Just north of the U.S. border is a wine lover's playground, the Okanagan Valley, Canada's most important wine region.
This interior section of British Columbia is a traditional destination for residents of the Lower Mainland region looking to escape the gray skies for sunshine, mirroring the role that Washington wine country plays to residents of the greater Seattle region.
This valley, carved out by glaciers, is a wonderland, loaded with beautiful landscapes and more than 200 wineries stretching from the border up 100 miles north. Many of these wineries feature on-site restaurants, making for an ultimate wine country experience.
Below are a few of the British Columbia wines that won a gold medal at this year's Cascadia International Wine Competition, which recruited wine professionals from throughout the West Coast to taste wines made with fruit grown in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia or Idaho.
There is plenty of summer left, so if you are looking for a quick get-away, the Okanagan Valley and the nearby Similkameen Valley may be the ticket. With the exchange rate being 75 cents on the dollar, touring Canada is more of a bargain than usual.
For Americans, bringing home wines from British Columbia for personal consumption is not prohibitive either, but the bottles are subject to duty and excise tax, costing about 23 cents per liter. If you're thinking of heading to the Okanagan Valley, consider staying in Kelowna and Penticton or near the border in Oliver or Osoyoos, which are just north of Oroville, Wash.
Wild Goose Vineyards 2018 Gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, $17: The Kruger family used Gewürztraminer to help establish their vineyard near Okanagan Falls in 1984, and Wild Goose has developed into arguably the Pacific Northwest’s top producer of this Alsatian grape. It proved that again by earning best-of-class honors. Floral aromas of lilac and jasmine pop out, followed by additional aromas of peach, apricot and orange zest. Lively acidity brings up flavors of clove, ginger and stone fruit to make the palate salivate. It’s an ideal pairing with spicy Asian cuisine and seafood or a grilled brat at the on-premise Smoke & Oak Bistro.
Vanessa Vineyard 2014 Syrah, Similkameen Valley, $35: The dean of British Columbia winemakers, Howard Soon, recently was named to the Order of Canada, and his talents have turned young Vanessa Vineyard into an international star. Soon co-fermented Syrah with a small amount of Viognier then aged the wine for 20 months in French and American oak. Black cherry, blackberry and rose petals are presented in the nose. Blackberry flavors follow, joined by Marionberry and a touch of white pepper that’s finished with dusty tannins and a sense of bramble. In a field of nearly 70 Syrahs from throughout the Pacific Northwest, this was voted as No. 1.
La Frenz Winery 2018 Wits End Vineyard Estate Viognier, Naramata Bench, $24: Founder/co-owner Jeff Martin and winemaker Dominic McCosker, a fellow Aussie, pulled from vines on the Naramata Bench near Penticton, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley, for one of the Pacific Northwest’s top examples of Viognier. None of it saw oak, which led to aromas of lime, pineapple and orange. On the palate, it reveals orange, lime, pineapple and a bit of papaya, with crisp acidity in its juicy finish. Ambrosia or Waldorf salad would pair well with it, or it’s a good nominee for a patio sipper. The Martins enjoy it with a North African tagine or a saffron risotto. This was voted as best of class at the 2019 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Crescent Hill Winery 2017 Glennallyn Private Reserve Gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, $21: Teresa Wiseman and her winemaking husband Russell carry on the legacy of Crescent Hill Winery in Penticton as a tribute to her late father, Glennallyn, who used Gewürztraminer to establish this family vineyard in 1980 near Skaha Lake. Lychee, spice and grapefruit play across its nose, popping up again and backed by surprisingly bright acidity on the palate that deftly balances a bit of residual sugar (1.8 percent). This is a fine summer sipper or perfect for a charcuterie and cheese plate or Thai food. In recent years, the Glennallyn Gewürz has earned gold medals up and down the West Coast. This spring, it merited a unanimous double gold at the Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Intrigue Wines 2018 SOCIAL White, Okanagan Valley, $15: Roger Wong, longtime winemaker for iconic Gray Monk, also is into the second decade of his own brand — nearby Intrigue Wines. This Germanic-inspired blend of Riesling and Gewürztraminer includes touches of Kerner, Muscat Canelli and Ehrenfelser. Unsurprisingly, the result is an aromatic wine with a citrusy nose that also sports enticing spices and hints of minerality. In the mouth, there’s a citrusy burst of orange, lime and grapefruit with apple pie spice and a farewell of fresh pineapple and peach. Try this with Ambrosia salad or sip it on the patio on a warm summer evening.
Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery 2016 Summit, British Columbia $55: A year ago, this winery near Kelowna with 300 acres of vines celebrated its 50th anniversary as growers. They’ve dubbed its premium Merlot-based red blend as Summit, and it qualifies as a peak experience. Aromas of blackberries, blueberries and dark plum lead into a lush mouthful of the same fruits, plus dark chocolate and smooth tannins in its long, satisfying finish.
Hester Creek Estate Winery 2015 The Judge Limited Edition Red Wine, Golden Mile Bench, $50: Year after year, Robert Summers produces one of the province’s top Meritage-style wines, and this blend led by Cabernet Franc includes Golden Mile Bench grapes from vines dating to 1968. Dark cherry and complex herbal notes of sage and thyme from the Franc pick up whiffs of leather and vanilla. The full, rich palate shows fruits of blackberry, cherry, a hint of blueberry, licorice and more dried herbs. Enjoy it with a grilled ribeye.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com