6 Cult Wines of the Okanagan
They are made in limited quantities and worth the hunt.
The Block: JoieFarm PTG and papardelle pasta
Photograph by Tieran Green
Whether you call them “cult wines” or “iconic wines,” there are a lot of interesting wines out there from all over the world. Cult wines are a fairly recent thing — these are wines that are sought-after, hard to find and often available only in limited quantities. They don’t have to be expensive, though.
Cult wines are typically associated with new-world wineries rather than their European counterparts. Though plenty of French or Italian wines qualify as sought-after and hard to find, it’s the American wineries that play the hype game like no other, producing wines that command high prices, usually involve waiting lists (sometimes even lists to get on the lists), and, if you are fortunate enough to get your paws on some of them, you won’t get very many for your collection.
The Okanagan, despite being an infant in winemaking years, has a number of wineries producing great wines that encapsulate the terroir of the area and can justifiably be considered cult wines. Though most wineries have limited production and are barely able to supply the market in British Columbia, let alone their No. 1 export market, Alberta, a few of these producers have a big vision for their small wineries. The wines they produce are only available in limited quantities in Alberta.
So, what are the elusive wineries making these cultish favourites? To start, we have to acknowledge Mission Hill, probably the first “destination” winery in B.C., and whose Legacy Collection of premium wines (Oculus, Compendium, Quatrain and Perpetua) was one of the first to focus on small-lot production. Then there’s Black Hills, which probably had the first “cult” wine of the Okanagan in its Nota Bene. And hats off to Burrowing Owl, who managed, through brilliant marketing of its excellent wines, to create a lot of buzz with consumers by limiting new-release wines to two bottles per person.
Newer wineries making cult wines also include such rising stars as TH Wines by Tyler Harlton, Culmina Family Estate Winery and Meyer Family Vineyards, and some of B.C.’s world-class wineries making blockbuster reds such as Laughing Stock, Painted Rock and Poplar Grove.
Finding these wines
While these cult wines are difficult to get, they’re not impossible to find. Certain boutique wine shops in Calgary typically carry a small number of these limited-quantity wines, though in some cases, special wines are released only to winery club members or not released to Alberta at all. In these cases, you might have to contact the winery directly to see what you can do.
Technically speaking, B.C. wineries are allowed to ship wine directly to consumers in Alberta, thanks to a 2012 federal ruling that removed the ban on interprovincial wine orders, and most will gladly do it. However, because Alberta doesn’t want to lose out on the tax revenue it gets when wine is sold through a middle man, it has not eased its ban on allowing wine to be shipped into the province, so it’s technically not legal to receive wine shipped from another province. That said, I’ve yet to hear of anyone facing repercussions from doing it for personal consumption, and ordering directly from the winery is the best way to ensure that you get the wine you want.
3 perfect restaurant pairings
The Block: PTG and Papardelle Pasta
The PTG (passe-tout-grains) blend of pinot noir and gamay is well suited to a wide variety of dishes such as the roasted tomato with lamb and pork meatballs at The Block. The tart cherry and peppery spices of the JoieFarm PTG ($75) is a great go-to bottle from the Okanagan from a winery typically known for its Alsatian whites.
The Lake House: Pinot Noir and Charcuterie
Pinot noir goes with almost everything, though it does shine especially well with game meats or charcuterie. Meyer Family Vineyard’s McLean Creek pinot noir ($16 by the glass, $68 for the bottle) is a stunner (its chardonnay is no slouch either) with raspberry, menthol heat, and a bit of earthiness. Match it up against the Lake House’s charcuterie board, and you’ll probably order a second bottle of the pinot for your mains.
Blink: Pinot Gris/Viognier with Wagyu Beef Carpaccio
Winery upstart Tyler Harlton has garnered a lot of attention within the wine community for making great wines that are exciting to drink. His pinot gris/viognier blend ($12 by the glass) is sleek, sexy and balanced, perfect on its own or with food. Pairing it with the Wagyu beef carpaccio is a great way to go as it never overwhelms the dish.
6 bottles to buy
Painted Rock 2012 Red Icon
It’s all about the blend. This is one of the great reds coming out of the Okanagan these days. A Bordeaux blend without the cabernet sauvignon, it has dark berry fruits, savoury herbs, mocha and much more. It’s big enough for the cellar, or open now and decant twice. $70.
Le Vieux Pin 2012 “Cuvée Violette” Syrah
A favourite syrah from the Okanagan. Meaty and smoky with intense floral characters of lilac and violets. Plenty of spice and tannins to go around, but a sure hit at your next barbecue. It can age, but it's showing perfectly right now. $40.
Laughing Stock 2012 Portfolio
One of the great red blends coming out of the Okanagan, this Bordeaux blend is based around merlot, giving it power and, yet, a little finesse. The 2012 shows a little more muscle than several previous vintages, but one thing is for sure — there is some real beauty inside. Look for intense fruits, spice and some weighty tannins. Can cellar easily for 10-plus years. $50.
Culmina 2014 Grüner Veltliner
As far as I know, the only grüner being produced in Canada, and who would have thought that the Okanagan would be a good place for this typically Austrian white grape? Crisp citrus characters with cracked pepper spice that grüner fans love. Landing in Alberta in late May — it should be about $29 on most retail shelves.
Poplar Grove 2009 The Legacy
Merlot really is the flagship red grape of the Okanagan, and it is the perfect cornerstone to Poplar Grove’s “The Legacy.” Aged almost four years prior to release, every detail for this bottle is perfect. Firm tannins with cassis, cherries and cedar, with earth and spice, vanilla bean and a nice long finish. No rush to drink this one, it can easily go 10 more years. $55.
Tantalus 2011 Old Vines Riesling
One of the great rieslings of the world, the Old Vines is a little less austere than it was in earlier vintages, but any riesling lover should love the intense acidity, bracing mineral characters and some wonderful citrus fruits. A cellar dweller, it can be enjoyed now but will thrive after a few years in the cellar. $46.