For wine lovers in the Pacific Northwest who have toured the wine regions of Washington, Oregon and Idaho, it’s time to head north of the border to explore a beautiful region filled with stunning wines.
The Okanagan Valley is a 100-mile region in British Columbia’s interior that is home to more than 300 wineries. It’s a stunning region that has the added bonus of producing uniformly stunning wines.
Getting there is easy enough, as long as you have a passport. A four-hour drive east from Vancouver, or a one-hour flight from Vancouver to Kelowna will get you to the heart of Canada’s largest wine region, with more than 10,000 acres of planted vineyards.
The biggest issue is the availability of the wines in the United States. In fact, it’s simpler to find Tasmanian Pinot Noir than to find Okanagan Valley wines south of the 49th parallel. Fortunately, bringing wine you purchase for personal consumption is rarely an issue. Typically, you’ll pay 21 cents a liter when you drive across our side of the border. That’s less than $2 per case.
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The region has a well-earned reputation for superb white wines, but advancements in viticulture, climate change and technically trained winemakers from British Columbia and beyond have combined to make for a growing number of delicious red wines. The Okanagan Valley also is world-famous for icewines, which are made from grapes left to freeze on the vines before harvesting. These wines are akin to nectar, rather expensive and a rare treat.
Wine lovers looking for a late-summer adventure need look no farther than a trip to the Okanagan Valley. An ideal time would be during the 38th annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival. It ranks among the largest of its type in North America, spanning 165 events from Sept. 27 to Oct. 7.
Here are seven examples of Okanagan Valley wines, all of which won gold medals at this spring’s Cascadia International Wine Competition.
JoieFarm Winery 2016 Gamay, Okanagan Valley, $28: Aromas of cola, root beer and cherries waft up to greet the nose, followed by mouth-watering SweeTARTS cherry candy. Heidi Noble’s light bodied, high-acid tart treat off Deep Roots Vineyard on the Naramata Bench would pair well with a savory pesto-rubbed salmon or Manchego cheese.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2017 Classic Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $13: This Riesling lives up to its name as “classic” with brilliant varietal aromas of grapefruit, lime, honey and Okanagan Valley peaches. In the mouth, it adds apple and kiwi, plus refreshing acidity and a trace of sweetness. It’s officially off-dry, but the acidity makes it an excellent food wine for Asian fare, especially if it contains lemongrass, lime and yellow or green curry.
Lake Breeze Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $22: South African-born winemaker Garron Elmes claimed five gold medals at this year’s Cascadia for this Naramata Bench showpiece, including best of class for this Sauvignon Blanc. Honeysuckle, lemon and lime aromas lead to bright lemon and lime flavors, brilliant acidity and a long finish that displays abundant minerality.
Tightrope Winery 2017 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $22: This dry expression by Lyndsay O’Rourke is a stellar example of all the goodness Riesling has to offer. The aromas of lemon, lime, a touch of petrol and grapefruit zest make their way to the palate, which evolves with a touch of caramel and green apple. Racy acidity lingers for a long finish and prompts another amazing sip.
La Frenz Winery 2017 Viognier, Naramata Bench, $20: Last year, La Frenz was named Small Producer of the Year at a Sonoma competition, and their wines continue to import gold medals. This Viognier comes with a theme of fruit basket that carries peach, melon, and dried banana. There’s a hint of smokiness, a full mouth feel and a kick of five-spice powder on the finish.
Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery 2017 Gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, $17: Second-generation winemaker Hagen Kruger specializes in making wines from grapes with a German heritage, and his latest flagship Gewürz continues to display that skill. Quintessential spice and lychee aromatics and flavors are framed by the natural acidity retained during those cool B.C. nights, which easily offsets its residual sugar. For the second straight year, a Pinot Gris by Kruger and his young team won best of show at the Cascadia.
Township 7 Vineyards & Winery 2015 Seven Stars Sparkling Wine, Okanagan Valley, $30: One of the reasons why Mary McDermott moved from Ontario to the Okanagan Valley was to work with sparkling wine, and this won the sweepstakes award at the Cascadia. Delicate aromas and flavors of pear and red apple mingle on the palate with subtle yeast and fine bubbles.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com