The Wines of British Columbia!

Have you had the chance to sip wines from British Columbia yet? For those of you who have, what did you think? For those of you who haven’t had the chance yet, now’s a great time of year to sip something diverse and different.

The Wines of British Columbia deliver an extraordinary experience as unique as the region itself. This region is charming just as are the winemaker, who produce wines here. There are five main wine growing areas within British Columbia that produce great wines, and attract winemakers from all over the world. These wine growing areas are: Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Fraser Valley, Okanagan Valley, and Similkameen Valley. Because of it’s great climate and terroir, there are some other emerging wine growing areas in BC as well.

British Columbia wines have certain quality standards, like other countries. The wineries have to follow by certain rules to be considered BC VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance)

  • 100% British Columbia grapes
  • 5 official Geographical Indications (GI)
  • 1 official Sub-geographical Indication (Golden Mile Bench)
  • 95% of grapes must come from specific region mentioned on the label
  • 85% of grapes must come from the vintage stated on the label
  • 85% of grapes must be the stated varietal

“To put it simply, when you see BC VQA on a bottle, it is your guarantee that you’re sipping a wine that is 100% grown and made in British Columbia!” –Winebc.com

Many would assume that BC would really only grow great grapes to make ice wine, however that is not the case. In fact, over 60 different grape varietals are grown here, from Zweigelt to Merlot and even Chardonnay (with many more in between). The styles range from white to red, with some sparkling, rose, and dessert wines being made as well. There really is something for every wine lover in British Columbia, and I hope you will want to explore some this season!

I recently had the pleasure of dining with many winemakers at The James Beard House for an outstanding Wines of British Columbia and Seafood Pairing Lunch. It’s always been a dream of mine to dine at The James Beard House, and I was so grateful that I was able to do so, while with some amazing winemakers.

We were there to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada, where Executive Chef Ned Bell, of the Vancouver Aquarium and Ocean Wise prepared a perfectly paired couple course lunch. All menu items were fresh from British Columbia and included sustainable seafood from Ocean Wise. Our host, Vancouver based Sommelier and Wine Writer Kurtis Kolt was there to introduce the winemakers and speak a bit about British Columbia. 

We started off with a beautiful Steller’s Jay Brut 2010 from the Okanagan Valley paired with Geoduck & Pacific Scallops Crudo with Bottarga and Blood Orange. The pairing was delightful due to the quality ingredients and the lees aging of the sparkling wine. For the second course, we enjoyed a dry 2015 Riesling from Little Farm Winery Mulberry Tree Vineyard. This winery is located in the Similkameen Valley and produces riesling thats bone dry in style. Paired with the wine was Albacore Tuna Tataki with peas, asparagus, artichokes, and citrus vinaigrette. Overall this was a lovely pairing and great second course.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Graham, winemaker for Black Hills Estate Winery who presented his 2015 Chardonnay. The winery is located in the Okanagan Valley, and this chardonnay was one of my favorite wines of the lunch. This wine is sexy and creamy with the perfect balance of oak influence. Paired was a West Coast Mussel and Clam Soup with fennel pollen and maple, which went beautifully with the acidity, fruit, and malolactic notes in the wine.

Up next were some reds, which I must say I also quite enjoyed. This was the first time I have ever tried wines from British Columbia, and I must say, it was a wonderful way to do so! For the fourth course we enjoyed British Columbia Salmon with mushrooms, celery root, and black truffle dressing. Paired was the Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc, which went well with the salmon, earthy mushrooms, and black truffle dressing. Alongside was another great red wine from Popular Grove Winery. Their 2015 Syrah, which was striking and full of spice, red berries, and floral notes. Paired with this wine was Roasted Haida Gwaii Halibut with caramelized onions, parsnip foam, black pepper, maple and roasted chicken jus, and smoked Vancouver island sea salt. This was a flavorful pairing that worked very well together.

Last but certainly not least was a sweet way to end an incredible five course lunch. British Columbia produces some great Icewine and I had the pleasure of tasting the 2014 Bench 1775 Winery Paradise Ranch Viognier Icewine. This wine is sweet and paired perfectly with Chocolate, Kelp, Caramel and Kumquats. They pick the grapes at 5-17°F to produce this sweet, honey driven, stone fruit forward, icewine. It’s absolutely beautiful and paired perfectly with the chocolate, caramel, and kumquats.

For those of you seeking something different to sip this summer, I highly recommend trying to find some wines from British Columbia in your area. I really enjoyed the wines from the Okanagan Valley, especially Steller’s Jay Brut and Black Hills Estate Chardonnay, due to their food friendliness, elegance, and balance. These wines are great for summer picnics and bbq’s.

Always remember, eat what you like and drink what you love. Please pair responsibly! 

Sara Lehman

About Sara Lehman

Sommelier, Private Chef, & Food and Wine Pairing Expert in NYC! Sara is a Wine Writer, Wine Ambassador, and Wine Consultant specializing in pairings, parties, entertaining and education.

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