October 13, 2017
On the Vine: B.C.’s sexy signature
By John Schreiner
Pinot Noir is making a strong bid to become British Columbia’s signature grape.
Whether or not British Columbia needs a signature grape is contentious. But many producers believe that our profile in the wine world needs to be branded around a grape—just as New Zealand’s brand is Sauvignon Blanc and Germany’s is Riesling.
What’s the case for Pinot Noir? The variety grows well in most of our wine regions, from Creston through the Okanagan to Vancouver Island. About half of B.C.’s wineries produce Pinot Noir. The grape is versatile: It produces sparkling wines, white wines, rosés, velvety red table wines and, occasionally, ice wines.
One might make the case for Merlot or Pinot Gris, the most widely grown grapes in British Columbia. However, unlike producers of other varieties, the wineries making Pinot Noir are organized and ready to make their case.
The first BC Pinot Noir Celebration festival was launched in 2013 by JAK Meyer, owner of Meyer Family Vineyards; the third was held in August in Kaleden. Some 48 wineries applied to participate, but there was just room for 34, and from now on, the festival will be held annually. In June, there also was a smaller Pinot Noir festival in the Cowichan Valley. There are Pinot Noir festivals in other countries, too. A recent one has begun in New Zealand. There has been a prestigious International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon since 1985. Blue Mountain was the first B.C. winery invited to attend and has since been joined by numerous other B.C. producers.
There is magic to Pinot Noir that is shared by few other grape varieties, rooted in the centuries-old reputation of the great red Burgundy wines. There is a debatable notion that Pinot Noir is the winemaker’s “heartbreak grape”—true only when it grows in the wrong terroir. Most Okanagan Pinot grows in good terroir and, in the hands of a good winemaker, delivers among the most sensual of red wines.
Pinots to try
Niche Wine Co. Pinot Noir Blanc 2016 ($18.29)
This small West Kelowna winery made just 110 cases of this crisply dry and refreshing white Pinot Noir with aromas and flavours of melon and apple. 90/100
Foxtrot Estate Pinot Noir 2014 ($66)
This is one of BC’s most coveted Pinot Noirs, from a Naramata Bench winery with no tasting room. The wine is always rich, with the finesse and ageability of good Burgundy. 93/100
Meyer McLean Creek Pinot Noir 2015 ($40)
Aromas of forest floor mingle with strawberry and cherry flavours, a full-bodied texture and silky tannins. 92/100
50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2014 ($29)
Hints of toasted oak barrels mingle with bright cherry flavours and with silky tannins. This is often compared with Oregon Pinot Noir. 92/100
Pinot Noir, best served lightly chilled, is a versatile food wine. The rosé versions are refreshing on their own and also pair with many appetizers. When I need to assess what I expect will be a quality Pinot, I match it with mushroom risotto. The creamy texture and the earthy flavours of the risotto complement Pinot’s silky texture and its elusive forest floor notes. Tony Stewart, the president of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, pairs his winery’s superb Pinot Noirs with salmon. The wine is good with poultry, resolving the challenge of pairing with the white and red meat of turkey. Full-bodied Pinots, like the 2015s from the Okanagan, will even stand up to rack of lamb.