Sunday, 23 November 2014

Wineries of the Okanagan Valley - Part 4

There is a little pocket of the world called Naramata Bench whose pristine beauty is difficult to capture in word or on camera. Even if you don't have an interest or taste for good wine or artisinal produce, you still must visit. And there is really no excuse, as it is eaily accessible from Penticton.

It will not surprise anyone that my initial reason for visiting was to explore the wineries of the Naramata Bench, of which I had heard good things. Being around one hour north of Oliver, this (unofficial) subregion of the Okanagan Valley experiences a cooler climate than the desert floor. I was looking forward to what the terroir of the region would tell me about the area and comparing this to the many wines I had now sampled further south.

My first stop was purposefully directed at La Frenz, with their Australian winemaker and excellent reputation for quality. I was chuffed to see they had a 'Shiraz' (rather than a 'Syrah') - a nod to Australian roots. They only had a selection of their extensive list open for tasting that day, which was a shame, as I had been really keen to sample the Viognier. Never mind, the 2013 Chardonnay was a hit. I found that it wasn't trying to be something that it was not: there was bountiful stonefruit and a hint of pineapple well balanced by vanilla, toast and cream. By far my favourite wine was the 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir and this has remained one of the finest examples I have tasted in the Valley. 

Next up was Red Rooster Winery. To be perfectly honest, I found the name slightly off-putting but the cellar door staff were wonderfully welcoming and well-educated, putting my mind at ease immediately. I enjoyed discussing the finer points of the flavour profile of their newly released 2012 Cabernet Merlot (I found some black olives and charred coconut hidden in there) and I rather enjoyed the smokiness and meatiness coming through in their 2011 Syrah. It was exciting to find another winery utilising a ceramic egg in their winemaking arsenal and I ended up walking away with a bottle of the 2012 Riesling which was 'egg fermented'. I found it just had some extra oomph in terms of both colour and citrus integration, and was excellent value at $17 a bottle.

Next, I turned my attention to some of the smaller producers in the area. Howling Bluff winemaker Luke Smith was pottering around during my visit and kindly stopped for a quick chat about Vintage and how it was progressing. From his small list of offerings, the 2013 Pinot Gris really shone. The nose had some zesty lemon pith and grapefruit, and then the palate blossomed into a complex array of fruit: red apple skin, citrus zing. Luke then referred me on to a lovely little operation perched high up on the hill called Terravista. I am very glad I did not bypass this stop, as I stumbled accross the Spanish varietals AlbariƱo and Verdejo, of which I am quite a fan. It apears they are the only winery in the Okanagan cultivating these grapes so far.

I was attracted to the simple and striking logo of a painted 'V' utilised by Van Westen Vineyards. The place had a sense of purpose and style about it, despite being housed in a rustic looking barn. Starting with the whites, the 2012 Pinot Gris exhibited honeydew and melon backed by great minerality and acidity. The 2012 Viognier was also classy, having the tropical fruit profile of the region but much drier than some of the other versions I have tried, which seem to use residual sugar to create a rounding effect.

Van Westen's Bordeaux blend wine is simply called V. I preferred the 2009 over the 2010, despite the year being more challenging (hot weather followed by an early frost). The nose was aromatic with delicate cedar character and the palate was luscious with butterscotch and dark spices. I found the 2010 was slightly richer and warmer, perhaps less elegant but with excellent length. 

Lunch was at Lake Breeze. I cannot say I was a fan of their wines, finding them slightly watered down in texture. But I was not at all phased by this, as the food and view were to die for. I selected the mediterranean style cheese and charcuterie board and was quite happy to sit there for a good hour nibbling and enjoying the vista of Okanagan Lake from their lovely garden restaurant.

Another winery worth visiting in the area is Nichol, which has the oldest vineyards in Canada. Their 2011 Syrah was dark and gamey with some secondary and herbal characteristics showing. But in general, I found their wines highly acidic. They are located right at the end of the route, with superb views and a lovely open tasting room.

My day around Naramata was a bit of a whirlwind trip. If you venture here, ensure you allocate more time than I had available to really appreciate the location. There is not a single winery along the route that does not have an amazing view of the lake and mountains. Trust me - you won't want to leave.