B.C.’s Okanagan, Alsace, July 8 Release

B.C.’s Okanagan, Alsace, July 8 Release

There’s still plenty of time this summer or fall to plan a wining-and-dining week in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, and you should. I’m on a two-week busman’s holiday in this blessed corner of the world to lay ground work for the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards to be held in Penticton in September, and to attend the 25th anniversary celebration for Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, the first estate winery in the Okanagan. The Valley has indeed come of age, bursting with confidence, energy, growth and traffic. Driving the wine route, I can’t believe the number of new wineries that have popped out of the hills—now over 100.

There are 16 alone on the Naramata Bench, a bucolic enclave of vineyards and orchards on the east side of Okanagan Lake; with new names like Mon Foie, Laughing Stock, and Therapy Vineyard and Guesthouse. The latter is a compact 3,000-case winery featuring very elegant 2005 pinot noir, chardonnay, gewurz and pinot gris by talented Aussie winemaker Marcus Ansems, who worked at Creekside in Niagara a couple of years ago. Therapy’s most popular wines are Freudian Sip 2005 ***1/2 ($17.00 winery only), an aromatic white blend, plus Pink Freud 2005 ****($17.00 winery), a 100% merlot rosé with complex strawberry and red currant flavours, creaminess and refreshing acidity. The guesthouse, perched above the vineyard and cherry orchard, is a well-appointed and detailed eight suite, B & B-style arrangement, already booked out on weekends until year end.

Winery accommodation is the new growth industry in the Okanagan, especially in the south, farther removed from the hotels of Kelowna. In Osoyoos, at the southern tip of the valley, the Nk’mip Winery, owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band in a joint venture with Vincor Canada, is putting the finishing touches on a hotel complex called Spirit Ridge that adjoins a smart new Desert Cultural Centre and winery restaurants. At Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, business is booming, with production doubling original estimates (to 24,000 cases) and the planned September completion of a new building with ten guest suites, a new tasting room and patio. The Burrowing Owl 2005 reds still barreled in the underground cellar are very rich and may be the best yet from what is arguably B.C.’s most sought-after label. But tell that to neighbouring Black Hills which is closed for the summer with a “Sorry Sold Out” sign on the door. Indeed, many wineries could run out of stock this summer as the 2005 crop was down anywhere from 10 to 30 percent depending on who you ask.

Back to Ontario and the Vintages release on Saturday. I was disappointed in the quality of most in the Alsace spotlight, with two possible explanations. Perhaps Vintages’ well-under-$20 price requirements doesn’t give wineries much option except to send their lowest quality. Or perhaps some Alsatian producers are stuck in the past. White wines from many New and Old World sources—even Germany and Austria—have become increasingly vibrant, pure and fruit-driven. Several in this batch, however, have unenthused earthy flavours and heavy-handed presentation. Exceptions are the summery Hugel 2004 Tradition Muscat **** ($15.95, Vintages) with classic, intense and lively muscat perfume mindful of lavender, licorice and exotic fruit; and the Willm 2004 Gewurztraminer Reserve ***1/2 ($15.95), a full-blown, soft, slightly sweet style with plenty of perfume and length for the money.

Elsewhere in this release don’t miss the Margan 2003 Semillon **** ($15.95, Vintages) from Australia’s Hunter Valley—complex, powerful and well-balanced with fresh fig, lime and mineral flavours perfect for an outdoor evening of cold salads, or perhaps with a grilled tuna steak. For a less intense, seamless and sophisticated white, try the peach, cashew and vanilla-scented Castello della Sala 2004 Chardonnay **** ($20.95 Vintages) by Marchese Antinori of Tuscany. For a cellar starter red, grab the well-priced Chapoutier 2003 Petit Ruche Crozes-Hermitage **** ($22.95, Vintages), a northern Rhone syrah with extra ripeness—it was a warm year—and a fine balance of acid, alcohol and tannin that should carry it well through 2010.