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I decided that this weekend we should check out the remaining five wineries of the Similkameen that we did not have a chance to visit on our first trip through last month. And with the exception of Herder Winery & Vineyards, all would be new experiences for me. We headed out with a hearty brunch in our stomachs, ready to taste some wines!

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Herder, a beautiful building on the rocky northern side of the valley, overlooking K Mountain and the whole of the valley. We were warmly welcomed into the lovely two-storey tasting room by Sharon and joined another group to run through the portfolio of tasty wines. The 2010 Three Sisters is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier. It is crisp and dry with flavours of citrus and pear, with a little bit of stone fruit. The 2009 Chardonnay is a blend of 50% stainless steel and 50% oak-treated. It has a lovely peach nose and a nice mix of fruit with a hint of oak on the palate. The 2009 Chardonnay Estate is absolutely beautiful. It is made with 100% French oak and has undergone malolactic fermentation to produce that lovely rich buttery flavour. It has a fabulously full mouthfeel. Next we went onto the reds, starting with the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. This has a rich cherry nose that carries onto the palate. The tannins are quite soft, making this a very easy sipping wine. The 2009 Meritage is a tasty blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot. It has medium tannins and is quite fruit-forward. This is a delicious wine at a superb price point ($20). Finally we tasted their flagship big red – Josephine. This is definitely one to lay down in the cellar for a few more years. It is a blend of 81% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. It has full tannins and fabulous flavour! Following the tasting Sharon offered to take us on a tour of the winemaking facilities downstairs, where Lawrence then jumped in to conclude the tour. They both gave very clear explanations of how the assorted equipment works and the overall process of winemaking, happy to answer all questions from the crowd. It is easy to see how passionate they both are about their vineyards and winery.

Next on the tour was Robin Ridge, a small-production winery that has been winning some top awards recently. Tim was manning the tasting bar and started us off with the 2011 Gewürztraminer. This has a lovely lychee nose, with some citrus and spice on the palate. There is a hint of sweetness but it is a nice crisp dry Gewürztraminer. The 2011 Flamingo Rosé is the pet project of Tim and Caroline’s 15-year-old son. This was his first attempt at winemaking, and I would say he has been successful! It is a perfect patio sipper, with a floral, fruity nose, lots of tropical fruit, citrus, ripe apple and baking space on the palate.  Slightly off-dry, and with relatively low alcohol at 12%, it makes for very pleasant sipping. The 2010 Pinot Noir has lots of strawberry and cherry, with light tannins – very nice flavours. The 2010 Gamay is delicious! It has a really peppery nose, with a hint of smoke. There is tons of black pepper, cherry, plum and smoke on the palate. The 2008 Merlot has a nice balance of fruit, tannins and acid, full of cherry and plum on the palate. Tim poured us a side-by-side comparison of this with the 2009 Merlot, which has a great nuttiness on the nose, a much rounder, fuller mouthfeel, with deep black cherry, plum, blueberry and blackberry on the palate. This is one I’d love to lay down for another couple of years – lovely! We finished up with the 2009 Robin’s Return, a blend of Rougeon and Pinot Noir. This is a pleasant, easy-drinking fruity red that unfortunately won’t be making a return as Tim has pulled all of the Rougeon vines to make way for Cabernet Franc. Although I can never be too upset with the loss of anything for Cab Franc as I do love it. I look forward to the future vintages of Cab Franc from Robin’s Ridge.

Our next stop was at St Laszlo Vineyards Estate Winery, one of the oldest wineries in the province, with the vineyards having been planted in 1976. The wines are very much made in a traditional, eastern European style, with tons of flavour, and many of the wines being off-dry to medium-dry. This is a style that J has decided is very much one that he loves (possibly going back to his own Slavic roots) and he has declared this to be his new favourite winery. Many of the varietals that are featured here are not widely grown here so it is very interesting to sample these. Joe Jr apologized for not having the full lineup to taste through but he managed to put up quite a selection nonetheless. We started off with a Pinot Auxerrois, an off-dry wine with tons of aromatics. Next up was a Late Harvest Riesling, whose acidity nicely balanced the sweetness. I was very interested to try the Pearl of Csaba, a Hungarian grape, as a single varietal having only ever tasted it in a blend. This is a medium-sweet wine with lovely floral notes. We moved on to the reds, starting with a very light Vörös, another Hungarian varietal. This was very light, with almost no discernible flavour. The Pinot Noir was also quite light, but with nice cherry flavour and very soft tannins. The Gamay Noir was slightly off-dry, with rich honey and berry flavours, raspberry jam. The Cabernet Franc was dry, with some cherry and a bit of pepper. Next we moved on to some of the fruit wines. The Strawberry wine was quite tasty, although slightly oxidized. The Plum wine immediately took me back to childhood, as its flavour reminded me of the Lik-M-Aid Fun Dips (although I couldn’t quite place the flavour association until after leaving the winery). The Raspberry wine was by far my favourite of the fruit wines – just pure, unadulterated raspberry with a bit of an alcohol kick. Joe Jr pulled out a couple of specialties to finish off with. The Sweet Marechal Foch was amazing!! Sadly he was out of stock, otherwise I would’ve stocked up on several bottles for winter. This is a rich wine, almost somewhat like a Madeira-style, that would be perfect after a day out on the ski slopes, curled up in front of a roaring fire. I will return later in the season once he’s got some available for sale. Next was the Riesling/Ehrenfelser Icewine, which did not come across as overly syrupy, which I appreciated. Another final and “unofficial” taste was of something that Joe’s been working on but that he does not deem quite ready yet. It’s a walnut liqueur, which was quite delectable! I look forward to it being available for sale. The price of the wines is something else that really does set St Laszlo apart from others. Of the 35 different wines on their list, the vast majority sell for $10 a bottle, with only a handful being marked at $15 or $20. Even the Icewines are only $35.

Cerelia Vineyards & Estate Winery was the next stop of the day. Making our way into the tasting room, set up in a corner of the winery, we received a friendly greeting. J decided to sit this one out while I bellied up to the bar. This was my first experience tasting any of the wines from Cerelia and it certainly won’t be my last. The 2009 Pinot Gris is light and crisp, with apple, pear and citrus on the palate. The Unoaked Chardonnay has a lovely mouthfeel and nice bright flavours. While both whites were very pleasant, it was the reds that really stood out for me. The 2009 Misceo is their Bordeaux-style blend of 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It spent 26 months in oak before bottling and has beautiful full tannins and great fruit flavour. The 2009 Cabernet Franc also spent 26 months in oak and has rich flavours of cherry, plum, berry and some nice spice.  I quite enjoyed my visit to Cerelia and will look forward to more of their wines in the future.

The final stop of the day included a late lunch/early dinner at Crowsnest Vineyards. I had heard great things of the food in the restaurant and wanted to try it out myself. We were not disappointed. We had friendly service and very tasty food. I ordered the salmon with dill, accompanied by potatoes, carrots and broccoli. It reminded me of many a summer meal in Scandinavia – so tasty! J ordered the chicken, which was served with veggies, a barley risotto and Pinot Noir reduction – delicious. After filling our bellies we headed over to the tasting room so sample some of Ann’s wines. I was pleased to see that the new wine labels are much cleaner, more visible when on shelves in a wine shop. She first poured their 2011 Stahltank (steel tank/ unoaked) Chardonnay, with lovely apple flavours and crisp acidity. The 2011 Riesling is crisp and dry with lots of citrus. The 2011 Gewürztraminer is full of lychee and grapefruit, with a lovely round mouthfeel. The 2007 Cuvée #3 is a delicious blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. This easy patio sipper is a very popular one from Crowsnest and I can see why. The 2008 Pinot Gris has nice mouthfeel, with apples and pears on the palate. The 2008 Pinot Noir is a pale ruby colour with a raspberry nose and raspberry and strawberry on the palate. The 2008 Merlot has some cherry and bell pepper on the nose, with nice tannins, cherry, leather and cedar on the palate.

A quick stop at Orofino to replenish our stocks of their Moscato Frizzante and we headed back to the Okanagan, another successful wine tour behind us.

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