Okanagan Wine Country Feature
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A Crash Course in Okanagan Wines
A great source of information about Okanagan wines is the British Columbia Wine Institute. Their Web site, www.winebc.com, includes a helpful guide to B.C. wines, as well as detailed itinerary suggestions for Okanagan wine touring. It also includes a calendar of wine-related dinners, tastings, and other events around the province.
A Drop of History
Most wine experts agree that back in the dark ages (aka the 1970s), the wine produced in British Columbia was, to put it charitably, plonk. Okanagan Riesling and sparkling Labrusca were the best sellers. Beginning in the late '70s, however, growers began replacing their vines with high-quality Vinifera varieties to start producing more sophisticated wines. In 1984, B.C. had 13 wineries. By 2009, there were more than 150.
What to Drink
In British Columbia overall, the top white varietals are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc. The top reds are Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. Many Okanagan wineries also produce ice wine, a late-harvest dessert wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine.
As you tour the Okanagan, ask the wineries about their specialties. The B.C. Wine Institute also posts regularly updated lists of award-winning wines on their Web site (www.winebc.com).
What is VQA?
British Columbia wines that carry a "VQA" (Vintners Quality Alliance) label must meet certain production and quality standards. A professional tasting panel approves each VQA wine. Participation in the VQA program is voluntary, and there are plenty of fine B.C. wines that have opted not to take part.
To Spit or Not to Spit?
On a day-long wine-tasting excursion, you can taste a good deal of wine. To avoid getting fatigued, or overly inebriated, do as the pros do: sip, swirl, and spit. Most wineries have a bucket on the tasting bar for that purpose, so don't be shy. You'll enjoy your tour more in the long run. And if the sample in your glass is more than you can drink, simply pour it into the bucket.
If you're buying wine at the wineries, be sure you have some way to keep it cool, particularly in summer when it gets hot and wine can spoil quickly. If you must transport wine in your car, put it in a cooler or keep it on ice.
Most wineries will ship wines for you but only within Canada; they cannot send wine over the border. If you're traveling back to the United States, your best bet may be to have your wine packed for travel and transport it yourself. Check at one of the wine information centers for more details.
Uh-oh: Sold Out?
It's not uncommon for smaller Okanagan wineries to sell out of their wine in a given year. And when there's limited wine left, they generally close or reduce the hours in their tasting rooms. If you have your heart set on visiting a particular winery, check their Web site or phone in advance to be sure they have wine available.
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