I tasted some 120 wines during my tour of the Okanagan and by the end of the week the following wines stood head and shoulders above all others:
Deep Creek/Hainle Zwiegelt 2005
Deep Creek is the successor to Hainle Estate Winery, where Icewine was first made in Canada in the 1970’s. The current owner is Dr. Walter Huber and he is
on the way to making Zwiegelt the signature variety of this renewed winery. This wine will change your attitude for this not-often seen grape in Canada. It was intense with bright black berry fruit, very smoky, complex and balanced. The nose and palate were both memorable for the concentrated fruit, chocolate, vegetal character. This wine was stunning and was the highlight of the week. $79.90 per bottle
Road 13 Jackpot Chardonnay 2009
The winemaker at Road 13 is Michael Bartier, formerly of Hawthorne Mountain. The progressive owners of this property, Nick and Pam Luckhurst have given Michael freedom to make wines the way he thinks they should be made – the Luckhursts are very wise and this is a winery to watch. The Jackpot range is the top of the heap, reflecting the history of gold mining activity in the region and this wine recently was a gold medal winner at the Canadian Wine Awards: fitting. It is lean with spicy citrus fruit dominating. Aged in French oak this wine has an Old World character: sour lemon, lime, spice, steely minerals, like a lightly-oaked Chablis, with a long juicy finish. $40.99 per bottle (Note, Michael Bartier has recently left Road 13 and his place has been taken by the exceptional J-M Bouchard, most recently at Arise Vineyards and previously the founding winemaker at Hidden Bench on the Beamsville Bench in Ontario)
Road 13 Jackpot Syrah 2007
This Syrah was co-fermented with Viognier to create a northern Rhône style wine. It displays the characteristic savoury nose and palate of an Old World Syrah and has wet earth, black pepper, black currant and smoke to fill out the typical Syrah personality. There is plenty of acid and round tannins to lend excellent structure to this wine. It will age and improve for the next 5 -7 years. This wine is a beauty. $41.00 per bottle
See Ya Later Ping 2007
Ping is one of several wines in the See Ya Later range named for dogs that have lived on the ranch over the years (headstones outside the century stone building that houses the tasting room mark the graves of some of these animals). This wine is a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend and it is a wonderfully structured beauty. It was aged for 19 months in French and American oak and shows exceptional harmony despite its relative youth. It has medium concentration and Old World style complexity with red and black berry fruits, wet earth, green leaf, mint and leather. The tannins are ripe and the finish is long. Very well made. This wine needs another 3 -5 years before it will be at its peak. $24.99 per bottle
Rustico Zinfandel 2008
I am not generally a fan of Zinfandel because so much of the wine we see in Ontario made with this grape is not very interesting: brooding, monochromatic and flabby. This wine is a Zin game-changer for me. It has elegance and structure, exceptionally bright fruit, smoky red cherry on the nose and palate with notable acidity and dry, dusty tannins. This wine can be consumed now but will evolve into a complex stunner as it matures. I don’t know much about Rustico and it grapes nor its winemaking. The property is owned by a former advertising executive, Bruce Fuller, and while he was a perfect host he was vague on my questions about what went on behind the tasting room. Whatever it is, it’s being well-done. $34.95 per bottle
Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2009
Burrowing Owl has been able to build a good name for some of its red wines in Ontario over the past few years and hopefully we will see more of the range in the near future. This Pinot Gris is an example of the success Burrowing Owl is able to achieve with its elegant white wines. My notes called this wine ripe, bright, unctuous and explosive: not your everyday Pinot Gris. As I found with so many of the Okanagan whites this wine was rich with complex fruit (in this case ripe peach, pear and honeysuckle flowers) as well as spice and minerals. Much of the soil in the area sits on ancient volcanic rock and sandstone and this substrate delivers exceptional minerality to the finished wines. Excellent with Thanksgiving turkey this wine costs $20.00 per bottle
Wild Goose Merlot 2007
Wild Goose is a very small family operation that was one of the first wineries to be granted farm gate (small winery) status by the province in the early 1990’s. The specialty wines are its whites but as winemaker Hagen Kruger (son of founder, Adolf Kruger) works on the reds they are reaching the same high standards the whites have become known for. This Merlot is elegant with an assertive fruit-forward nose and palate (stewed plum, brown apple) accompanied by a spicy, lean mouth feel, medium acidity and round tannins. The finish is long and clean. This is a bright wine with exceptional harmony and excellent ageing potential. $19.99 per bottle.
Quail’s Gate Chenin Blanc 2009
Chenin Blanc has grown in popularity over the past 10 years or so, as it has been planted widely in many parts of the New World. It makes exquisite wines in the Loire Valley and if this wine is any indication it could be a winner in the Okanagan Valley. The nose is leesy with aromas of pear and peach. The palate has a crisp attack followed by a juicy mid-palate showing ripe flavours of pear, peach, spice and soft minerals. The mouth feel is oily giving this otherwise delicate wine a bit of heft: a beautifully bright wine with a medium finish. This was the white wine served at the state dinner hosted in Ottawa on the occasion of the visit of President Obama: an excellent choice! $18.99 per bottle
The Okanagan is now firmly placed on my map and I look forward to returning next year for more explorations into this exceptional wine region.
I highly recommend one reference book I used extensively: John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. John is the leading writer who focuses exclusively on the wines of BC and this book was invaluable. If you follow my path and visit the Okanagan get a copy.
Originally published in WVN October 30 2010. Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2010.