Just in time for the holidays this month's column is dedicated to 10 of the best wines we have tasted this year from B.C. But before we get to our picks you should know that after a spring and summer of study, a B.C. wine industry task force wound up its investigations by proposing sweeping changes to British Columbia's wine map earlier this month.
The Task Group has submitted a number of key recommendations including creating four new appellations, or designated wine regions, to accommodate the Thompson Valley, Lillooet-Lytton, Shuswap and Kootenays. If passed by industry plebiscite, they will join the original five zones demarcated in 1990 by the VQA act: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and Gulf Islands.
The report also laid the foundation for 15 sub-appellations within the Okanagan Valley from Vernon in the north to the U.S. border. Using a mix of science and common sense we could see the establishment of easy-to-understand, geographically meaningful place names on modern-day Okanagan wine labels by the end of 2016. We wish them well.
We begin our top picks with a super versatile Road 13 Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2014 ($27) from the Golden Mile Bench — Okanagan Valley. The vines were planted back in 1968 and the herbal, savoury, thistle and honeysuckle aromas they give off signal something special. Big rich and textured it has a splash of residual sugar that can cool down spicy dishes. A great wine for turkey too.
Quails' Gate Chardonnay 2014 ($20) would be an excellent go-to party white for chardonnay lovers. Beyond the lemon blossoms and pear, winemaker Nikki Callaway has really captured the essence of a cool-climate chardonnay, which delivers a bright, fresh white with creamy textures and citrus, spicy and salty flavours. This works with any number of rich appetizers, or an impromptu holiday dinner gathering.
In a year when pinot noir has finally found its feet in B.C., Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 ($40) continues to set the pace for reliability. You'll love the fragrant black-cherry aromas and flavours spiked with plums and spice. This would make a fine gift if there were no poultry in site.
If you are the party type, stock up on the Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2014 ($14.99) perhaps the best effort ever from the Golden Mile Bench producer. Just off dry it has wide appeal as a pre-dinner wine you can serve with or without food. Ginger, rosewater, litchi and spice all converge on the palate. Spicy-tuna sushi anyone?
The ultimate gift is the first edition of Checkmate Artisanal Winery Fool's Mate Chardonnay 2013 ($80) the latest from Anthony von Mandl (owner of Mission Hill). You can only buy this wine online at www.checkmatewinery.com. Winemaker Phil Mcgahan decided to blend three different sites and climates and the result is clearly the most complex of the Checkmate releases. The nose is a pleasant mix of brioche and spice with a hint of sagebrush. The palate is creamy with good acidity and peach/pear, and hazelnut notes. It has power and elegance — a special gift for wine collectors.
A star at this year WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, the Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah +04/10 2013 ($36) has it all. The style is fresh and juicy with beautiful, peppery black and blue fruits. Rich, dense and simply attractive at this stage it will handle any holiday lamb or turkey dishes with ease. A great wine for collectors on your holiday list.
A favourite discovery for me this year is the Intersection Silica Merlot 2012 ($28.69) from the south Okanagan, Oliver area. Silica is a single block 181 merlot clone farmed and harvested using sustainable methods. The Silica block sits on sandy loam, or the remains of beach deposits from an ancient glacial lake. It tends to warm up quickly in the sun and drains even more quickly keeping yield slow but flavours intense. Slightly more generous in texture and weight, but still with floral undertones, there is a finesse and elegance that is surely where B.C. merlot must go. A hipster red.
Another merlot you should track down is the Hillside Merlot 2012 ($19). Look for a pretty floral, cherry, smoky nose. The attack is silky and dry with fine freshness and more cherry, plum, tobacco, cedar, coffee, earthy and savoury flavours. Soft, round, dense and textured but with finesse that doesn't over power your plate or the food. Perfect with Swedish meatballs or beef appetizers.
There never seems to be a down year for the Terravista Figaro 2013, ($24) a roussanne, viognier, marsanne mix from Naramata Bench. A seamless mix of rich, yellow fruits and spice with just enough acidity to keep it all together. The perfect wine for roasted chicken, or veal dishes or a variety of Indian dishes.
Winemaker Michael Bartier spends a lot of time trying keep his fingerprints off his wine. He's a site guy, and his wine plan is to let the dirt do the talking. This first release cabernet franc, Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc 2013 ($27), is a perfect example. The fruit comes of the Black Sage Middle Bench and projects the refined, cool elements of cabernet franc. It's juicy with some mineral floral notes in support and soft silky tannins. Unpretentious and mostly ready to drink, try it with grilled chicken.
That's it for this month. Remember many of these wines would make fine gifts for the wine enthusiast on your holiday shopping list. The big trick is tracking them down.
A few will be in government wine stores, but the vast majority will be in private wine shops and what's left of the shrinking VQA stores that appear destined to give their licenses over to grocery stores.
Finally, you can always contact the winery direct online to order any of the wines by the case, or to check their website for stores and availability in your region.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com