Some of the best Canadian wines come from these southern B.C. wineries

Perhaps the most distinctive wine region of British Columbia, the Naramata Bench is literally minutes (by foot even) from Penticton at the south end of Okanagan Lake, and home to some of the best wineries in the country. The region stretches about 11 kilometers from Penticton to the north end of the bench, and is easily toured by bike or by car – though you might want a designated driver.

Most of the Naramata wineries are quite small by international standards, producing far less than 10,000 cases a year, meaning most are boutique style wineries – often family owned and operated. Although certain varieties are more common in the area, many wineries will have vineyard land or contract growers in other parts of the Okanagan, allowing these wineries to work with a wide range of grapes such as syrah, chardonnay, malbec, riesling, and even semillon and muscat.

Out of the 24 wineries on “the bench”, 19 of them will be in Calgary for an event benefitting Alberta Theatre Projects. The Flavours of Naramata Bench event takes place February 20th at 7pm, and will include plenty of wine, a silent auction, and speaking from experience; it’s a lot of fun. Tickets cost $95 and can be ordered at 403-294-7402, or at www.atplive.com.

Not all the wineries on the Naramata bench are represented in Alberta (yet) but what follows is a snapshot of wineries I’ve visited and wines I’ve tasted recently that might just be poured at the event in February.

Poplar Grove 2009 Merlot ($43)

There is some great merlot being made in the Okanagan and Poplar Grove is making some of the best. Black plum fruits, spice, and some full but supple tannins rounding it out. If you get a chance, try their excellent pinot gris and their cabernet franc.

La Frenz 2012 Semillon ($30)

I’m always happy to talk about unusual varieties, and I’m continually impressed by the depth and style of this semillon. Lots of citrus zing, and some tart fruits, this wine can (and does) age with style. Try their fortified wines if you get a chance.

Hillside 2010 Gamay Noir ($33)

I’ve been really enjoying the wines from Hillside in recent years, from their fantastic pinot gris to this delicious gamay noir. Positively bursting with cherry and raspberry fruits, savoury spice and some cocoa bring a great level of balance.

Monster Vineyards 2011 Cabs ($20)

A rich blend of cabernet franc with 1/3 cabernet sauvignon, the Monster Cabs is all about fresh berry fruits, cocoa, and some rich vanilla characters. The whole Monster Vineyards (a sister winery to Poplar Grove) line is approachable, easy going, and priced well.

Lake Breeze 2012 Pinot Blanc ($25)

A diverse winery with plenty of variety ranging from unusual to common varietals and blends, Lake Breeze makes a stunning pinot blanc, packed with clean tropical fruits, and a little spiciness, winning a Silver Medal at the National Wine Awards.

Elephant Island 2012 Pear Wine ($22)

A fruit winery, Elephant Island has impressed me with their bright fruit expressions in their wines. They may get a lot of accolades for their fortified or dessert style wines, but their pear wine is perfectly balanced and incredibly refreshing.

Red Rooster 2011 Chardonnay ($22)

I’m always happy to enjoy well-priced, balanced chardonnay and the Red Rooster has plenty of fruit to balance the softer oak characters. With a big range of wines, the Bantam series stand out as wines worth cellaring, while the reserve Meritage is a great blend.

Laughing Stock 2011 Syrah ($42)

One of the best syrahs from BC, Laughing Stock is already well known for its Portfolio and Blind Trust wines. The syrah is lush and massive with savoury, meaty characters, black fruit, smoke, and a tiny bit of jam. I’m a fan through and through of their whole lineup.

Van Westen 2011 Viognier ($42)

One of my favourite people on the bench, Robert Van Westen is as well known for his heirloom cherries as he is for some incredible wines. His viognier, made in a tiny, rocky vineyard is packed to the roof with floral and tropical fruit flavours.

Therapy Vineyards 2011 Freudian Sip ($25)

A juicy, tropical blend, the Freudian Sip is patio wine through and through. With apple fruits, some tropical notes, and a little sweetness to balance the acids, it’s a tasty way to pass an afternoon. If you can, try their pinot noir and even their Super Ego blend.

Kettle Valley 2012 Pinot Gris ($35)

Pinot gris, when “cold soaked” can take on a pinkish hue, and some vintages of Kettle Valley’s pinot gris can look like a full blown rosé. Ripe apple and citrus fruits, spice, and more, it’s an interesting expression. Look for their well-made shiraz, malbec, and merlots.

Perseus Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($25)

Perseus winery is relatively new to the scene, so I’ve only had a chance to try a handful of their wines. I have definitely been impressed by their crisp sauvignon blanc with its ripe melon, grapefruit, and mild capsicum notes.

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