The Okanagan jigsaw puzzle 

A case of appellations, sub-appellations and single vineyards

Imagine a world without addresses. How would we find anything?

Despite a sizable proportion of males who embrace the notion of vague directions, as in, turn right past the big oak tree, or turn left three blocks north of town, most clear-thinking humans cannot fathom a world without street addresses, maps or the latest in geographical precision - GPS co-ordinates.

Now, think wine.

Every wine worth drinking comes from somewhere, so it only makes sense that the label accurately reflects its address. In Burgundy, hundreds of years of refinement have subdivided the land into a patchwork quilt of appellations and classified single vineyards.

Now, it's over 30 years since the first estate wineries opened in the Okanagan Valley yet for some reason the 200-kilometre long valley remains a single undifferentiated region as far as wine label terminology is concerned. I've heard the arguments, most of which begin with you, the consumer, not needing to be confused by such esoteric information as the true origin of a wine. But I'm not buying it, figuratively or literally, and neither should you, especially if the price is $50.

In response to what I'm sure are many other same-thinking wine buyers, two Okanagan Valley "sub-regions," my words not theirs, are frantically trying to pull together the necessary information to launch the valley's first recognisable subdivisions.

Just east and north of the town of Penticton lies the geographically well-defined Naramata Bench, home to scores of vineyards and at least a couple of dozen wineries. The word "bench" is money in the bank in the wine business so bet on this sub-region being one of the first to appear on British Columbia wine labels, perhaps as early as this year.

Much further along the accreditation process are the growers and wineries of Golden Mile Bench, a spectacular-looking hanging plateau made up of a series of well-defined alluvial fans just south and west of the town of Oliver. Here you can almost imagine the Burgundian model as you look up at the wineries and vineyards that dot the hillside. All we need are some meaningful lines on a map.

Strangely, producers in Naramata and along the Golden Mile are locked in a race to be the first to launch an Okanagan valley sub-appellation, but why compete? Why not release the subs together and enrich a story whose time is long overdue? As the valley continues to mature and growers come to know every square inch of land it will not be long before our patchwork of sites are described with the same reverence given the great clos' of Burgundy, thought to be already growing vines when the Romans arrived in 51 BC.

In the meantime, here's my case for attaching sub-appellation names to wines: 12 excellent wines, grown on specific sites throughout the Okanagan yet under the current VQA label laws, none are allowed to identify their true origin.

No matter, we added the source, just in case you want to know where your wine comes from.

WHITES

Blue Mountain Chardonnay Reserve (Stripe Label) 2007, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley $26

The BM chardonnay is more in the style of a premier cru Chablis with a bit more oak. Attractive style for food but it will age further. Solid value.

CedarCreek Estate Gewürztraminer 2009, East Kelowna, Okanagan Valley $18

Cool Northern Okanagan fruit is the base behind the floral, grapefruit, orange flavoured white. Fresh and juicy, its slightly sweet palate will tame a variety of spicy pan-Asian dishes.

Lake Breeze Pinot Blanc 2009, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley $17

Pinot Blanc is the signature label at Lake Breeze and this one owns "the Bench." The fruit is 100 per cent estate grown on the Naramata Bench and result is pure magic each year. Fantastic value.

Road 13 Home Vineyard Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2009, Golden Mile, Okanagan Valley $20

Ripe somewhat sweet entry with candied pink grapefruit, red apple, honey, light lees, mineral, gooseberry and guava flavours. Good balance and intensity - Thai food, anyone?

Sandhill Pinot Gris King Family Vineyard 2009, Naramata Bench Okanagan Valley $18

The King family gris and its juicy persona, tropical fruit, fresh melon and green apple flavours are perfect for spicy wraps and or crab cakes.

Township 7 "7 Blanc" Pinot Gris - Gewürztraminer - Riesling 2009, Oliver, Okanagan Valley $19

7 - Blanc is an aromatic blend of Naramata pinot gris, gewürztraminer and a bit of muscat. Look for an off-dry palate mixing grapefruit, honey, mango and red apple. Classic style summer sipper you can pair with a variety of foods.

Twisted Tree Marsanne Roussanne 2009, Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley $22

Love the mineral, ginger, lemon, honey and nectarine flavours and the juicy, round finish. Impressive new B.C. white - take that, Rhone Valley!

REDS

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2007, Black Sage Bench, Oliver, Okanagan Valley $35

The BOV franc has a bit of that Cheval Blanc mineral thing under its ripe, rich, spicy, earthy, black fruit. Just a whiff of local Oliver sagebrush pulls the entire wine together. Impressive.

Osoyoos Larose 2007 Osoyoos Bench, Oliver, Okanagan Valley $40

Built from the dirt up, this is the best release yet from winemaker Paschal Madevon. Fine grainy, supple tannins mix with peppery, cassis fruit and olives. A great steak wine.

Painted Rock Red Icon 2007 Skaha Bench, Okanagan Valley $55

A new label from a spectacular sloping southwest bench above Skaha Lake. The entry is warm and supple, the flavours a mix of spice and savoury dried herbs, black fruit and coffee flavours.

Quails' Gate Pinot Noir Stewart Family Reserve 2007, Mt. Boucherie, Okanagan Valley $45

This pinot has been a work-in-progress since winemaker Grant Stanley arrived. Red fruits, black cherries and spice reflect the special site on the slopes of Mount Boucherie. Sub-appellation, indeed.

Sandhill Merlot Sandhill Vineyard Block C8 2007, Black Sage Bench, Oliver, Okanagan Valley $35

Winemaker Howard Soon solidifies the notion of legitimate merlot in B.C. Clove, savoury, peppery, vanilla cream, coffee, chocolate and black cherry jam sing out Black Sage Bench and Block C8.

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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