As the 2016 harvest winds down across the province and as the weather turns cool, it seems appropriate to turn our attention to some of the best red wines coming out of B.C.
Despite a 2016 season that is ending with cool, rainy weather, we have experienced four better-than-average growing seasons of a length and warmth never seen before. When you combine that with the experience gathered over the last two decades by winemakers and grape growers, we are beginning to see what may be possible for British Columbia red-wine producers.
The list of red grapes that are making big strides in B.C. is growing and could change even more as the weather warms north of the 49th parallel. Since it's a question I get a lot, I wanted to at least share my list of which red grapes are making the best wines in B.C.
My top single red grape picks would be syrah pinot noir followed by cabernet franc, merlot and gamay. Pinot noir is tops at the moment producing, in some cases, very complex wine that is telling the story of our terroir both on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan.
Merlot has the most potential, and is perhaps the least developed for now. Cabernet franc is starting to position itself as a very important player in red blends, but looks as if it could easily be a stand-alone varietal wine, too. Gamay has always been good but plantings are small and consumer interest even smaller.
The other important red wine category is the numerous B.C. blends. Those with a majority of merlot and cabernet franc grapes are perhaps our best red wine story at the moment. With few exceptions cabernet sauvignon is best used as a supporting grape in red blends and will likely remain in that spot unless global warming continues unabated.
There are also some outlier reds: malbec, carmenère, sangiovese, dolcetto and maybe the most promising of all grenache.
Making it through the winter can be an issue for some but any way you look at it the future is brighter than ever. As we head toward late fall and winter, here's a look at some B.C. red wines that are turning heads.
Le Vieux Pin Equinoxe Syrah 2013 $80 is a star syrah and Equinoxe confirms the 2013 vintage in my mind as one of the best ever in the deep, south Okanagan. Fabulous potential here in what is a wonderful bottle of syrah.
There are only 110 cases of Meyer Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Micro Cuvée McLean Creek Vineyards 2014 but it is one harmonious pinot noir. This is full-blown New World pinot, a bit reminiscent of the New Zealand Central Otago style.
We have been waiting with great anticipation for the Osoyoos Larose 2013 $45. A terrific season, including rain when it was needed, a warm summer and a long, cool fall contributed to a wine with real finesse. Complete phenolic ripeness makes this the best ever Osoyoos Larose.
Another red blend we think is first rate is the Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio +06/10 2014 $45. Ripe, mouth-filling, savoury, long, dense and silky this is an amazing effort from the Enns, David and Cynthia.
Clos du Soleil Signature 2013 $45 is a Similkameen-style Bordeaux blend. A reduced percentage of cabernet sauvignon and reduced oak ageing (now 17 months) are setting this wine free.
If finesse is the road to success, Quails' Gate The Connemara 2014 $60 has arrived. Winemaker Nikki Callaway spent some time working in Bordeaux and clearly she learned a thing or two about blending. Connemara is named after his great grandfather Richard Stewart's love for what he called the most beautiful part of Ireland. So young, yet so balanced, this is a blueprint for the future.
Kelowna-based CedarCreek employs southern fruit for its CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Single Vineyard Meritage 2013. It opens with floral, attractive red fruit aromas and a similar upfront juicy, red fruit palate and then, boom, the 58-per-cent cabernet sauvignon kicks in and firms up the mid-palate and back end.
A perfect fall red for mushroom risotto, or Bistecca alla Fiorentina, well done. Painted Rock Merlot 2013 $35 is another wine bearing less new oak for a better result. A drop from 50 per cent to 30 per cent since the 2012 vintage means more Skaha, less French oak and that, my friends, is a good thing. You can enjoy this merlot now with a rare steak and a classic Argentine chimichurri sauce.
JoieFarm Gamay 2014 $26 is more akin to Cru Beaujolais than North American gamay, thanks to a fine central structure and stony, savoury, salty notes throughout. At 12.6-per-cent alcohol it's easy to drink. Speaking of fun wines to drink, the Stag's Hollow Grenache 2015 $26 with its peppery, sweet raspberry and cherry flavours is the future of a whole new category of B.C. reds.
All of these wines have exploded onto the scene in less than a decade and they're just the "pointy end" of the pack. If the weather continues to co-operate who knows where it will all end up.
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.
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