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Food and drink: Olympic-sized wines

Reds and whites that own the podium

British Columbia wines have an Olympic-sized opportunity next month to impress the world and it couldn't come at a better time.

The bloom is off expensive wine and premium local wine fits that profile. You don't get much for less than $20 these days in B.C., which is a real problem for producers given that consumers don't want to spend more than $20 a bottle on any wine.

Not much can be done about the pricing. High land costs, higher labour costs and small wineries point to a niche industry. What we have to do is convince the world our wines are worth the money and that's where the Olympics come in.

The largest contingent of media ever to assemble in British Columbia will be eating and drinking all over the Lower Mainland, making the impossible - getting one's wine in front of the gatekeepers - about as easy as it gets. Add in all the tourists who will be exploring local food and local wine daily, and it may be just the kick-start local producers need to start exporting wine to the rest of the world.

I know wineries are working hard to make sure they have plenty of products in the Lower Mainland to react to any increased demand. Vincor is the official Olympic supplier, so within the confines of Olympic events Jackson-Triggs, Sumac Ridge, See You Later Ranch, Nk'Mip and Inniskillin Okanagan will be front and centre.

But outside official events, the field is wide open. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for B.C. to show off its best, and like our athletes the only question left is: Are we ready?

The game plan should be simple. Show off the very best, whether you are serving them in restaurants, or at home. The trends at the recent 2009 Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards point to fresh, lively whites and balanced, blended reds.

Here are some ideas that should prepare you for the big moment should you find yourself needing to show off the home team next month.

The strength of B.C. wine is our cool climate - it's what makes our riesling, sémillon, gewürztraminer, viognier, siegerrebe, pinot blanc, chenin blanc, un-oaked chardonnay and even trebbiano soar in the glass.

The combination of bright, aromatic and clean fruit can inspire thoughts of New Zealand and Germany, but it is all Okanagan Valley. And when combined with Thai or Indian or Chinese food most B.C. wines rise to an even higher ground.

Among my current favourite are the delicious, vibrant crisp tasty flavours of the Lake Breeze 2008 Semillon $19, Thornhaven 2008 Gewurztraminer $18, Pentâge 2008 Gewurztraminer $18, Hester Creek Trebbiano 2008 Trebbiano $19, Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2008 and CedarCreek Riesling 2008 $18.

When guests ask if we in B.C. have a signature wine I would say, it's too early to commit to one, but a good candidate would be pinot gris.

Our best examples have added layers of minerality and fresh fruit, making it infinitely more appealing than many of its European counterparts. The wines you need to track down are: Thornhaven 2008 Pinot Gris $19, Peller Private Reserve 2008 $18, Burrowing Owl 2008 Pinot Gris $20, Mission Hill Pinot Grigio Five Vineyards 2008 $16, Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Gris 2008, $19 and Sandhill Pinot Gris King Family Vineyard 2008 $18.

The category with the highest ratio of medals at the Canadian Wine Awards is the blended whites. Most featured two or three grapes in the mix and sometimes more. The best have an aromatic component. Road 13 2008 Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne $24 flashed the Rhone card and impressed the judges, while further up the valley in Naramata the Stag's Hollow 2008 Sauvignon-Semillon $23 reminds one of the stylish, fresh, white Bordeaux/Graves style. Other top picks include Black Hills Alibi 2008 $30, Clos du Soleil White 2007 $27 or Twisted Tree Viognier Roussanne $22.

The popularity of chardonnay cannot be underestimated, which means you need to have some local labels that express our best style: the brighter, lighter, less oaky mode with bright fruit and acidity. Current favourites include Quails Gate 2007 Reserve Chardonnay $30, Blasted Church Chardonnay Musqué 2008 $18, JoieFarm Chardonnay Un-Oaked (ii) 2008 Chardonnay $21 and Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay Osoyoos Vineyard Estate 2007 $35.

What about the reds you say?

Just about any major wine producing country has us at a disadvantage when it comes to the biggest red - cabernet sauvignon. But there is more to wine than just power. B.C.'s strength is earlier ripening varieties like merlot, pinot noir and so far - and inexplicably - syrah. The latter may be our best red yet.

Syrah entries garnered the most medals and comments from the judges at the Canadian Wine Awards and earned the highest medal percentage of the competition with 25 per cent of the entries grabbing gold and silver. Best bets here are Sandhill 2007 Small Lots Syrah Phantom Creek Vineyard $35, See Ya Later Ranch 2007 Rover $25 and Jackson Triggs SunRock Syrah 2007.

Again, our cool climate would suggest you explore B.C. pinot noir, which is not Burgundy and not California. Start with a classy Church and State 2007 Hollenbach Family Vineyard Pinot Noir $26 with its smooth, round, restrained fruit or the similarly styled Thornhaven Pinot Noir 2007 $18 . The regular edition of Quails' Gate Pinot Noir 2007 $25, Quails' Gate Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 $45 and CedarCreek Pinot Noir 2007 $20 are all good picks.

Some would suggest cabernet franc has a future here, and I would agree if they were all made like the best - a dense and ripe Burrowing Owl 2007 Cabernet Franc $33.

Ultimately, our blends will tell the story of B.C. red wine and from my experience it will be those with a higher percentage of merlot and syrah in the blend versus cabernet sauvignon and/or cabernet franc.

As for those of you looking for something to really impress the visitors, turn to Painted Rock Red Icon 2007 $55, Osoyoos Larose 2006 $40, CedarCreek Estate Select Meritage 2006 $30, Mission Hill Compendium 2006 $40, Black Hills Nota Bene $53 and Dunham Froese Amicitia Red $28.

I can hear the anthem now.

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