Before I give a lengthy review of my recent trip to Canada's Okanagan Valley, here are the key wine 'finds' of the trip:
2004 Quail's Gate Pinot Noir Limited Release
A really great Pinot Noir at an affordable (for Pinot Noir) price. Visually it appeared a lightweight, but on the palate it was full bodied, well balanced with some complexity.
2004 Quail's Gate Merlot Limited Release
Powerful, full bodied, oaky, fruity and well balanced. Will probably improve, but very drinkable now. Reasonably price for the quality.
2005 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Griggio
Inexpensive, lightweight patio quaffer - very competitive with any Italian Pinot Griggio.
2004 Sandhill Cabernet Franc
This was a very interesting wine, and the first time I have tasted a Canadian version of this Loire valley red varietal. Oaky, with dark berry aromas, with a somewhat 'wild-gamey' aroma, as I recall. Very full, with tannins that will give this wine a few more years.
But you want to hear more about my 'family vacation', of course! Here are some details on the wineries visited and BC wines tasted:
Mission Hill Winery
Architecturally, this is a stunning winery - the web site should give you a sense of the grandeur and beauty of this winery. Clearly, someone has a lot of money to spend! A definite must see if you are in the area.
Unfortunately, my tasting was interrupted by the screams of a 2 year old falling off a water fountain, but before the mishap I had a chance to taste the 2005 Five Vineyards Pinot Griggio, a 2004 Reserve Chardonnay and a 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir. I already mentioned the Pinot Griggio above, the Chardonnay was a dry, rich, and not over oaked (better than the Quail's Gate), and the Pinot Noir was uninspiring. Note to self - never bring a 2 year old to a wine tasting...
Quail's Gate is a 'cute', rustic, winery - more modest than Mission Hill (ok, everything is more modest than Mission Hill). I had quick sips of a wide number of wines, so it is hard to collect my thoughts. As mentioned above, the Pinot Noir (Limited Release) was wonderful. The Family Reserve Pinot was also nice, but pricey - almost double the price of the Limited Release. This was a disappointment, as I have had an older vintage of the Family Reserve that was spectacular (see my oldest Pinot Noir tasting below). The Merlot was also wonderful - a very rich, fruity, well-balanced wine - worth seeking out. I was not as impressed with the Old Vines Foch Limited Release (a very rare grape, apparently for good reason, but I have heard that the Family Reserve is amazing). I tried a few of the whites, the Chardonnay was not that great, but I loved the Chenin Blanc.
This winery is downtown Kelowna, so it doesn't have the country charm of Quail's Gate or Mission Hill. They make up for this by making great wine, and they are clearly experimenting with their terroirs - they grow Malbec, Sangiovese, Barbera, Petit Verdot. Their 2004 Cabernet Franc is spectacular, and the 2003 Sangiovese (Canadian Sangiovese?!) "Small Lots" was quite nice and competitive to other Sangiovese at that price ($27). I also tasted their Small Lots wine called "Three" (Barbera, CabSauv, Sangiovese, Merlot) - a very interesting wine. I purchased their Barbera (and the Cab Franc) but I have not yet tasted it - I will update you at a later date. I did not taste the whites on this visit (my wife thought I was at the gas station - I had to hurry), but I have tried their Pinot Gris in the past and it was great. Overall, this is a winery to visit - definitely innovative and focused on quality, and I suspect the wines will get even better as the plantings get older.
I did not visit this Cedar Creek during this trip, but I did a winery tour on my last trip through the Okanagan. I found their Alsace/German style whites (Ehrenfelser, Gewurtz, Riesling) to be very good wines. I cannot comment on their reds.
Other Wines Tasted on the Trip:
I also purchased a number of local wines to drink while we were there. Here are some comments on those that I remember...
I bought bottles of their Merlot and Cabernet Franc to try. I thought both were good wines. While the Merlot was not as good as the Quail's Gate and the Cab Franc was not as good as the Sandhill, I recall the prices for the Tinhorn wines were more reasonable. Good wines, good prices...
I occasionally like roses during the summer, but I have never tried a Canadian Rose. This was a great Rose - dry, crisp, flavourful and dirt cheap C$11.
Overall, I have not tasted Canadian wines extensively (I have virtually no experience with Niagara wines), but I believe the Okanagan has potential greatness in both red and white. Clearly the Alsace/Germanic style whites do well here, and I am impressed by the Pinot Noir and Merlot. While Sandhill is having some success with unusual (for Canada) grapes like Barbera, Malbec, Sangiovese, only time will tell if those varietals are established in the valley.
The overall quality level is high, with easy-drinking well-balanced wines at good prices. I don't think the wines have yet reached the kind of complexity that would put them in the "outstanding" category (key caveat - I have not extensively tasted the hyper-expensive luxury cuvees of those wineries that have them, but the ones I did taste are not quite up to their lofty prices), but they are getting very close...it will be interesting to watch these wineries over the next few years.