Tastings from new Penticton wineries

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      Two hundred and twelve wineries are now pumping it out in B.C.—that according to some intel that has recently reached me. (Sorry, I’ve been reading Nelson DeMille; that kind of language rubs off on you!)

      Have you tasted wine from all of them? Neither have I, though I do my best right here, most every week, to achieve that goal. As I tell anyone who will listen, when I first arrived in Vancouver, there were four B.C. wineries; talk about a growth curve!

      So, 212 wineries, not counting all the virtual ones that live in the Oliver post office. Let’s be conservative and say they each do three wines—that’s nearly two years’ worth of tasting at one a day. More than my capacity, alas. But the effort continues.

      Here, then, is a preliminary taste-through of wines from two new wineries in Penticton. Actually, one is a phoenix: new name, new livery. That’d be Perseus, formerly known as Synergy Winery & Vineyards, established in 2009. Located on Lower Bench Road, it’s the first winery you encounter as you drive to the famous Naramata Bench, arguably home to many of the Okanagan’s best little wineries.

      Speaking of famous, Tom DiBello is the managing winemaker and Richard Cleave the consulting viticulturist. With traction like that for the project, it’s no surprise that initial Perseus releases are superb, if sometimes costly. These are big, heady reds (the Pinot Gris is a nice foil for them), and they’re produced in limited quantities. Well worth tracking down; as always, your best bet is the winery, at www.perseuswinery.com/. There’s also Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay, plus Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and two Syrahs (called Tempus) that were not tasted.

      Perseus Pinot Gris 2011($16.90)
      The cheapest of the bunch started our tasting. It’s a big, bright fruit basket of a wine—delicious, deep, and full; save some for when spring really arrives.

      Perseus Cabernet Shiraz 2011 ($21.90)
      This one, blended with a little bit of Cab Franc, is rich and ripe, with a hint of sweetness at the front: perfect for chorizo, paella, or lamb. Good value for the price.

      Perseus Invictus 2009 ($32.90)
      A Bordeaux blend that uses five Meritage varietals: Cab Sauv, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, and Malbec. Invictus is Latin for “unconquered”.

      Perseus Select Lots Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($50)
      This is the big-ticket bottle. Impressive stuff—at 50 bucks per bottle, it ought to be. Massive fruit (and alcohol: 15.1 percent); it wants decanting (and maybe even laying down for a year or three), and rewards robust roasts of beef or lamb.

      The other newcomer is Upper Bench Estate Winery and Creamery, which opened in May 2012 and offers “artisan wines, hand-crafted cheeses and fresh, local fruit”. It’s not the first winery in the area to combine winemaking and cheesemaking in a single installation; I think Poplar Grove did it first in the Naramata area.

      Winemaker Gavin Miller has released his first wines: a rosé, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Blanc, and a Riesling, all from 2011, as well as a 2010 Merlot and a 2010 Pinot Noir. Cheesemaker Shana Miller offers artisanal Brie, blue, and washed-rind cheeses; they’re called U&Brie, Gold, French Gold, Italian Gold, Okanagan Sun2, Grey Baby, and King Cole. They’re all produced on-site in a newly completed, state-of-the-art, CFIA–registered creamery. More info is at www.upperbench.ca/.

      Here’s what we had for tasting; no reds yet.

      Upper Bench Pinot Gris 2011 ($19.90, 284 cases)
      Dark golden yellow, a bit vegetal (not in a bad way), big and rich. Not every Pinot Gris fan will like it, but our panel all did. A wine that makes a bold statement; I’ll bet it goes well with some of those cheeses.

      Upper Bench Chardonnay 2011 ($24.90, 324 cases)
      Big and sturdy: a meat-meal Chard with deep fruit and a rich, nutty finish. Again, this won’t be to every Chardonnay lover’s taste, but it is unique and very full on the palate. Another one that goes with food.

      Upper Bench Riesling 2011 ($21, 112 cases) Very full and perfectly Riesling-sweet, an outstanding B.C. Riesling. Rich and mouth-filling, we loved it with President’s Choice lime-and-habanero-chili nacho chips!

      Upper Bench Rose 2011 ($21, 174 cases)
      Saved the pink for last. Adhering to the winemaker’s manifesto (“minimalist wine-making with a passion for flavour”), this is a soft and mellow rosé tasting of strawberry; we thought it might benefit from a bit more edge, and we await subsequent vintages with much interest.

      Coming soon: new wines with odd names, Vintners Brunch pairing hits, and more stuff from the Vancouver International Wine Festival I didn’t cover in past columns.


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      Alix MacDonald

      Mar 22, 2013 at 7:08pm

      Dear Jurgen Gothe,

      The two wineries you featured in this article are, quite literally, down the hill from us; best guess, a five minute drive. Here at'Crooked Tree Bed & Breakfast Guest Suites', overlooking the Naramata Bench, we and we welcome you to come to stay sometime.


      Alix MacDonald