There may be a geopolitical border between us, but I’d venture there are as many commonalities as differences between British Columbians and Washingtonians. When we’re talking wine, this is especially true, particularly when we’re discussing attributes of the southern Okanagan Valley and Washington-state wine country.
In fact, it’s an odd thought that in other countries there can be an idea of the style of Canadian wine when, outside of our province, the nearest significant Canadian wine region is on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, about 3,500 kilometres away. We have a considerable amount of differences in climate, terrain, and all the other usual factors. If we’re looking for stylistic elements a little more closely tethered, it simply makes sense for us to hop over the American border and look to our neighbours.
I was considering this upon receiving a handful of new releases from Washington’s Charles Smith Wines in advance of their upcoming participation in the Vancouver International Wine Festival. In tasting a couple of the wines, a Riesling and a Syrah (arguably my two favourite grape varieties), I couldn’t help thinking I might have difficulty landing on the right side of the border if I were blind-tasting them.
So, in an awfully unscientific personal study, I reached for the two most recent British Columbian examples of those varieties to land on my desk. Although I was curious to see how many common threads I could find, I recognize I’m looking at different winemaking styles and vintages, but perhaps the similar provenance could still shine through.
Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2015
(Washington state; $19.99, B.C. Liquor Stores)
This popular Riesling has been a dependable drop for what seems like forever. Those white floral notes on the nose are intoxicating off the bat, lifted by lime zest and fresh-sliced quince. The juicy palate carries an armload of both Granny Smith and Ambrosia apples, a smidge of buckwheat honey, and muddled lemon. The fruit is well concentrated, and the (off-dry) finish goes long. For those fearful of Riesling being too sweet, there’s no need for concern. Generous acidity keeps everything lively and balanced, and there’s a core of minerality, allowing solid structure.
Quails’ Gate B.M.V. Riesling 2017
(Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $29.99, online)
Holy shit, this wine is incredible! This is a new wine just added to Quails’ Gate’s lineup, with fruit sourced from the winery’s Boucherie Mountain vineyard. The B.M.V. Riesling came about in a similar way to the Kung Fu Girl: both were whole-cluster pressed, then fermented and aged in neutral oak for two months. While the latter was inoculated with commercial yeast, the B.M.V. was a wild ferment, which I think has brought more dimension and complexities to the table.
There’s a wonderful texture here, a slight bit of grip, which keeps all those pink-grapefruit, crabapple, Honeycrisp apple, Bartlett pear, and nougat notes in line. The concentration is a tad richer, and the acidity arcs a little higher. Both of ’em are cheery odes to the variety’s suitability to this corner of the world.
Charles Smith Wines Boom Boom! Syrah 2015
(Washington state; $30 to $35, private liquor stores)
The “Boom Boom!” moniker fits this meaty, delicious Syrah. Bursting out of the gate with mocha, brambly dark berry fruit, and a bunch of cloves and cardamom, and with a good chew of black licorice on the finish, this wine ain’t shy. It’s listed at 13.5-percent alcohol, which I thought to be a little on the low side; it does harbour a good dose of heat. It’s still well built, with great concentration and just enough acidity and tannic structure to keep everything in its right place. (Recently spotted at Legacy Liquor Stores and Everything Wine.)
Poplar Grove Syrah 2014
(Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $33.99, B.C. Liquor Stores)
You know, I thought I’d grabbed my glass of the Charles Smith Syrah again by mistake; at first showing, the wines come across as quite similar. The dark berry fruit, some dried herbs, some baking spices, and a generous nature have Poplar Grove’s Syrah dovetailing with the Boom Boom!’s flourishes. Flavour components differ here and there, but not by much at all; the black licorice in the former comes across as more minty or anise-y in the latter, that sort of thing.
The gap between them widened, though, after 15 or 20 minutes in the glass. While the Washington outing stayed mighty concentrated, our British Columbian example softened a touch, becoming more elegant, with tannins integrating well. That extra year of age could have played a part in the difference.
All in all, in these specific examples I did see a common thread besides the basics of varietal type. The most important trait they all carried, however, is they’re all delightful examples of their respective varieties and worthy of a spot at your table.