Van Westen wines are worth the quest

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      Okay, this is how it goes: your name is Van Westen—Robert Van Westen. According to your website, you’re farming the family vineyards in “one of the most scenic wine regions in all of North America”, the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley, vineyards that have evolved from “over 50 years of family tradition”, with your partner, Tammi Van Westen, and four young daughters.

      In so doing you create a portfolio of wines, including dozens of award winners. The emphasis is on sustainable, cool-climate viticultural practices, growing vinifera grapes to make premium wines, including some of the best from B.C.

      Since your name starts with V, you decide your wines should too: great reds called—appropriately—Voluptuous and Vivacious; quirky ones like Vice (an icewine), Vrankenstein (a 100-percent Cab Franc), and Vivre la Vie (a 100-percent Merlot); and sundry others. Quirky, yes, but those distinctive silk-screened bottles with the big, brush-stroke letter V contain some sensational sipping.

      Some vintages are long sold-out, but many remain available at the winery, selected (and savvy) independent wine stores, and better restaurants.

      Here’s a quick tour through five of the recently tasted and available ones. Worth major questing.

      V 2009 ($34.90, 301 cases produced)
      We might as well start with the Meritage-style V, released in September. The blend is primarily Merlot (68 percent), along with 25 percent Cab Franc, 5.6 percent Malbec, one percent Cab Sauv, and 0.4 percent Petit Verdot. It’s a lovely, mellow Bordeaux blend with soft tannins, described by the winemaker as “elegant yet intense”. One of the best meat wines you’re likely to encounter this year. Get some while you can, if there’s any cash left.

      Voluptuous 2009 ($29.90, 204 cases)
      Mostly Merlot, the rest Cabernet Sauvignon; 100 percent barrel-aged in one-third new French oak. This one is built for aging. (2007 and 2008 vintages are still available, if you want to compare; Voluptuous is the name for all vintages.) Lots of prune plums, cassis, ripe raspberry, coffee, and “clove-studded orange and chocolate”, according to the winemaker’s palate. A dinner and postdinner treat.

      Vino Grigio 2011 ($18.90, 499 cases)
      Inevitable name, yes? Lovely and light but still quite rich. A stellar Grigio, all stainless and very fresh—no big surprise, given the fact that the vineyard is barely a quarter-kilometre from the winery. Here’s what the winemaker finds in the taste mélange: “grapefruit, blood orange, lime, pear, nectarines”. Quelle fruit basket! Rich and racy and perfectly refreshing (for when the warm weather reappears). Considering that, at 500 cases, this is practically a bulk wine for VW, there should be enough to go around.

      Viognier 2011 ($24.90, 102 cases)
      My favourite white from the VW portfolio. This is the varietal from Condrieu, France, that has become a big favourite with B.C. palates, and few do it better. Here’s richness and intensity. Look for a hint of jasmine, plus lots of stone fruit, as well as mandarin orange, honey, and hints of various spices. A long, deep finish makes it a very satisfying apéritif or solo-sipping wine.

      Vivacious 2011 ($18.90, 334 cases)
      This full-fruited white is fronted by Pinot Blanc “with a splash of Pinot Gris for complexity”, says the chief winemaker (and bottle washer!). As one of the cheapest in the lineup for now, it makes an ideal introduction to the label; as the second-largest in volume, it’s more widely available than some of the other, more specialized wines. Apple and pineapple as well as floral notes shine through, and you might find a smidgen of clove. Excellent acidity. A great food companion—try it with your favourite dish and see how it handles just about anything.

      Here’s where we end this quick trip through the VW portfolio. There are other bottles, most of them sold-out and quite a few resting at the winery and slated for release later in the year (including some slumbering reds!).

      Any of the VW wines you can find are well worth sampling. You’ll quickly see why the label has become one of B.C.’s best. Fascinating and flavourful stuff for an impromptu winetasting afternoon with good friends and skeptics who still aren’t sure about the quality and charm of B.C. wines—especially reds.