How BC’s Rieslings Resonate

By Treve Ring – Treve is a wine writer and editor, judge and speaker, and perpetual traveler. Her work appears in publications around the globe. A certified sommelier, WSET diploma holder, French wine scholar and instructor, and Sherry instructor, she is based on Vancouver Island, Canada, though is most often found on a plane or in a vineyard.

While people may associate British Columbia’s generous warmth and sunshine with red wines, it’s clear that white wines, of all grapes and styles, excel here. From crisp, marine-influenced light wines, to cool-climate and nervy examples, through to sun-ripened, richer styles, British Columbia’s numerous terroirs and microclimates yield a wide diversity of whites that shine.

The acreage of white grapes planted nearly mirrors red grapes across the province (49 percent to 51 percent respectively), with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer leading the plantings. That said, there are dozens of other white grapes planted across the province, reflecting our adventuresome winemaking spirit, and in some cases, our colourful collective heritage. You can easily find the aromatic Germanic varieties like Riesling, Kerner, Ehrenfelser, and Auxerrois, planted alongside Rhone varieties such as Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Albariño and Ortega, Chenin and Chasselas, Sémillon and Sauvignette: who knew there was such a rainbow of colours, aromas, textures and flavours within the colour white?

In this year’s Best of BC Wine Country Awards, Tantalus Vineyards Riesling shone the brightest, selected from nearly 2000 voters as their favourite white wine overall, and their top from the Okanagan Valley. It’s a fitting tribute for the winery that put BC Riesling on the world-wide map a few years back, attracting critical acclaim from international and local wine writers for its potent, electric energy and effortless longevity. The striking label, with its proud First Nations mask, has become a BC symbol for quality on lists and in cellars across the country and the globe. Fittingly, Tantalus has helped shape locals’ perception of what Riesling is (versatile and vibrant), and isn’t (all sweet and confected).

Riesling continued to streak, taking top spot for Similkameen Valley white with Orofino Winery Scout Vineyard Riesling. This wine shows the grape via the bracing minerality, refreshing winds and the rocky soils of the Similkameen. It’s a treat to pour Orofino’s tightly wound Riesling alongside the juicy Tantalus Riesling for a contrast in styles, and terroirs.

You could have an entire Riesling party when you invite the Emerging Regions winning white to the table: Fort Berens Estate Riesling. Crisp and refreshing, with that ideal snap of orchard fruit, this profiles Lillooet’s grape growing potential. Reflecting B.C.’s pioneering spirit, this winery, along with others, has proven that high quality wine exists beyond the famous lakes and valleys of the Okanagan and Similkameen, and has paved the way for more exploratory producers and plantings to follow.

Speaking of existing beyond the Okanagan, the Fraser Valley has long been overshadowed by its other fruit growing prowess, leaving their grape wine industry in the shadows. An award for Backyard Vineyards Noisy Neighbour White, an aromatic, off-dry and ripe blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay will share some light on the area, an easy and accessible visit from the Lower Mainland.

Two wines, but one winery, shared the top spot for Vancouver Island’s top white. Unsworth Vineyards excels with both vinifera and hybrid grapes, crafting distinctively fresh and nimble wines from their warm CowichanValley vineyards, only a few kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. Allegro, a fruity and honeyed blend of hybrid grapes Petit Milo and Sauvignette, and their barrel-fermented, creamy solo Sauvignette shared the top spot, a welcome recognition for the high quality coming out of the Wine Islands, and for one of the most forward-thinking of Island wineries, the family at Unsworth Vineyards.

Showing more of the rainbow that exists within white, honourable mentions were awarded to Riesling (Harper’s Trail), Chardonnay (Painted Rock Estate and Seven Stones), Pinot Gris (Poplar Grove), Bacchus (Chaberton Estate), and blends of Chasselas, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay (Corcelettes Estate), as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat (Lunessence).