Thursday, April 26, 2012

Naramata Bench 2012 Spring Preview

The Naramata Bench Wineries Association recently made its annual Spring trip to the Lower Mainland to show-off the wares of its member wineries. The Spring release is always dominated by white wines for which the Naramata Bench is well known and for which 2011 was a trying, yet, successful year. A few soon-to-be-released reds, mostly from 2010 were also on offer with mixed results. Pinot Noir and blends have been the most promising reds that I've tasted from that vintage, but only a spattering have become available thus far.

As with many of BC's wine regions, the wineries will source grapes from beyond the borders of their viticultural area - there are no rules that say otherwise and many producers do reference the source of the fruit on the label. But, how do you know what you're drinking if it isn't mentioned on the label? Generally speaking, if you're enjoying a big red blend from a Naramata Bench winery, the fruit will have been sourced from a vineyard in Oliver or Osoyoos. If you're drinking a fine Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, then chances are the grapes are from Naramata. Think Burgundy and the Loire Valley and you'll likely pick a wine that will showcase the bench's unique terroir.

Many great wines are made on the bench and it's a lovely place to tour with fantastic views of Okanagan Lake. Most of the wines below will become available in the winery tasting rooms the first week of May when wineries begin to expand their operating hours for visitors. Although I ran out of time at the tasting before sampling all of the wines, here are a few highlights to source during your visit to the bench or from the growing number of wine shops carrying Naramata wines:

La Frenz Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc - $22
Produced with fruit sourced from 4 different Naramata vineyards and 1 from Oliver, this fantastic Sauvignon Blanc is rich and refined with lovely citrus and tropical fruit notes. Possibly the winery's best yet and certainly my favourite wine from the tasting.

Lake Breeze Winery 2011 Seven Poplars Sauvignon Blanc - $22
Another great Naramata Sauvignon Blanc with both citrus fruit and grassy characters reminiscent of fine Blanc from New Zealand. Major acid balances the concentrated fruit nicely.

Hillside Estate Winery 2011 Rosé- $16.99
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Pinot Noir, this rosé has a lovely, sweet perfume and red berry nose. Well balanced and very easy to drink. Currently on sale for $16.99 until the end of May then it will rise to $18.99.

Black Widow Estate Winery 2011 Oasis - $22
This great patio wine is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Schönburger all from the estate vineyard. Both rich and vibrant with a pure expression of fruit. A very tasty accompaniment to your sun-drenched deck.

Black Widow Estate Winery 2010 Phobia - $25
This is a fun, well priced blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Merlot which offers some nice spicy Syrah characters that are complemented with mid-palate berry fruit flavours from the Merlot.

Upper Bench Winery 2010 Pinot Noir - $TBA
The Pinot Noir was the best wine I tasted from this new winery that has yet to even open their doors. A beautiful followed by a very dry palate that is, nevertheless, fruity and quite tasty. Definitely a food-friendly Pinot.

Laughing Stock 2010 Blind Trust Red - $29
Poured from a barrel sample and won't be released until June. A nice sweet berry fruit nose with a good mouth feel and weight showing great promise for such a youthful wine.

Nichol 2009 Cabernet Franc
Not sure this one qualifies as a new release but it's so tasty it's worth mentioning here anyway. Gorgeous nose is followed by a relatively light body (compared to fuller versions from Oliver) yet equally powerful and complex.

On a side note: A quick comment on the prices listed above. Not all Naramata wineries are also part of the BC VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) - only VQA approved wines are available via the many VQA stores around the Province which offer "winery gate" prices. Most Naramata wineries tend to sell their wines either directly to customers through their tasting rooms or to restaurant clients. The prices above are what you'll pay if you visit in person or order direct via the winery's website. The prices are set based on product demand, which is high, and take into account the very high price of land on the Naramata Bench.
 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2012

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