One of the great things about summer is the willingness of many of us to eat lighter, fresher, seasonal foods. Not only do we lighten up the food we eat, more often than not we tend to dine outside. It also appears we're fast maturing as wine drinkers because, in a similar manner, we're now experimenting with lighter, fresher, more aromatic wines that, frankly, are more simpatico with summer menus and the weather.
You could refer to the style of these wines as friendly and quaffable but there's more to them today than, say, a decade ago. The search for a fresher, more palate-cleansing style of wine with better acidity and sugar balance is on.
Here in B.C. some producers are beginning to seek out a stony, mineral character that can energize an otherwise lacklustre white, adding a special jump to the glass. Best of all it's a style that seems to supercharge the food we're eating.
Value is not a word we use very often in British Columbia. Taxes remain high and that, combined with a new wholesale distribution system that heavily favours government retail stores, has resulted in some of the highest wine prices in the world. By extrapolation, bargains imported or local are few and far between.
That said, in view of the current fabulous, warm, summer weather across B.C. and in the wake of the 2016 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, I went through the results to ferret out those based on price and performance.
Easily the best buy in the entire competition is the Gray Monk Riesling 2013 ($14). It's a fabulous value. Peachy, lemon fruit and a riff of mineral notes supercharge this white you can serve with seafood, sushi, roast chicken and, well, just about anything works here. Equally impressive is the Gray Monk 2012 Odyssey Rose Brut ($17). B.C. sparkling wine is fast becoming a local force as producers forsake sugar for acidity and tension. Pale pink and super tasty, this is a terrific wine to pair with local mussels.
Viognier is a variety on the move in B.C. Typically, this variety, native to the Rhone, sports a number of flavours you can search for in the glass, but honeysuckle, jasmine and orange blossoms come quickly to mind. The fruit is richer than riesling, often in the peach, apricot, nectarine vein. The wine that impressed the judges was the Jackson-Triggs Okanagan 2014 Reserve Viognier ($14). It's all of the above, and more, with an exotic, spicy undercurrent. Try this with spicy fishcakes and a fruit salsa.
The folks at Arrowleaf have it going on it when it comes to fun, affordable wines with a trio of labels that caught our attention: Arrowleaf 2014 First Crush Red ($14), Arrowleaf 2015 Gewürztraminer ($16) and Arrowleaf 2015 Riesling Ritchie Vineyard ($16). First Crush is a juicy affair you can chill down a bit and serve with chicken salads. The gewürztraminer is a specialty at the Lake Country winery. Sitting so far north, there's a coolness to the climate that keeps what can be a rambunctious varietal wine tight and in check. Expect an aromatic, full-bodied affair but with clean, floral, mineral green apple notes with just a hint of sugar. Think spicy tuna sushi as a food match. The Ritchie Vineyard Riesling is a delight from its fragrant floral notes to its juicy off-dry finish. Perfect for a warm, or cold, spicy noodle dish.
Another Lake Country winery making waves is Intrigue Wines. We love the off-dry, patio-friendly Intrigue Wines 2015 Social White ($15). A blend of riesling, gewürztraminer and muscat canelli all come together in a classic summer sipper you can serve solo or with food.
A winery that's having fun turning out tasty, juicy wines that speak to both variety and place is West Kelowna Quails' Gate where winemaker Nikki Calloway is using her skills to let the wines tell their own story with little or no interference from humans and barrels of oak.
Leading a talented trio of whites is the Quails' Gate 2015 Dry Riesling ($15). Fresh and light with a citrus pear palate and finish, it comes with just a hint of sugar. Think Thai or Indian take-out for a solid match. The Quails' Gate 2015 Rose ($16) gets tighter and fresher every year. Its juicy, strawberry watermelon flavours are good enough to sip solo or would make an interesting match for any chilled salmon dish or fresh cracked crab. The bargain is the Quails' Gate 2015 Chenin Blanc ($17) — freshness, lemongrass and melons coat the palate while underneath is a rich, creamy texture. A lighter style but one well suited to most outdoor dinner activities.
If you haven't heard of The Hatch, working out of West Kelowna just north of Quails' Gate, check it out. They don't take themselves too seriously but rather put that energy into making quality wines such as The Hatch 2015 Talking Stories White ($17). According to the winery, Talking Stories was "One of the most anticipated releases in the history of wine," that coincides with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. A blend of pinots — gris, blanc and auxerrois — it mixes citrus and grapefruit in a fun summer-sipper white that slides down easily.
Pinot gris doesn't get a lot of love from wine writers. In some ways, you could call it the merlot of white wines but we did enjoy the flavours and the value in the See Ya Later Ranch 2015 Pinot Gris ($17). This is a big, rich style of pinot gris (almost chardonnay) with honey floral, spicy, mineral aromas and flavours jumping from the glass. It has just enough light lees and spice to keep it all balanced. Try this with fresh, grilled white fish.
Value is a fleeting concept in the B.C. wine market so don't wait too long to check out some of these bargains. While the arrival of summer is better late than never, the wines, like the weather, are not likely to be around too much longer. So strike while you can.
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.