B.C.'s Naramata Bench releases its spring whites

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It’s no wonder that wines from B.C.’s Naramata Bench end up in this writer’s weekly column so often. There’s gotta be something special in the soil, maybe in the water, and most definitely about the people in this humble group of 24 award-winning wineries that keep drawing wine lovers to a 14-kilometre stretch near Penticton on the edge of Okanagan Lake.

Every year, the Naramata Bench Wineries Association holds its much-anticipated Spring Release tasting, each time in conjunction with a charitable partner. The event was held earlier this month at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver in support of the embattled Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. One may not support everything the aquarium does, but we can all agree that consuming ocean-friendly seafood is a good thing, right? Heck, enjoying fresh fish is one of the best things about living on the West Coast. Let’s make sure it’s still there to be enjoyed by the next generation. I’ll step down from my soapbox for now and get back to the wine…

Missed the tasting? While they’re still available, track down a few of these lovelies and take a trip to the Naramata Bench in the comfort of your own home. We’ll look at the whites this week.

La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22)

Tropical notes of pink grapefruit and green mango leap from the glass but are nicely balanced with crisp acidity. Try it with some grilled B.C. halibut marinated in a white-wine reduction and topped with a pineapple-mango salsa. Use half a cup of the wine in the reduction and save the rest for you and your guests.

Upper Bench Pinot Blanc 2012 ($19)

They call it “minimalist winemaking with a passion for flavour”. I call it “get me some grapey goodness”. Aromas of kiwi, lemon, pear skin, and guava dance around a palate that’s refreshingly dry. Wild B.C. cod pan-fried with a citrus glaze would do the trick.

Kettle Valley Pinot Gris 2012 ($24)

Something I’ve always loved about this winery is the distinct lack of flowery prose on its back labels. The writing focuses on vineyard sites, harvest dates, and other technical information. Another thing I’ve always loved is this wine’s gorgeous salmon colour, gained from two days of soaking on the skins. The wine is elegant and creamy, and—surprise—screams for wild sockeye salmon, smoked, grilled, or otherwise.

Serendipity White Lie 2011 ($18)

I’ve enjoyed every wine to date from Serendipity’s dynamic mother-daughter team, including the recently released White Lie, a proprietary blend based around Viognier. There are notes of citrus, honeydew, pear, red apple, and cantaloupe, and refreshing mineral notes too. It can stand up to some spice, so why not try it with some seared albacore tuna with hoisin and wasabi?

Lang Vineyards Farm Reserve Riesling 2012 ($20)

You’ll never have a better reason for Riesling. The vines for this gem were planted in 1987, three years before B.C.’s first farm-gate winery opened its doors. Superbly balanced, the nose showcases notes of peach, apricot, melon, and crisp green apple. The palate is long and luscious, with just a kiss of residual sugar. A new benchmark for the Bench. Let’s try it with some diver-caught Qualicum Beach scallops in a soy-miso marinade. You’ll be a better person for it.

Lake Breeze Spice Jar 2013 ($22)

This is a fun one and brand-new for this vintage. A lush blend of impress-your-friends varietals like Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and Schönburger, Spice Jar is springtime in a glass. Soft and fruity, with heady aromatics that bring to mind a birthday bouquet of roses, Turkish delight, and soft, ripe peaches, this one is a real crowd pleaser. Try it on its own between courses.

Poplar Grove Blanc de Noirs Rose 2013 ($24.90)

It’s hard for me to avoid a good rosé these days—they just keep ending up in my glass! Keep ’em coming, all summer long. This one is a blend of Malbec and Syrah, and you get loads of strawberry and sweet spice wrapped up in a lip-smacking package. A wild spot prawn ceviche with garlic, avocado, and watermelon is the perfect foil.

Van Westen Vineyards Vicicle 2012 ($24.90 for a 200-millilitre bottle)

Ready for dessert? Not surprisingly, Van Westen’s Vicicle is an icewine made from Viognier. Honeyed notes of dried mango, apple pie, raisins, and baked peaches rest atop a remarkably fresh and balanced palate. A gloriously long finish too. Pairs well with a cheese plate at the end of your sustainable seafood spread. Vantastic.

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