BC Wines Buyer's Guide
Learn News & Views Places

Buyer’s Guide: 12 of BC’s most bankable wines

July 24, 2020

They may not be as prestigious or as collectible as Bordeaux, Burgundy or Barolo but wines out of British Columbia are undeniably well made, providing serious value for what consumers are being asked to pay.

It’s a known fact that BC is a thriving wine industry that attracts talented winemakers from around the world. Each of these trained professionals has brought his or her knowledge, passion and fresh ideas towards shaping an identity and style unique to British Columbia.

Read Also: A+ for BC wine – recognizing a world-class region

In 2019, BC wineries won more than 1,000 medals in national and international competition. With each new accolade, this wine region continues to expand its reputation for quality and solidify its place among the best in the world.

BC Wine Map

Map of Okanagan Valley, BC is courtesy of Wine Folly.

BC is home to over 370 wineries, with just over 200 located within the Okanagan Valley. The valley runs north/south for 150 miles, following a chain of lakes bordered by low hills and stepped benches. The last ice age glaciers deposited a mix of gravel, silt and sand; subsequent erosion has created large alluvial fans on which crops are grown.

Warmer and more arid than Napa Valley, the Okanagan Valley gets nearly two hours more sunlight per day during the peak of the July-August growing season, with great temperature differences between day and night helping to retain freshness. More than 60 grape varieties are grown in BC, but not all are as commonly planted as the Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals, syrah/shiraz, riesling, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc.

Many Okanagan Meritage (Bordeaux style) reds are anchored by merlot, and not just because so much of that varietal is in the vineyards (merlot is the most planted red grape). When it is well grown, merlot in the Okanagan is not the soft, jammy varietal that was panned in the movie, Sideways. The varietal has good structure, vibrant fruit flavour and bright acidity; it does not need to be propped up by a lot of cabernet sauvignon.

Pinot noir is the second most panted red grape by acreage, and grown more rapidly in terms of acreage than any other widely planted red grape. It’s a varietal that is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance in recent years despite being around for decades.

And then there’s chardonnay which is very well rooted in BC, and highly worth exploring. Almost every major winery produces a chardonnay and most are quite good and worth every penny.

British Columbia

BC’s vineyard landscape is truly magnificent.

Like any wine region, there are varying prices that reflect varying quality levels. As you move into the more ultra-premium space, consumers can expect to pay more and with those steeper prices can come serious questions. Are they really worth the price? Will this be a wine that will age for years to come, and if so, how long? And so, as wine prices continue to increase (many by 10-20 percent each year), consumers need to know which bottles are worth spending those hard earned dollars on.

Bankability isn’t just defined as something that will increase in value over time like a blue chip stock. It can also be something that is consistent overall with its results. Something that is a sure bet, year after year. When it comes to wine, consumers should be confident in their choices – whether they wish to open their bottle immediately or allow it to age in their cellar – with quality being the most important common denominator, no matter the vintage.

With all that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 12 wines (in no particular order) that I feel represent BC’s most consistent and most collectible bottlings today. Many of these selections have been tasted – some multiple times – and have been further researched from vintage to vintage. There are no specific tasting notes included as this is not a list of specified vintage recommendations. The point of these selections is that no matter the vintage you buy, you’re bound to get superior quality.

BC Wines

A vineyard site used by Mission Hill Family Estate

 

Winery: Mission Hill Family Estate
Brand Name: Oculus
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $160
First Vintage: 1997
Ageing Potential: 15 years

Mission Hill produces more than a handful of world-class wines but none are more prestigious than its flagship and iconic Bordeaux-inspired wine, Oculus. This is a wine with great balance and pure elegance. It’s complex and represents the pinnacle of everything Mission Hill does from viticulture to winemaking. The 1997 debut vintage of Oculus epitomized a fusion of old world and new world winemaking traditions rooted in the soils of the South Okanagan.

Read more about Mission Hill here..

Today, Oculus is a rich, elegant and refined merlot-dominant blend that has captured the attention of sommeliers, collectors and consumers worldwide (it’s Canada’s most collected wine). Described by noted British wine critic Jancis Robinson as one of the best red wines in Canada, Oculus set the stage for premium Canadian wine.

Read my review of the 2013 Oculus here

 

Winery: CheckMate Artisanal Winery
Brand Name: Little Pawn
Varietal Makeup: Chardonnay
Value: $125
First Vintage: 2013
Ageing Potential: 8+ years

BC makes very good chardonnay, many of which could make any top ten list. However, if there’s one BC chardonnay that stands apart from the rest, it’s this one from CheckMate Artisanal Winery. CheckMate was born out of a bold vision that by harnessing the effects of climate change it would be possible to produce $100+ elegant, Burgundian-style chardonnay in a very unexpected place, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

Read complete reviews of CheckMate wines, including our interview with winemaker Philip McGahan

CheckMate crafts an exquisite portfolio of chardonnay and merlot utilizing wild yeast ferments, and without recourse to fining and filtration to let nature take its course. These wines have earned more than one-hundred 90+ point scores from critics around the world, including Steven Spurrier, Anthony Gismondi, Christopher Waters, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator which heralded them as “…some of the best young wines coming out of Canada today.” Awarded a perfect 100-point score for its 2015 Little Pawn chardonnay, it was the first time a Canadian table wine had ever achieved a perfect score. That perfect score was repeated for the 2016 vintage – an unprecedented accomplishment.

Checkmate Artisanal Winery

The winery at CheckMate.

 

Winery: Martin’s Lane Winery
Brand Name/Varietal: Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir
Value: $150
First Vintage: 2014
Ageing Potential: 10 years

Martin’s Lane is a stunning high-end winery in the Okanagan Valley that focuses solely on making single-vineyard wines from riesling and pinot noir from the north of the region. There are three varieties of pinot noir on offer at Martin’s Lane, and like the riesling, each is sourced from a single vineyard and range in price from $100 a bottle up to $150 for this particular pinot noir sourced from the Fritzi’s Vineyard. The ambition is to produce Grand Cru quality wine from this small block of clone 115.

 

Winery: Black Hills Estate Winery
Brand Name: Nota Bene
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $60
First Vintage: 1999
Ageing Potential: 10 years

Nota Bene, the flagship red made by Black Hills Estate Winery since the 1999 debut vintage, has been anchored most years by cabernet sauvignon. This wine already has a huge following, and while a lot has been done, there is still plenty of work underway to push the label into the upper echelon of the Okanagan’s very best red blends. In other words, get your hands on this wine now before prices soar even higher.

BC Wines

Vineyards at Lake Osoyoos.

Winery: Osoyoos Larose
Brand Name: Le Grand Vin
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $52
First Vintage: 2001
Ageing Potential: 10+ years

This particular Osoyoos Larose wine is one of the Okanagan’s most collectible wines and generally leaves people swooning with joy upon tasting it. The reason: the Bordeaux-inspired viticulture and winemaking has informed Osoyoos Larose from its very first vintage in 2001. The 80-acre Osoyoos Larose vineyard on a spectacular site overlooking Osoyoos Lake and the south end of the Okanagan was planted entirely with Bordeaux red varietals: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot.

 

Winery: CedarCreek Estate Winery
Brand Name: Platinum The Last Word
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $85
First Vintage: 2013
Ageing Potential: 10 years

CedarCreek was one of the first eight pioneering wineries of BC. This must-visit Okanagan winery has produced some of the best wines in the valley and has twice been recognized as “Canada’s Winery of the Year”. The Last Word is the pinnacle red at CedarCreek, made only in the very best years. It’s comprised of mostly equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with cabernet franc and malbec in support.

 

Winery: Quails’ Gate
Brand Name/Varietal: Richard’s Block Pinot Noir
Value: $65
First Vintage: 2012
Ageing Potential: 8 years

Part of the Quails’ Gate Collector’s Series of wines (which includes a very fine chardonnay from the Rosemary’s Block), the fruit for this wine comes from the more than 30 year old vines in the Quails’ Gate estate vineyard, named after the family patriarch Richard Stewart – who was laid to rest in spring of this year at the age of 94. Richard had been influential in bringing pinot noir to the Okanagan Valley in the early 1970s, and so it is only fitting and just that this, his namesake wine, makes this prestigious list. In fact, Quails’ Gate considers their pinot noir portfolio to be their flagship bottlings despite making some other considerably well-established wines.

Quails' Gate

Quails’ Gate Vineyard.

 

Winery: Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Brand Name: Meritage
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $58
First Vintage: 1997
Ageing Potential: 10 years

Burrowing Owl was established in 1993 by Jim and Midge Wyse. The first vintage was made in 1997 and the winery itself was opened in 1998. It has grown to be a 40,000-case producer of premium wines, with grapes from 220 acres, almost all from the south Okanagan. Burrowing Owl has built its reputation on making big red wines and this particular one is a fine example of its established pedigree.

 

Winery: Painted Rock Estate Winery
Brand Name: Red Icon
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $55
First Vintage: 2007
Ageing Potential: 10 years

Painted Rock’s wines have been impressive since the first vintage in 2007 from the winery’s Skaha Bench vineyard. And they have been getting steadily better as the maturing vines have put roots through the topsoil and the alluvial silt layers of varying thickness deep into underlying gravels. The majority of the 52,500 vines in the 25-acre vineyard were planted in 2005. The flavours have become more intense and complex with each vintage, making this wine a classic candidate for your cellar in any given year.

Painted Rock Winery

Painted Rock’s very modern facility.

Winery: Culmina Family Estate Winery
Brand Name: Hypothesis
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $46
First Vintage: 2011
Ageing Potential: 8+ years

The Culmina project is the culmination of a lifetime of work in the wine business for partners Don and Elaine Triggs (the same Triggs in the Jackson-Triggs name brand). Culmina was inspired by the Osoyoos Larose project, a red blend Triggs founded between the French Groupe Taillan and Vincor, a company Triggs led nearly two decades ago. Osoyoos Larose was wine that pushed a lot of other people to raise the bar, something the family wants to continue with its flagship red blend Hypothesis. Rule of thumb: if Don Triggs is involved, bank on it.

 

Winery: Laughing Stock Vineyards
Brand Name: Portfolio
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $50
First Vintage: 2003
Ageing Potential: 7+ years

Portfolio is all about the blend, encompassing 100 barrels and 12 vineyard blocks across five grape varietals. All, aside from one vintage, have been more ‘right-bank’ Bordeaux-inspired using merlot as its dominant blender. In the last few years, Portfolio has really upped its elegance quotient, pursuing the secrets of tannin management and turning the gritty and unrefined into the silky, dense and sweet, adding texture and weight without any hardness. It’s the kind of structure that dupes you into thinking you could drink it now rather than wait a decade, and frankly you can do both.

 

Winery: Poplar Grove
Brand Name: The Legacy
Varietal Makeup: Blend of Bordeaux style varietals
Value: $60
First Vintage: 2004
Ageing Potential: 10+ years

The Legacy is a singular wine defined by the sum of its parts. This is a wine that articulates the special character of the Osoyoos Lake bench estate vineyard, producing delicious, age-worthy wines year after year. Elegant and refined, this is a wine that marries power and ­finesse, with serious density and grip. Bordeaux-inspired perhaps, but with the suppleness and freshness that is Next World Okanagan. It’s meant for ageing – this according to the winery – and not just for the mid-term. Don’t hesitate to let this one rest for a cool decade.

BC Wines