For those wine lovers who have survived the experience at your local DMV and received Washington state’s hard-earned enhanced driver’s license, you now can leave behind the passport and still enjoy a delicious drive into British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
Some of the Pacific Northwest top producers are 20 minutes across the border from Oroville, Wash., along the Golden Mile Bench south of Oliver. A short drive west along the Crowsnest Highway brings into view the fascinating Similkameen Valley.
Year after year, we devote space in this column to producers such Gehringer Brothers, Hester Creek, Tinhorn Creek and Vanessa Vineyard. Those who ask ‘Why?’ routinely circle back and thank us after having tasted these wines or judged them in an international competition.
Not coincidentally, the climate, environment and quality of life in the Southern Okanagan continue to lure top culinary talents from Vancouver. Among those is Jeff Van Geest, now in his second decade as executive chef at acclaimed Miradoro next door to Tinhorn Creek.
Boutique lodging options are available in Osoyoos, the resort community that shares with Oroville its namesake lake, billed as “the warmest lake in Canada.” Those who want to explore more options need to drive only another 30 minutes north to wine country communities of Okanagan Falls and Penticton, which is at the south end of Okanagan Lake and the gateway to the string of wineries along the Naramata Bench.
The Gehringer brothers will bottle the 2019 expressions of their white wines later this winter, but these remain available in limited supply. Regardless, their track record, particularly these varietal wines, is seemingly as close to a sure bet as there is in any international competition.
Each of the wines on this list earned a Platinum in late October from Wine Press Northwest magazine in its 20th annual judging of gold medal wines. As you can see, there is much more to British Columbia’s wine industry than icewine.
And with the exchange rate being 75 cents on the dollar, touring Canada continues to offer amazing bargains. For Americans, bringing home wines from British Columbia for personal consumption is not prohibitive either. However, the bottles are subject to duty and excise tax, costing about 23 cents per liter.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2018 Dry Rock Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, $16: This marks the fourth straight vintage that Walter and Gordon Gehringer have scored a Platinum with their estate Sauvignon Blanc, but none of those have matched this one’s Double Platinum. Reminiscent of something from New Zealand, it screams gooseberry and white peach with Sancerre-like minerality and beveled acidity that’s capped by peach skin.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2018 Ehrenfelser, Okanagan Valley, $14: Walter Gehringer attended the Geisenheim winemaking school in Germany, which is where this cross with Riesling was developed prior to World War II. It’s juicy and fresh with flavors of crisp pear, lime sorbet, star fruit and lemon drops, finishing with verve. This is his 13th Platinum with Ehrenfelser, six of them for icewine.
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2018 Desert Sun White Wine, Okanagan Valley, $12: This signals the sixth career Platinum — or better — that Walter Gehringer has earned by blending his brother Gordon’s harvest of Chardonnay (40%), Auxerrois (30%) and Riesling. It’s loaded with peaches, elderflower blossoms and tropical flavors as the midpalate of lemon curd and honey gets a remarkable brush of lingering juiciness.
Vanessa Vineyard 2015 Syrah, Similkameen Valley, $35: The dean of British Columbia winemakers, Howard Soon, came out of retirement to spearhead this young estate project centered in one of the Northwest’s most buzzworthy regions. He co-fermented free-run juice with Viognier (8%), a tradition in the northern Rhône Valley of France. Charcuterie meats on the nose join brambleberries, black plums, cinnamon spice and roasted coffee beans on the palate. Savory qualities continue to deliver through the satisfying finish.
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2016 Oldfield Reserve Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, $35: As a continued tribute to longtime winemaker Sandra Oldfield, Tinhorn Creek burnishes its reputation as one of the Northwest’s leading producers of Cabernet Franc. It begins at their estate Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, Canada’s hottest growing site. Varietally correct, it brings classic notes of crushed leaf, cassis and black cherry, a whiff of smoke and lovely tannin structure that lends it to the pancetta offered at the on-premise Miradoro Restaurant.
Hester Creek Estate Winery 2016 The Judge Red Wine, Golden Mile Bench, $44: Some of the Northwest’s oldest vines, planted in 1968 south of Oliver, British Columbia, by Italian immigrant Joe Busnardo, contribute to this Right Bank Bordeaux-style blend that’s led by Merlot (37%), Cabernet Sauvignon (34%) and Cabernet Franc. It is a remarkably approachable Merlot-based red that gushes with black cherry, blackcurrant and blackberry as the delectable fruity finish outlasts both acidity and tannin.