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I decided to stay closer to home for a change and ventured up onto the Naramata Bench for this week’s touring. We started at Elephant Island, the only fruit winery on the Bench although they did release some wines made from grapes this year (check out Unconventional Wisdom at www.itoldyouso.ca). One thing that I love about the experience at Elephant Island is that, on a nice day, you can do your tasting while sitting on the lovely patio surrounded by orchard! We took our glasses out onto the patio and were served the 2009 Pink Elephant, a sparkling Granny Smith apple with dosage of cassis. This has got lovely bubbles, great acidity (as you would expect from Granny Smiths) and a beautiful cassis finish. Thankfully we came to Elephant Island just in the nick of time for the next wine, one of J’s favourites, the 2011 Black Currant – they were down to only a handful of cases (and were down by one more by the time we left!) The Black Currant has a bit of a deceptive nose as it promises the great sweetness of Ribena, but it is really quite tart on the palate. It takes until the third sip to get an accurate portrait of this wine. The 2011 Apricot Dessert Wine has a lovely tart apricot flavour that cuts through the sweetness. The 2010 Framboise is a fortified dessert wine that is pure raspberry delight! Perfect in a martini or poured over ice cream, this tastes of pure raspberry, with a touch of raspberry seed. We finished up with the 2011 Cassis, another fortified dessert wine that essentially is the grown-ups version of Ribena, i.e.: Boozy Ribena! So tasty!

Marichel Vineyard was our next stop, and was my first time both trying their wines as well as visiting the winery. Walking in from the road, this winery is very inviting with its lush plantings and warm colours of the building. Viognier and Syrah are the specialties here, with two wines of each varietal on offer, and tastings are done around a large communal table. We joined in with a group of people who had recently arrived as well. The 2010 Raison d’Être Viognier has a citrus nose and round mouthfeel with grapefruit and apricot on the palate. The 2010 Estate Viognier has a fruitier nose than the Raison d’Être, with a much rounder mouthfeel, quite velvety. It has big flavours of apricot and a nice length to the finish. The 2010 Deep Roots Syrah has a liquorice nose with blueberry, medium acidity and tannins and nice fruit and spice on the palate. The 2008 Estate Syrah has a meaty nose, with a touch of olive. It has a great full body, medium-to-heavy tannins, medium acidity and flavours of blackberry and white pepper.

Terravista Vineyards is newly opened this year by Bob and Senka Tennant, two of the founders of Black Hills Winery. They are producing a couple of very interesting white wines at Terravista, using varietals that are not so common in BC. Their Fandango is a blend of Albariño and Verdejo, two aromatic varietals better known in Spain and Portugal. Verdejo is best known in the Spanish region of Rueda and has lovely floral fruity characteristics. Albariño is grown primarily in both northwest Spain and northwest Portugal and generally has flavours of stone fruits. The 2011 Fandango is the first of these two varietals in Canada and Bob and Senka are still awaiting final changes in the official list of approved varietals in order to get this wine passed by the Wine Authority. I guess nobody ever thought we’d be trying to grow Spanish varietals in BC! This wine has great acidity and lovely floral notes along with flavours of green apple and hints of white peach. The 2011 Figaro is a blend of Roussanne and Viognier, two slightly more well-known varietals in the valley. It has lovely flavours of spice, apricot and pear, with a lush round mouthfeel.

Black Widow Winery has been producing lovely wines but unfortunately they are hard to come by without visiting the winery itself! With production of only 1200 cases a year, they easily can sell out at the wine shop. We were happy to taste quite a good selection of the wines, being poured by Shona Lancaster, co-proprietor with her husband Dick. The 2011 Gewürztraminer has lovely flavours of grapefruit, lychee and pineapple. The 2011 Pinot Gris has flavours of apple and pear, nice acidity and a round mouthfeel. The 2011 Oasis is a blend of Schönberger, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, with lovely floral notes and nice acidity. The 2010 Phobia is a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Merlot. It has a rich meaty nose along with black currant, leather and spice. Raspberry and caramel are prominent on the palate – very tasty! The 2010 Merlot has flavours of cherry and plum with a hint of candied fruit, great acidity and medium tannins. The 2010 Vintage One is a Port-style wine made from Merlot that has been fortified using grape brandy distilled from their own wines. Only one barrel was produced, resulting in 580 half-bottles (375 mL). This is really quite tasty, although I do have a weakness for Port-style wines!

3 Mile Winery was opened last year by Jake and Colleen Gunther, along with Colleen’s sister Gayle Rahn and her husband Darryl. A portion of the winery building adjacent to the tasting room houses an art gallery for local artist Janis Blyth. The 2011 Gewürztraminer is clean, with lychee and grapefruit on the nose and floral and spice notes on the palate. The 2011 Pinot Gris has passion fruit on the nose and crisp citrus on the palate. The 2010 Cabernet Merlot is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with flavours of cassis and blackberry, medium-to-high acidity and medium-to-heavy tannins. The 2010 Trio is a blend of 84% Merlot, 20% Syrah and 6% Cabernet Franc that has been aged for 18 months in French oak. It has a lovely blueberry nose, with black cherry, tobacco and spice on the palate. The 2010 Late Harvest Viognier has a lush nose of mandarin orange and apricot, with predominantly apricot on the palate and has really nice acidity which balances out the sweetness so that it only comes across as maybe a ‘2’ in sweetness.

D’Angelo Winery is our next stop and what some people may not know is that this family-run winery also has a sister winery in Ontario! Sal D’Angelo has been running the winery in Amherstburg (near Windsor) since 1984, before also setting up the winery on the Naramata Bench and producing its first vintage in 2005. We started our tasting with the 2007 Pinot Noir, with nice cherry flavours and good acidity. The 2008 Tempranillo (D’Angelo is one of the few wineries in the valley that produces a Tempranillo) has medium-to-high acidity, medium tannins and flavours of cherry and plum. Next up was a side-by-side comparison of the 2005 and 2006 Setta Coppa, D’Angelo’s Bordeaux blend of five varietals. The 2005 has rich raisin and cherry flavours with softened tannins whereas the 2006 has clean flavours of plum cherry and cassis, with heavier tannins and nice acidity. While the 2006 is tasty, I preferred the 2005 myself. The Tempranillo -8 is a tasty dessert wine with flavours of honey and peaches, 18g of residual sugar which is balanced nicely by the higher acidity.

Upper Bench Winery & Creamery has got to be one of my favourite new places this year. I mean, c’mon, there’s wine… and then you add cheese too, made by owner/cheese maker Shana!!! Fabulous!!! I have already been here a few times either to pick up some cheeses or to attend an event (Saturday night wine & pizza!) but had yet to do a full tasting of the wines. Jaimie started us off on the 2011 Pinot Gris, which has flavours of pear, citrus, apple and nectarine, nice acidity and a round mouthfeel. The 2011 Rosé is 100% Zweigelt, with a strawberry nose and has strawberry and sour cherry on the palate. This was paired with the Upper Bench Gold cheese, a firm brine-washed cheese with a rich creamy texture. The 2010 Merlot has a nose of black cherry and cassis, which carries over onto the palate, along with some fig and prune. This was paired with the King Cole, a semi-soft surface-ripened blue cheese. I am not always a fan of blue cheese but this one gets the balance just right. I got into a discussion with Gavin, the owner/winemaker, about his Zweigelt over the Rosé so he brought me out a barrel sample of his 2011 Zweigelt. It has a rich dark colour and beautiful spice and sour cherry and a hint of tobacco on the palate with nice acidity. Next up was the 2011 Riesling, an off-dry wine with flavours of gooseberry, pear and pineapple. Gavin then brought me a sample of his 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Who says that Cab can’t be properly ripened on the Bench?! All I can say to this wine is “WOW” and “How do I sign up to be on a pre-release list?” This wine has a nose of cherry, cocoa and a hint of liquorice. It has beautifully chewy tannins, balanced acidity and flavours of coffee, cocoa and chocolate-covered cherries on the palate. Again, wow! I can’t wait for this to be released next summer! A couple of wines that I did not sample this time but very much enjoy are the 2011 Pinot Blanc and 2011 Chardonnay, which won best Chardonnay at the 2012 Battle of the Benches. Please keep up the great work Gavin and Shana!