Our classics often come from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah grapes
All good winemakers know the value of expanding their palates, and if you follow this advice about tastings, you will too.
The work of a winemaker can be gruelling, particularly when many of them wear more than a few hats. It’s not uncommon to have the winemaker also be the general manager or vineyard manager of a property, especially the smaller or medium-sized ones.
Not to mention that for many British Columbian small-scale operations, the winemaker can also be the one in the tasting room, greeting visitors and sharing samples.
The large amount of time spent at one’s winery or, broader, in one’s region has the capacity to tighten the parameters of palate—and it could be easy to lose track of the diversity of wine styles out there in the world. Most agree that it’s important to keep the palate wide open to ensure quality is kept up to speed with international colleagues, which also can lend inspiration.
Many local winemakers are aware of this and spend those chilly months travelling to other wine regions. In the Okanagan, I am aware of winemakers who regularly meet in groups that fluctuate from 12 to 24 to taste international wines fitting an always changing theme.
To raise the bar, you have to know where the other bars are. It’s impressive to see how our local wines can now stand shoulder to shoulder with other similarly priced wines of the world, particularly when tasted blind. I often run seminars for trade or consumers where we do just that, and although it’s always a gamble, I’ve yet to see the home team humiliated.
Of course, I end up tasting more B.C. wine over the year than those from anywhere else. It’s important to me that I also keep my palate on point by looking toward wineries and regions that excel with various varieties.
I’ve said here before that I truly believe the four best varieties we have in B.C. are Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz). If you’re reading this, it’s likely you have favourites from at least a couple of these categories.
Here are a couple examples of each I consider classic (or modern classic) examples of these varieties. Next time you’re reaching for one of your favourite B.C. versions, perhaps pick up an example or two from this list and do your own tasting to see which attributes B.C. wines have in common with their international brethren—but also what makes our wine unique. (Hint: look for fresh, lively acidity, a good crack of minerality, and a concentrated purity of fruit.) Really, it’s not about which is better; it’s an enjoyable study of the differences that make each region special.
PEWSEY VALE RIESLING 2016 (Eden Valley, Australia; $19.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) Close your eyes, and you may think this bone-dry, citrus-laden Riesling could be out of Kelowna. This Eden Valley bottling has its own thing going on, though, particularly lime leaf, white pepper, and a balance of acid well-integrated with the fruit.
WITTMANN RIESLING TROCKEN 2016 (Rheinhessen, Germany; $22.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) The citrus is on point here—lemons, limes, and grapefruit—with river stones and minerals bringing a touch of salinity.
LAFON MACON-MILLY-LAMARTINE 2015 (Burgundy, France; $38 to $44, private liquor stores) Lifted cedar and puffed wheat are in the ultraclean aromatics of this lovely Chardonnay, while a dizzying array of apples (Yellow! Green! Red!) are well-woven on the palate. Recently spotted at Marquis Wine Cellars.
CAMBRIA BENCHBREAK CHARDONNAY 2014 (Santa Maria Valley, California; $31 to $36, private liquor stores) If the idea of warm cinnamon toast with a couple dollops of apple-and-quince compote sounds like your thing, then pour yourself a big slug of this showstopper.
UNDERWOOD CELLARS PINOT NOIR 2014 (Oregon; $28 to $33, private liquor stores) All the dark berries like blackberry, blueberry, and mulberry are stewed and swirled together with a good dusting of cardamom. Recently spotted at Legacy Liquor Store. REMOISSENET BOURGOGNE ROUGE “RENOMMÉE” 2015 (Burgundy, France; $38 to $44, private liquor stores) Light, bright, and singing with red fruit, Italian plums, and a pinch of basil. Put a bit of chill on this Pinot Noir and pour liberally at your next barbecue. Recently spotted at Marquis Wine Cellars.
D’ARENBERG THE FOOTBOLT SHIRAZ 2013 (Mclaren Vales, Australia; $23 to $28, private liquor stores) Textbook Barossa Valley Shiraz. Gobs of purple and black fruit are tethered to medium tannins yet kept aloft with generous acidity.
FALERNIA RESERVA SYRAH 2012 (Elqui Valley, Chile; $19.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) Oh, this is quite a meaty little number. Pastrami, pepper, and raspberry jam for days. You may want to stock up; it’s on liquor-store shelves for $18.99 until April 28.