try. The Diploma in Wine and Spir­its edu­ca­tion will give you more oppor­tu­nity to con­sult with orga­ni­za­tions and winer­ies because you will have more depth knowl­edge of the indus­try both as con­sumer and com­mer­cial side.

 

Learn About Wine: Advanced

If you are look­ing to advance your wine knowl­edge or are inter­ested in influ­enc­ing or teach­ing oth­ers about wine, there a few direc­tions you can go:

• Soci­ety of Wine Edu­ca­tors – Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Wine (CSW), Cer­ti­fied Wine Edu­ca­tor (CWE), Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Spir­its (CSS), and Hospitality/Beverage Spe­cial­ist Cer­tifi­cate (HBSC)
• Insti­tute of Mas­ters of Wine – Mas­ters of Wine (MW)
• The Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers — Mas­ter Sommelier

Soci­ety of Wine Educators

The Soci­ety of Wine Edu­ca­tors was formed in 1974 to advance wine edu­ca­tion through pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The soci­ety offers many oppor­tu­ni­ties for mem­bers to con­tinue advanc­ing their knowl­edge of wine from sem­i­nars and con­fer­ences to sev­eral cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams. The society’s goal is to fos­ter and pro­mote the pro­fes­sional edu­ca­tion and devel­op­ment of the indi­vid­ual and the pro­fes­sional edu­ca­tion and devel­op­ment of the wine indus­try as a whole.

The Pro­fes­sional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams they offer are:

• Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Wine (CSW)
• Cer­ti­fied Wine Edu­ca­tor (CWE)
• Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Spir­its (CSS)
• Hospitality/Beverage Spe­cial­ist Cer­tifi­cate (HBSC)

Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Wine (CSW)

This cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is widely rec­og­nized and regarded by the inter­na­tional wine and spir­its indus­try. The pro­gram is self-study with a one hour exam­i­na­tion to achieve the certification.

When reg­is­ter­ing for the course, stu­dents receive a study guide and options of exam­i­na­tion dates. The Soci­ety some­times offers an optional review ses­sion prior to an exam­i­na­tion. Another resource that is avail­able to mem­bers of the Soci­ety is an Online Wine Acad­emy, which is designed to sup­ple­ment the study guide and edu­cate mem­bers on the dif­fer­ent aspects of viti­cul­ture and wine.

The pro­gram cov­ers the fol­low­ing areas: phys­i­ol­ogy of taste, wine com­po­si­tion and chem­istry, faults, viti­cul­ture and enol­ogy, labels, laws and wine regions, the U.S. wine indus­try, wine’s con­tri­bu­tion to health, wine eti­quette and ser­vice, food and wine pair­ing, and respon­si­ble bev­er­age alco­hol ser­vice.
Stu­dents must achieve a 75% or bet­ter score on their exam to receive the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. After com­ple­tion of the CSW cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, a stu­dent would be qual­i­fied to take the next cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, Cer­ti­fied Wine Edu­ca­tor certification.

Cer­ti­fied Wine Edu­ca­tor (CWE)
All par­tic­i­pants want­ing to pur­sue the CWE must have com­pleted the CSW. This cer­ti­fi­ca­tion goes fur­ther to test the participant’s wine knowl­edge, tast­ing exper­tise, and teach­ing abil­ity. Just like the CSW, the CWE is also widely rec­og­nized and highly regarded by the wine and spirit community.

This cer­ti­fi­ca­tion con­sists of intense the­ory exam, two blind tast­ings and a pre­sen­ta­tion on a wine topic. The pro­gram is self-study, but par­tic­i­pants may use the Society’s on-line wine Acad­emy, CSW study guide, and many more resources that the Soci­ety recommends.

The exam­i­na­tion is bro­ken down into the fol­low­ing areas:

Theory/Written – 85 mul­ti­ple choice and one essay to show that the par­tic­i­pant can for­mu­late infor­ma­tion and present to a tar­get audience.

Varietal/Appellation Wine Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion – must taste and match eight dif­fer­ent types of wines to a list of ten pos­si­bil­i­ties and pro­vide tast­ing notes using the Society’s Tast­ing Rationale.

Faults and Imbal­ances Wine Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion – must iden­tify oxi­da­tion and increased lev­els of sugar, acid, tan­nin, aces­cence, alco­hol and sul­fur in addi­tion to cor­rectly rec­og­niz­ing the unadul­ter­ated “control”.

Pre­sen­ta­tion Skills Demon­stra­tion – must present to audi­ence of more than six peo­ple on an approved wine topic for more than ten min­utes and no more than fif­teen minutes.

Respon­si­ble Bev­er­age Alco­hol Ser­vice Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion – must also present their cer­tifi­cate that they have com­pleted bev­er­age alco­hol ser­vice pro­gram, like Serv­ing It Right.

Cer­ti­fied Spe­cial­ist of Spir­its (CSS)

Again, this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is widely rec­og­nized and regarded by the inter­na­tional spir­its indus­try. It cov­ers fer­men­ta­tion and dis­til­la­tion, whiskies, brandies, vodka, liqueurs, gin, rum, and tequila. The pro­gram is a self-study and is accom­pa­nied by a study guide.

Hospitality/Beverage Spe­cial­ist Cer­tifi­cate (HBSC)
The Soci­ety has recently cre­ated this new pro­gram to meet the demand for peo­ple want­ing to enter into the food and bev­er­age indus­try. This cer­tifi­cate is an entry level bev­er­age knowl­edge pro­gram that gives par­tic­i­pants the tools needed to meet employer’s require­ments for the food and bev­er­age industry.

The pro­gram pro­vides par­tic­i­pants with a broad base of knowl­edge of all com­mer­cial bev­er­ages includ­ing wine and spir­its. The con­tent includes water, cof­fee, tea, soft drinks, beer, sake, cider, wine, and spir­its and mixol­ogy. The pro­gram is self-study, with exams offered through­out the year.

Insti­tute of Mas­ters of Wine

The Insti­tute of Mas­ters of Wine was formed in 1955 to pro­mote pro­fes­sional excel­lence and knowl­edge of the art, sci­ence, and busi­ness of wine. The Mas­ter of Wine is the high­est level of edu­ca­tional achieve­ment for the wine indus­try and there are only approx­i­mately 300 peo­ple in the world that hold this accreditation.

So how do you become a Mas­ter of Wine?

1. Must have wine indus­try expe­ri­ence. Can­di­dates need to have worked in the wine indus­try for at least five years or must have sig­nif­i­cantly con­tributed or con­tin­u­ally con­tribute to pur­suit of excel­lence in the field of wine.

2. Have com­pleted the WSET Diploma. All can­di­dates must have com­pleted the two year Wine Spirit Edu­ca­tional Trust Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spir­its. There are lim­ited excep­tions to this stan­dard and the can­di­date must prove by cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that they have achieved a higher level of knowl­edge of wine.

3. Have com­pleted the first year and sec­ond year study pro­gram. All can­di­dates must com­plete the first year and sec­ond year study pro­gram and passed the first year assess­ment. Prior to writ­ing the The­ory Part of the exam­i­na­tion, they must sub­mit their three the­ory assignments.

4. Must have spon­sor­ship. Can­di­dates must be spon­sored by their employer or be spon­sored by a senior mem­ber of the wine industry.

5. Com­plete all parts of the exam­i­na­tion. The exam is divided into three parts the­ory, prac­ti­cal and dissertation.

6. Admis­sion to the Insti­tute and the use of the title Mas­ter of Wine (MW). When the can­di­dates have com­pleted all parts of the exam­i­na­tion, they will be invited to become mem­bers of Insti­tute and be enti­tled the use the title of Mas­ter of Wine.

The Court of Mas­ter Sommeliers

The Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers was estab­lished to improve stan­dards of bev­er­age knowl­edge and ser­vice within hotels and restau­rants. The Court has 186 can­di­dates that have earned the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Diploma and the right to use the title of Mas­ter Sommelier.

How do you become a Mas­ter Sommelier?

You must com­plete all three lev­els lead­ing up to level 4 the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Diploma:

Level 1 – Intro­duc­tory Som­me­lier Course & Exam. The pro­gram is deliv­ered over two peri­ods by a team of Mas­ter Som­me­liers. They cover wines and spir­its knowl­edge, proper wine ser­vice, and blind tast­ing. On the final day, the can­di­dates will take an exam con­sist­ing of 70 mul­ti­ple choice and the­ory ques­tions, which they must achieve 60% to pass.

Level 2 – Cer­ti­fied Som­me­lier Exam. The exam is a one day exam deliv­ered in three parts: writ­ten the­ory, blind tast­ing of two wines, and prac­ti­cal ser­vice exam­i­na­tion. The the­ory exam will cover the fun­da­men­tals of wine, spir­its, beer, and ser­vice with a large empha­sises on wine appel­la­tions and grape vari­eties. The blind tast­ing involves two wines and it tests the candidate’s abil­ity to uti­lize the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Deduc­tive Tast­ing Method to iden­tify the wine. The prac­ti­cal ser­vice exam tests the candidate’s skills in Stan­dard Wine Ser­vice, Cham­pagne Ser­vice, and Decant­ing Ser­vice. After suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing this exam the can­di­dates would be con­sider for the level 3.

Level 3 – Advanced Som­me­lier Course and Exam­i­na­tion. Once the can­di­date has achieved the above two lev­els, they will be con­sid­ered for the Advanced Som­me­lier Course by a selec­tion com­mit­tee. If accepted, the course con­sists of three days of intense study and lec­tures with a team of Mas­ter Som­me­liers, fol­lowed by a two day exam. The exam­i­na­tion has three parts: prac­ti­cal wine ser­vice and sales­man­ship, the­ory exam­i­na­tion based on the advanced Som­me­lier knowl­edge, and a blind tast­ing of six wines using the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Deduc­tive Tast­ing format.

Level 4 – Mas­ter Som­me­lier Diploma Exam. After suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the Advanced Som­me­lier Course, can­di­dates can now take the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Diploma. The pass rate for the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Exam­i­na­tion is approx­i­mately 10%. Sim­i­lar to the Advanced Som­me­lier Exam­i­na­tion, the can­di­dates would be ver­bally tested three parts: an oral the­ory exam, a blind tast­ing of six wines, and a prac­ti­cal wine ser­vice test. Can­di­dates have up to three years to pass all three parts of this exam.

In order to be accepted into the Advanced Course by the admis­sions com­mit­tee, a can­di­date suc­cess­fully com­plete the Intro­duc­tory and Cer­ti­fied exams and have worked in wine/service indus­try for at least 5 years. After suc­cess­fully com­plet­ing the advanced course a can­di­date may then be invited to par­tic­i­pate in the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Diploma Exam. Indi­vid­u­als who suc­cess­fully com­plete all parts of the Mas­ter Som­me­lier Diploma will be invited to join the Court of Mas­ter Som­me­liers and will be enti­tled to use the title of Mas­ter Sommelier.

Wine Tasting: BC

BC wines are extremely hard to find out­side of BC. There are two rea­sons for this:

1. More than 80% of BC wines are sold to BC con­sumers and,
2. BC winer­ies pro­duce only thir­teen mil­lion liters of wine a year, com­pared to Aus­tralian winer­ies that export approx­i­mately 600–700 mil­lion liters a year. In com­par­i­son, BC wines are extremely limited.

Fear not! As you read on, I will explore the dif­fer­ent ways that you can expe­ri­ence the great­ness of BC wines.

Vis­it­ing BC Wineries

The best way to expe­ri­ence BC wines is to visit a win­ery from April-October. Sum­mers in BC wine coun­try are great, espe­cially in the Okana­gan, where there are plenty of lakes, out­door con­certs, and winer­ies. There are many ways to visit the wine regions of BC, includ­ing multi-day trips, full day wine tours, half day wine tours, heli­copter tours, bike tours, pri­vate club tours, and even down­load­ing an app to self-conduct a wine tour. Some wine tours groups will have assigned winer­ies they visit and some will cus­tomize a wine tour that works for you, your group and your styles wines.

Below are some winer­ies to con­sider in dif­fer­ent regions:

Kelowna

Mis­sion Hill Fam­ily Estate – They have the best wine tour in the Okanagan.

Quail’s Gate Okana­gan – The win­ery has a great restaurant.

Cedar Creek Estate Win­ery – You can go pass the win­ery and pick up some great goat cheese to pair with your Cedar wines. The view from this win­ery is great for a picnic.

Sum­mer­hill Pyra­mid Win­ery – This is a very inter­est­ing win­ery to see.

South Okana­gan

Bur­row­ing Owl Estate Win­ery – This is a G=great place to stay and their wines con­sis­tently rate high amongst Cana­dian wines.

NK’Mip – This is a very inter­est­ing win­ery. It was started by a local Osoy­oos Native Band. The win­ery is one to see because of its his­tory, wine, restau­rant, and accommodation.

Hes­ter Creek Estate Win­ery – This win­ery has some beau­ti­ful lux­ury Mediter­ranean styled villa suites with stun­ning views. They are known for their Caber­net Fran wines, but also make deli­cious Pinot Blanc wines.

Jack­son Triggs – There are two winer­ies, one in BC and one in Ontario. They are Canada’s most awarded win­ery and have been named “Best Cana­dian Winery.”

Blue Moun­tain – They have some great con­sis­tent wine and spec­tac­u­lar views.

Vis­it­ing the VQA Store

If you are vis­it­ing BC but can­not visit a win­ery, then you might be able to pick up that spe­cial bot­tle of BC wine from a VQA Store. VQA stores are located in Okana­gan Val­ley, Van­cou­ver Island, Koote­nays, and through­out the Lower Main­land in Van­cou­ver. There are a total of twenty stores and they carry up to 500 dif­fer­ent styles of BC wine.

Order­ing Wines from BC Wineries

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment recently passed a law in the sum­mer 2012, allow­ing Cana­dian winer­ies to ship their wines to con­sumers in other provinces. Not all BC winer­ies are ship­ping wines to con­sumers in other provinces in Canada, but it def­i­nitely worth the chat with that win­ery. Most BC winer­ies will not ship out of the coun­try because of wine laws, but again there are some that will. Your best bet is to con­tact the win­ery directly to see if they would be will­ing to ship to you.

Still strug­gling to find that bot­tle of BC Wine

I strug­gled try­ing to find stores that sell BC wine in the US, but I did man­age to find quite a few in Cal­i­for­nia that might have a few dif­fer­ent options:

San Fran­cisco: Plump­jack Wines, Mr. Liquor, The Vil­lage Cel­lar, William Cross, The Jug Shop, Walker and Com­pany, The Wine Club, Noble Wines, Caruso Wines, Hats Off, Wine Impres­sions, and Friendly Spirits.

San Jose: Grapevine, Joseph George, Wil­low Glen Liquors & Wine Shop, and Wine Galleria.

Palo Alto: Oakville Gro­cery Co., Bel­tramos Wine & Spir­its, Draegers Super­mar­ket, Coach House Liquors, K & L Wines, and Draegers.

East Bay/Oakland: Paul Mar­cus Wines, Pied­mont Gro­cery, Vino, North Berkley Wine Com­pany, Paul Mar­cus Wines, Solano Cel­lars Wine Shop, Jackson’s Wine & Spir­its, Noble Wines, Prima Vini Wine Mer­chants, The Wine Sel­l­ars, Andronico’s, and Oakville Gro­cery Co.

In Edmon­ton, Alberta there is a store in West Edmon­ton Mall called Aligra Wine and Spirit that claims to carry the largest selec­tion of BC wine in Alberta.

In Ontario there are a few ways to get your hands on BC wine. You can search through LCBO, where you con­firm the wine selec­tion online and it will tell you what stores are car­ry­ing that wine, usu­ally large size winer­ies. If you are look­ing for bou­tique smaller winer­ies from BC check out: Ter­roir Wine Agency. A final option is to take a look at Vin­tage Shop Online, who sell a small amount of BC Wine.

If you are look­ing for authen­tic BC wine, be care­ful, there are wines that are made in BC, but the grapes are sourced from other wine regions. The best way to make sure that you are get­ting an authen­tic expe­ri­ence is to buy a VQA wine.

Best Wine: BC

Wines from BC are not avail­able in every mar­ket and some­times are hard to come by. The major­ity of wines that are exported to other coun­tries are Ice Wines. A few BC winer­ies that pro­duce Ice Wines are: Mis­sion Hill Fam­ily Estates, Jack­son Triggs Okana­gan Win­ery, Nk’Mip Win­ery, See Ya Later Ranch, Hes­ter Creek, Gehringer Broth­ers, Hainle Vine­yards, Pen­tâge Win­ery, and Summerhill.BC also has amaz­ing red and white wines that could def­i­nitely com­pete with some of the best wines in the world. I feel that BC does very well with Syrah, Pinot Noir, Caber­net Franc, Ries­ling, Pinot Blanc, and Viognier.

Below are some spe­cific red and white wines I would recommend:

Red Wine

Quails’ Gate — Pinot Noir Dijon Clone Selec­tion
Meyer Fam­ily Vine­yards — Pinot Noir
Herder Estate – Pinot Noir Estate
Road 13 — Jack­pot Pinot Noir
Nk’Mip Cel­lars — Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir
Nk’Mip Cel­lars — Qwam Qwmt Syrah
Church & State – Coy­ote Bowl Syrah
Laugh­ing Stock – Syrah
Bur­row­ing Owl – Syrah
Cassini – Syrah
Mis­sion Hill — Select Lot Col­lec­tion Syrah
Peller Estate — Pri­vate Reserve Syrah
Painted Rock – Syrah
Painted Rock – Caber­net Sauvi­gnon
Painted Rock — Red Icon
Bur­row­ing Owl — Athene Syrah — Caber­net Sauvi­gnon
Rolling­dale — Mer­lot
Gold Hill — Caber­net Franc
Hes­ter Creek — Caber­net Franc

White Wine

Tan­ta­lus Win­ery — Old Vines Ries­ling
Cedar Creek – Ries­ling
Stoneboat Vine­yards — Pinot Blanc
Pen­tâge Winey — Pinot Gris
Pen­tâge Win­ery — Viog­nier
Mis­sion Hill — Chardon­nay Reserve
Quails’ Gate – Chardon­nay
Red Rooster — Chardon­nay
Thorn­haven – Gewürz­traminer
Kalala — Gewürz­traminer
Gray Monk – Ehrenfelser

Many of the wines listed above are not avail­able in most mar­kets but can be ordered directly from the win­ery or may be pur­chased while vis­it­ing a winery.

Types of Wine: BC

With more than 210 winer­ies in oper­a­tion through­out the province and 864 vine­yards that grapes are sources from, British Colum­bia pro­duces on aver­age about thir­teen mil­lion liters of wine a year. BC pro­duces more than sixty dif­fer­ent grape vari­etals with a large empha­sis on red wine. Below you’ll find infor­ma­tion on the white and red vari­etals from BC.

White Wine Varietals

Pinot Gris: Medium to full bod­ied wine with typ­i­cal flavours of peach, pear, vanilla, spice and some­times honey. It is best paired with some Asian cui­sine, fish, light meats, or a light creamy sauce.

Chardon­nay: Full bod­ied wine with flavours of apples, pears, and some cit­rus. This wine can have some trop­i­cal notes if it is grown in a warmer cli­mate. Wine­mak­ers do make both an Oaked Chardon­nay and Non-Oaked Chardon­nay. The dif­fer­ence will be in the price and the flavours. Wines will usu­ally have a toasty flavour when oaked. It is best paired with lob­ster, crab, prawns, salmon, turkey, or pork veal.

Gewurz­traminer: Medium-light to full bod­ied wine with flavours of peach, grape­fruit, earthy min­eral with some cit­rus. Gewurz­traminer can come in dry to semi-sweet. It is best paired with spicy cui­sine from China, Thai­land, and India or is also good with Ger­man schnitzel.

Ries­ling: Light to medium bod­ied wine with flavours of apri­cots, peaches, pears, apples, and some min­eral flavours. Ries­ling table wine is best paired with Bar­beque or smoked foods or some types of spicy dishes. Ries­ling Ice Wine is usu­ally served as a dessert wine, but it can also be served as aper­i­tif wine with spicy dishes, pate, or foie gras. This is one of the more pop­u­lar vari­etals in BC.

Sauvi­gnon Blanc: Light to medium bod­ied wine with flavours of green apple, green pep­per, goose­berry, and herbal min­eral flavours. This is a very refresh­ing wine that is usu­ally paired best with shell­fish, light dishes like antipasto, quiche, or my favourite, goat cheese.

Pinot Blanc: Medium to full bod­ied wine with flavours of apples, pears, lemon, fig, and a straw like or min­eral flavour. Pinot Blanc grows really well in BC and some even say that it is one of the grapes that set BC apart from other wine pro­duc­ing regions. Some­times it is con­sid­ered to be the poor man’s Chardon­nay; but if pro­duced right, can out shine a lot of wines includ­ing Chardon­nay. It is best paired with hal­ibut, clams, oys­ters, and or turkey din­ner.

Viog­nier: The demand for Viog­nier is on the rise in BC, with the grape typ­i­cally being used in blend­ing. Viog­nier is usu­ally added to Syrah or Shi­raz to add more spice and com­plex­ity to the wine. The most com­mon flavours found in Viog­nier wine are apri­cot, mango, pineap­ple, baked apples, kiwi, and some spice if the wine is aged in oak. Viog­nier is best served with Indian or Moroc­can cuisines or braised chicken.

Red Wine Varietals

Mer­lot: Medium to full bod­ied wine with flavours of plum, rasp­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries, and black­ber­ries. Mer­lot grows very well in a lot of BC wine regions and, just like Chardon­nay, is very adapt­able to many dif­fer­ent grow­ing regions. This wine is very approach­able and is a good wine for novice wine drinkers who are start­ing to explore red wines. Mer­lot pairs best with all types of red meat, duck, and any game style bird.

Pinot Noir: Usu­ally a light to medium bod­ied wine with flavours of straw­berry, cherry, plum, and light spices. Pinot Noir is a very dif­fi­cult grape to grow, so find­ing the right region and grow­ing tem­per­a­ture can lead to a great wine. There are some spec­tac­u­lar Pinot Noirs that come from the BC wine region. Pinot Noir is very adapt­able to many dif­fer­ent styles of foods but is best with salmon, hal­ibut, tuna, duck, and veal.

Caber­net Sauvi­gnon: This wine is usu­ally avail­able in a medium to full bod­ied, with flavours of black cherry, black cur­rant, green pep­per, green olive and some­times it can have a mocha flavour. Caber­net Sauvi­gnon is noto­ri­ously a hard style of grape to ripen and requires a par­tic­u­lar grow­ing region in order to achieve this. BC does have warmer regions in the South Okana­gan where this grape grows well, but they are lim­ited. Caber­net Sauvi­gnon is best paired with filet mignon, roast beef, and rack of lamb.

Syrah (Shi­raz): The wine is full bod­ied with flavours of spice, black­cur­rant, black­berry, cherry, pep­per, and can have some earthy tones. This is one of BC’s most promis­ing red grapes. The styles and flavours that are been pro­duce in BC are unbe­liev­able. These wines are so good that it is dif­fi­cult to keep them in stock. Best served with BBQ meats, pep­per­corn steak and braised lamb.

Caber­net Franc: Typ­i­cally a medium bod­ied wine with flavours of cur­rant, rasp­berry, black­berry, plum, and some­times bell pep­per or green olive. This is another promis­ing red grape in BC that wine­mak­ers are find­ing, that when ripened prop­erly, can stand on its own with­out blend­ing. BC Caber­net Franc is very adapt­able to many dif­fer­ent styles of food includ­ing sausages, beef steaks, roasts, ham­burg­ers, and cold meats.

There are many other vari­etals of grapes that are grown in BC and I encour­age you try as many as you can. In my opin­ion, the grapes to watch in BC are Pinot Blanc, Viog­nier, Syrah, and Caber­net Franc.

BC Wine Country

One of the most impor­tant ele­ments of cre­at­ing great wine is where the grapes come from. Fac­tors that influ­ence where the grapes come from include cli­mate, soil, loca­tion, irri­ga­tion, and age of the vine. The wine indus­try calls this ele­ment that comes out in the fla­vor, the wine Ter­roir. The French def­i­n­i­tion of Ter­roir is: “a group of vine­yards or vines from the same region, belong­ing to a spe­cific appel­la­tion, and shar­ing the same type of soil, weather con­di­tions, grapes and wine mak­ing savoir-faire, which con­tribute to give its spe­cific per­son­al­ity to the wine.”

 

Below I will dis­cuss BC’s five pro­duc­ing wine regions to find out what makes them unique. The five regions are: Okana­gan Val­ley, Sim­ilka­meen Val­ley, Fraser Val­ley, Van­cou­ver Island, and the Gulf Islands.

Okana­gan Valley

The Okana­gan val­ley is located between the Coastal Moun­tain range in the west and the Monashee Moun­tain range in the east. The val­ley runs from North to South along the 49th par­al­lel and is part of Sonora Desert, which begins in Mex­ico and runs right up through Wash­ing­ton into Oliver, BC. The Okana­gan Val­ley has five sub-regions: Kelowna, Nara­mata, Okana­gan Falls, Golden Mile, and Black Sage/Osoyoos.

Kelowna
Kelowna is located at the most Northerly point of the wine region and is known for pro­duc­ing cooler cli­mate grapes like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Ries­ling, Chardon­nay, Gewürz­traminer, Gamy, and many more. The soils in the Kelowna area are typ­i­cally heav­ier, sandier, and clay like. Many winer­ies located in Kelowna also have vine­yards through­out the Okana­gan valley.

Nara­mata
Nara­mata is located south of Kelowna just out­side of Pen­tic­ton. Mov­ing away from Kelowna, the tem­per­a­ture becomes warmer, mean­ing a riper grape. How­ever, this is not always true because tem­per­a­tures and cli­mates can fluc­tu­ate year to year.

Like Kelowna, a lot of the grapes that are grown in this region are cooler cli­mate grapes such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardon­nay, Mer­lot, and many more. How­ever, there are many supe­rior winer­ies in this region that make some amaz­ing Bor­deaux blends that would rival against some of the world’s best.

One unique fact about Nara­mata is that it has over 100 years of his­tory in grow­ing fruits because of the region’s slop­ing hills. Major­ity of this sub-region is now devoted to grape grow­ing, but you can still taste the great flavours of fruit that used to grow here.

Okana­gan Falls
Mov­ing south from Pen­tic­ton, towards the US bor­der, and at the end of Skaha Lake, is where the Okana­gan Falls sub-region is located. Okana­gan Falls is home to one of the most famous BC winer­ies, Blue Mountain.

The com­mon styles of grapes grown in this region are Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Ries­ling, Chardon­nay, and Gewürz­traminer. Winer­ies in the Okana­gan Falls are able to grow most types of grapes but also source grapes from other BC grow­ing regions to cre­ate some amaz­ing wines. The winer­ies in this area are some­times con­sid­ered to be cult sta­tus of wine in BC.

Golden Mile
The Golden Mile sub-region is located between Oliver and Osoy­oos. The name Golden Mile was given to the area because of Gold and Sil­ver mines. Some claim that the wines from this region are golden, and that it is due the warm cli­mate from being high in the val­ley and because of the unique com­bi­na­tion of gravel and soil that allows for good drainage.

The most com­mon grapes grown in this region are Mer­lot, Chardon­nay, Pinot Noir, Gewürz­traminer, Ries­ling, and many more varietals.

Black Sage/Osoyoos
Black Sage/Osoyoos are located at the south end of the Okana­gan along the US bor­der. This region is a part of the Sonora Dessert. Many of BC’s full bod­ied wines will source their fruit from this region.

This sub-region is best known for Bor­deaux style grapes (Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Mer­lot, Caber­net Franc, Mer­lot, Petit Ver­dot, and Mal­bec), Syrah, and Chardonnay.

Sim­ilka­meen Valley

The Sim­ilka­meen Val­ley winer­ies are located about twenty min­utes out­side of Osoy­oos along High­way 3 head­ing west towards Van­cou­ver. The grow­ing region runs for approx­i­mately 100 plus kilo­me­ters from Osoy­oos to the town of Prince­ton. The region is still quite young for pro­duc­ing grapes for wine, but has been pro­duc­ing fruit for many years.

The Sim­ilka­meen Val­ley has two dis­tinct ben­e­fits that helps pro­duce great wine: the cli­mate and the soil. The cli­mate in the Sim­ilka­meen can be a lot hot­ter in the sum­mer and colder in the win­ter com­pared to the Okana­gan Val­ley. This adds a dif­fer­ent more com­plex flavour to their wines, more acid­ity, and tan­nin for bet­ter food match­ing. The soil is also unique to this region because it is soil that comes from retreat­ing glac­ier rock.

The most com­mon grapes found grow­ing in this region are Mer­lot, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Caber­net Franc, Chardon­nay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Ries­ling, and Gewurztraminer.

Fraser Val­ley

Fraser Val­ley winer­ies are located through­out the Lower main­land and are any­where from thirty min­utes to an hour from Van­cou­ver. The Fraser Val­ley pro­duces tra­di­tional grapes and also has a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of fruit wines.

Winer­ies in this region source their grapes locally but some also have grapes com­ing from other areas of BC includ­ing the Okana­gan and Sim­ilka­meen Valley.

The most com­mon grapes grown in the Fraser Val­ley are Chardon­nay, Pinot Noir, and a vari­ety of Ger­man white varietals.

Van­cou­ver Island

Wines have been pro­duced on Van­cou­ver Island since 1920, with the first mod­ern com­mer­cial win­ery open­ing in 1970. Major­ity of the winer­ies on Van­cou­ver Island are located in the Cowichan Val­ley or Saanich Penin­sula. Cowichan Val­ley is located just out­side the town of Dun­can, approx­i­mately one hour from Vic­to­ria. The Saanich Penin­sula is located north of Vic­to­ria and is just min­utes from the city. Saanich has a rep­u­ta­tion as a viti­cul­ture hot spot and is also rec­og­nized as the only cer­ti­fied organic vine­yard on the Island.

Many winer­ies on the Island source some grapes from the Okana­gan Val­ley. How­ever, there are some grape types that are planted on the Island: Pinot Noir, Mer­lot, Gamay Noir, Chardon­nay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurz­traminer, and other Ger­man style varietals.

Gulf Islands

The Gulf Island sub-regions con­sist of Salt Spring, Pen­der, Sat­urna, Quadra and Bowen Island.

The most com­mon grape vari­etals grown in this region are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurz­traminer, Ries­ling, and Chardonnay.

The History of Wine: British Columbia

Over the next few blogs, I am going to take you on a jour­ney to one of my favourite wine pro­duc­ing regions: British Colum­bia, Canada. I will kick off my trib­ute to BC wines by dis­cussing its history.

British Colum­bia was pro­duc­ing wine as early as the late 1850’s, when a monk named father Pan­dosy set up the first white set­tle­ment in the Mis­sion area of Kelowna. He saw the poten­tial for pro­duc­ing wine for the holy sacra­ment and send word to Vat­i­can to have vines sent to him. For the next 70 plus years, BC would exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent styles of wine, mostly made from fruits such as blue­ber­ries and apples. Many of these attempts made it to liquor stores, but because of the poor wine mak­ing processes, would become faulted on the shelves and end up being thrown away.

In 1931, the first offi­cial com­mer­cial win­ery, Calona Winer­ies, began oper­a­tions in Kelowna. More than 82 years later, Calona is still pro­duc­ing wine. Calona, and other wine pro­duc­ers, started adding grapes to their wine recipes which caused a shift in the BC wine indus­try. The first grape to be used at this time was Labr­usca, an Amer­i­can vari­ety of wine grape that is usu­ally found on the East Coast. By the late 1960’s, new pro­duc­ers started to arrive in the Okana­gan to com­pete with the pop­u­lar Calona Wines. New­pro­duc­ers included Mis­sion Hill, Sumac Ridge, Grey Monk, and Cedar Creek.

BC wine did not become rec­og­nized in Canada until 1988 when Vint­ners Qual­ity Alliance (VQA) and the BC Wine Insti­tute were estab­lished. BC was rec­og­nized on a world stage in 1994 as a qual­ity wine pro­duc­ing region when wine­maker John Simes, from Mis­sion Hill Fam­ily Estates, won the award for Best Chardon­nay at the 1994 Inter­na­tional Wine and Spirit Com­pe­ti­tion for his 1992 Chardon­nay vintage.

Since 1994, BC winer­ies have received many awards for their table wines and ice wines, both nation­ally and internationally.

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