Good wine, bad wine: taste testing the best of BC’s wine industry

If there's one thing inland British Columbia is known for, aside from the beauty of its beaches and mountains, its squirrels and the Canucks, it is the wine industry. From the images of beautiful vineyards popping up on almost every BC tourist brochure to the dedicated local wine section in every liquor store, it’s evident that wine is a big deal here.

These bragging rights are not just for show, considering that BC has the second biggest wine industry in all of Canada next to Ontario. In fact, just last week, UBC also committed to plan in collaboration with the provincial wine industry to help enhance international awareness for a market already high in local demand.

So, given that we are a paper at the home of the University of British Columbia, we felt obligated to try out some of this great locally churned alcoholic grape juice. To make things more interesting, our three volunteer wine tasters -- me, our culture editor Olivia, and coordinating editor Will -- are no experts in wine tasting whatsoever.

For our selection, we picked three bottles by three different local brands. We tried one Pinot Gris from Gray Monk, a popular winery from Kelowna. Another is a bottle of red Pinot Noir from Inniskilin, not only a known brand here in BC but also has a sister estate in Ontario. Finally, a bottle of Hatfield’s Fuse from a local brand called Blasted Church which we didn’t really know much else apart from its artsy looking bottle design. Prior to tasting each wine, we read the back of each bottle, based our initial decisions on whether we’d like it on the artwork (or lack thereof) and drank up.

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Gray Monk — Pinot Gris (white wine)

This pino gris was one bottle of over 26,000 cases produced in the Okanagan Valley. It has an alcohol percentage of 13.3% and is from the oldest family owned winery in British Columbia. Apparently great with salmon dishes, this is a wine designed for summer and al fresco dining.

Miguel: If I had to introduce wine to someone that never bothered to touch it, this would be a prime example I’d use. It felt pleasantly smooth, wasn’t too strong, and had this great fruity, flowery taste and aroma. The next time I try this, I’m definitely putting it in an ice bucket first.

Olivia: This wine was my favourite. It tasted like something you’d spend a fair amount of money on in a restaurant and I can only imagine how much better it would taste chilled, after a swim in a lake, watching the sun set over the water. Definitely something I’d be proud to deem a “BC wine.”

Will: I was told this wine was supposed to have fruity tones. I don’t have a refined enough palette to know whether that’s true, but it seemed pleasant and summery. My favourite of the three.

Inniskillin — Pinot Noir (red wine)

This pinot noir is described as “medium-bodied and fruity” and contains 12.9% alcohol. Great with fuller meals — think pork belly or blue cheese, this was perhaps not a wine for the weak.

Miguel: Maybe it’s because I’m more of a white wine person, but this was rather strong for my tastes. It has a good rosy aroma and lasting warmth upon intake. On the other hand, 70% of the flavor I tasted was akin to straight-up plain alcohol. It really “stung” me but that said it was a good sting that I did not regret because of the aforementioned details.

Olivia: When I was younger and would imagine what “wine” would taste like, it would be this. The bottle said it would have a “lingering taste” — and it wasn’t wrong. It definitely, definitely tasted of red wine.

Will: This wine definitely tasted like alcohol — and not much else. It left a lingering feeling of having cotton balls in my mouth.

Blasted Church — Hatfield’s Fuse (white wine)

“Supercharged” with nine varieties of grapes from local regions, this wine is described as lingering, which may or may not inspire confidence in tasting. Paired with mild curries or white fish dishes, this could be a wine for the masses.

Miguel: I’m not really sure what happened here. This was just bland and I really did not think of much else apart from “yup, that’s white wine alright.” That’s really all for me to say about it.

Olivia: This is the kind of bottle somebody who picks wine based purely on the bottle decoration would choose. It was very drinkable — that is to say it didn’t have much taste and I could easily imagine drinking a bottle without realizing.

Will: The bottle was the most interesting part of this wine. Tasted mostly like water with a hint of grape. Good choice if you want to get wine-drunk but don’t particularly like wine.

So what did we learn from this experience? Mainly that, perhaps to truly experience this renowned BC wine industry to its full potential, you need to spend a lot more money than we did. We also didn’t savour the wine, the way connoisseur’s are supposed to. We didn’t “look, smell, taste, feel, spit and cleanse” which is how the BC wine experts advise you on your tasting.

Research after the tasting showed that there are 273 wineries in BC, and the first grapes were planted in 1859. Tours are popular, with over 1.5 million visitors to vineyards each year to see the process of the 75+ varieties of grapes from the region.

Somewhat unique to Canada, the wine industry doesn’t halt over the winter period. As a cooler climate than most wine-producing regions, BC has the ability to use the winter months to produce the “liquid gold” icewine. When temperatures reach -8°C before they can harvest the grapes.

To conclude: wines from British Columbia have a fairly long tradition of being a decent choice if you’re interested in supporting local businesses and vineyards. One of the great things about living in such an agricultural region is that there are no limitations to the numbers of local products we can consume.

Traditionally, all wine was consumed in the region of production, saving on transportation costs and allowing those involved in the making to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Not advocating supporting local just for the sake of supporting local, the quality has to be there. There are a lot more wines from BC than the three we tried and everyone has different tastes — so head out and try some more. Base your decisions on anything: how close they are to your house, what the bottle looks like, reputation or ingredients; it doesn’t matter just as long as you’re finding lots of great, local wines.