January is no longer a quiet time of year on the culinary front, and this year’s version sees Tourism Vancouver’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival return to the city for its 18th edition. The ever-growing fest is centred around prix fixe menus being offered at 300-plus restaurants (at $15, $25, $35, or $45) around the city, but there’s much more programming worth diving into. Everything from a BBQ, fried chicken, and a brewery tour to a dumpling master class in Chinatown fills the hearty roster of happenings, with many components that are certain to be highlights for local wine enthusiasts.
The Great Big Taste event kicks off the festival on January 16 at the Rocky Mountaineer Station. It’s a grazing-style event where 20 local restaurants—including Café Medina, Fanny Bay Oyster Bar & Shellfish Market, La Mezcaleria, and Tuc Craft Kitchen—will be serving up the goods alongside an array of local craft breweries, cideries, spirit producers, and wineries.
The lineup of British Columbia wineries looks fantastic, 18 of them at last count, and it appears that they will be pouring their best and brightest. I’ve pored over the selections that will be swirled in many a glass, and I recommend hitting up this handful of personal favourites. With every one, I am including a can’t-miss label worth tasting, each of which should also be added to any vinous shopping list to start your new year off right.
Clos du Soleil
Since 2006, this Similkameen Valley winery has been focusing on Bordeaux-inspired whites and reds from organic and biodynamically grown vineyards steeped in limestone-rich soils. A powerful afternoon wind howls through the valley daily, keeping pests and moisture at bay, leaving fruit to grow on the vine with minimal intervention. It’s that wind that has made the Similkameen the organic farming capital of Canada. Winemaker and managing director Michael Clark harnesses that and builds elegant, charismatic wines that all offer purity of fruit and brilliant structure with natural acidity. Clos du Soleil Capella 2017 ($24.26, ClosDuSoleil.ca) is a nod to white Bordeaux, composed of 74 percent local Sauvignon Blanc, along with 26 percent Sémillon coming from Oliver. Sixty percent of the wine is aged in French oak, which frames all that Granny Smith apple, pink grapefruit, and white peach quite well.
Culmina Family Estate Winery
The Triggs family, who founded the winery, took plenty of time precision-mapping and -planting every single nook and cranny of their Oliver vineyard before producing wine and opening their doors in 2013. For me, the most site-specific, expressive wine in their lineup is the Culmina Dilemma 2016 ($31, Culmina.ca). It’s a Chardonnay that’s certainly among the best in the valley, coming from vines grown on rugged sand- and gravel-laden soils on one of the highest-altitude vineyards in B.C. A cornucopia of tropical fruit—including guava, young pineapple, and citrus—is bolstered by an amiable undercurrent of roasted hazelnuts and a wisp or two of fresh sage.
Hester Creek Estate Winery
The folks at Hester Creek are the guardians of some of the oldest grapevines in the Okanagan Valley, with a host of them planted in 1968. Some of those plantings are behind Hester Creek Reserve Block 3 Cabernet Franc ($25.99, HesterCreek.com), an opulent gathering of red and black berry fruit served up on a pedestal of toasty gingerbread. Those wanting to geek out a little bit should enjoy a tipple of Hester Creek Old Vines Block 16 Trebbiano 2018 ($20.99, HesterCreek.com), a vibrant and juicy take on the Italian grape variety, shimmering with fresh lime, lemon curd, and a spot of buckwheat honey on the finish.
Still tasty after all these years. Since its first vintage in 2001, Groupe Taillan of Bordeaux (initially partnering with Constellation Brands Canada) have had a tight focus on making red Bordeaux blends from estate fruit grown in Osoyoos, the southernmost, and hottest, part of the Okanagan Valley. There’s been a consistency of style with these broad-shouldered, lavish reds, shown yet again with Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin 2016 ($47.99, B.C. Liquor Stores). Expect a multilayered, carnivore-friendly wine with plenty of complexity. Ticks many a box we expect with the style: currants, plums, cocoa, mint, and some nice grippy tannins, too.
Singletree’s Etsell family have recently expanded their Fraser Valley winery, adding a Naramata Bench location in early 2018. However, they’re keeping a focus on what they’re growing right here in Metro Vancouver, with Singletree Grüner Veltliner 2018 ($17.30, SingletreeWinery.com) being a local fave. One of the only British Columbian wines made from the famous Austrian variety, its fresh lime, green grape, and young almond characteristics make it a seafood-friendly gem.