My friend Jane gave me hell when I told her about my original idea for this story — five wines the media would probably ignore. Some of the wineries producing them being so small they don’t have the lavish PR budget to attract attention. So I changed tacks because she was right. My mistake. Mea culpa. Because I realized these wines are so good they won’t escape notice for long.
Wines, like all products, come and go as flavours of the month.
Remember when only French wines would do? Then it was Italian and Californian and Australian and New Zeeland vintages that became all the rage — to the point that now you can buy a pretty reasonable bottle of Bordeaux cru classé for considerably less than a next-door gargle touted by a movie star.
As I write this, the carillon at Mission Hills winery are ringing nine a.m., making me realize there are some great wines being grown in the Okanagan — whether they are promoted by Madison Avenue or not.
Right now, one of our favourites is being grown by what we like to call a Portuguese winery. No pretensions here, just good product.
Quinta Ferreira is an almost micro-sized winery run by the Ferreira family. Working with twenty acres, they produce an astonishing array of wines from seven grapes.
You can taste the influence of the Douro, Barraida and Azores in their wines. If you’re not into Portuguese wines, hie thee down to the store and try them out. You’ll be surprised. Except for fortified wines like port and Madeira, Portuguese wines are not well known — particularly on the west coast.
Quinta Ferreira produces a delightful, premium wine the family markets under the name Obra-Prima. This deep red blend can be described in no term other than chunky. It has so much body you don’t need to ask “Where’s the beef?”
John Ferreira claims “…bell pepper and black cherry notes” in the finish of the wine, but there is also a hint of old leather that bodes well for lying down and aging.
Hyperbole over, this is a wine worthy of fine Salt Spring lamb, roast wild elk or a mélange of sautéed wild mushrooms like morels and chanterelles.
Quinta Ferreira is located on Black Sage Road just outside Oliver in the south Okanagan. This is rapidly becoming the Bordeaux of Canada and the wines produced here are becoming the benchmark for all Canadian wines (and I suspect soon North America).
Across the valley from Black Sage Road is a winemaker and winery that really does sit off the beaten path. You have to be intent on finding Fairview Cellars and winemaker Bill Eggert. The winery is tucked away on a bench about 100 metres above the Valley floor in the Golden Mile region. (It’s actually on 334th Ave., but try finding that.)
Bill’s history spans the continent and, so far, the history of modern fine wine. Meaning wine you can actually drink — not the Prohibition era foxy stuff that held sway until well into the 1980s.
He began his career in Ontario on Lake Erie’s North Shore with one of the first wineries to use vinifera stock instead of labrusca grapes. It was a real eye-opener to taste something made in Canada that wasn’t destined for those with a substance abuse problem.
When the prices of vineyard land rose in Ontario, Bill headed west to the Okanagan where there was more sun and heat. Picking up six acres (since expanded), he opened Fairview Cellars and produced a Meritage blend called The Bear.
The Bear is another of those chunky wines that makes you want to forego any vegetarian inclinations you may ever have held. It has a taste that reminds me of an old library where the leather-bound books offer the rare combination of substance and grace.
It is a red meat wine that can be drunk on an equal footing with a well-marbled bit of Alberta beef. But try it with swordfish and you’ll add another combination to your portfolio of favourite meals.
Bill does most of his sales at the farm gate. He sends out casual emails announcing when his vintages are ready and you can order from his website, but don’t waste your time ringing your hands. Plunk the credit card down because if you snooze you lose on this one.
Personally I like blends. That’s where the artistry in wine making comes in. I also think that winemakers tend to be more strenuous in the defense of a varietal’s acknowledged characteristics than the wine drinker’s palate. Still, a great wine is a great wine whether a blend or a varietal.
Beat Maher, the original owner of Red Rooster, introduced me to the first Canadian wine I would cheerfully part with fifty bucks for — Golden Egg. But when he and wife Prudence left for bigger things and a syndicate headed by John McBean took over, I began fretting that a collective ownership was just going to go for dividends by adopting a get-it-in-the-bottle-and-dump-it philosophy.
Not so! Red Rooster’s Reserve Merlot is a varietal worth driving over two mountain ranges for. It is smooth and strokes your palate with a velvet glove, while it’s soft nose explodes in your mouth.
I was told not to drink this with food by someone who knows better than I, and they were right. Sometimes a wine is so good you should just relish on its own without competition from the efforts of the culinary schools’ latest graduates.
Substance is not relegated to red wines alone.
Tantalus Wines sits on the edge of the Valley overlooking Kelowna. Aside from great wine, it has arguably the best view of any winery in the Valley with trellised acreage sweeping dramatically away to reveal the city and narrows in the lake.
Around home the Tantalus Riesling is our turkey wine to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with. It is cheap and cheerful. But for special occasions we often splash out for the Tantalus Old Vines Riesling.
The story of the name goes back to 1978 when the first of the wineries Riesling vines were planted. These vines have matured with careful nurturing until they produce a wine so complex that when take a sip and close your eyes, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into a Florida citrus grove.
We try to drink this accompanied by cheese. One to make a Frenchman weep with joy is the local Poplar Grove Okanagan Double Cream Camembert. The deep citrus and delightful acidity of the Tantalus Old Vines Riesling is the ying to the yang of the of the cheese’s salty cream.
What we don’t drink enough of here in Canada are rosé style wines. A number of wineries up and down the Valley produce this pink-tinted appellation, but our favourite is the Rotberger from Gray Monk Winery.
Dedicated to producing light crisp Euro-style whites, it was logical that Gray Monk jump into this quintessentially continental summer quaff.
Not taken too seriously by North American wine consumers, rosés can be an acquired taste. Sitting somewhere in flavour between a light pinot noir and a sauvignon banc, the finish of this wine is neither too acidic nor too bold. It inhabits that late afternoon easy-drinking corner.
Try the Rotberger with a plate of deep-cupped Miyagis oysters and a bit of lemon (hold the Tabasco — you don’t need the criminal charge for assaulting your taste buds on your record). It also lends credence to dull but passable salads.
Wine becomes an exploration and an adventure — and they taught me long ago that wine writers shouldn’t have all the fun.
Winery Websites to Visit:
Wine Drop © delphaber @ Flickr – Some Rights Reserved.
Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery, courtesy of Quinta Ferreira
“Bill Posing in the Vineyard” Courtesy of Fairview Cellars