"Your Search for Great Wine Starts Here"
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The wine shelf in your local grocery store may...
Few exercises are as much fun, or teach us as...
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
Dr. Loosen Riesling
Chateau Chasse Spleen
d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz
Marcarini Moscato d’Asti
Marcel Lapierre Morgon
La Rioja Alta Arana
Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel
Cono Sur Carmenere
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:
Did you find this chart useful? I would love to hear what you think is missing in the comment box below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.