So there I am, on the terrace of Mission Hill winery. I’ve just spent a day and a half behind the wheel of the boozemobile. My last meal, in Golden the night prior was the kind of dining experience to make me wish I wrote for the Brit papers where a sarcastic attack review bordering on the libelous is welcomed.
However the restaurant at Mission Hill is perhaps the finest in Canada. I had my doubts after the waiter insisted I start with a glass of their Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve been in love with this grape since I first tasted a Sancerre in my early twenties. In this form, sauvignon blanc is an unoaked, weighty, austere, white full of minerals.
Pouilly-Fume is across the river and also sauvignon blanc and it caught the public’s attention in the 1980s, I suspect because thirty-something baby boomers enjoyed pretending they spoke French and saying something that sounded rather like ‘Pooey Foo-may’ when ordering it. You sounded drunk and you hadn’t even ordered a glass yet.
Whatever the reason, the crisp, fruity wine caught on, and became something of a glut on the market in the next twenty years. I still tend to be something of a Sancerre snob, but I regularly buy and drink sauvignon blanc from Chile and New Zealand. The versions I tend to favour are very brisk – too acidic for many drinkers – and full of fruit.
This creates a problem for me when tasting Okanagan versions because they generally are rather restrained. Delicate even. In years past I’ve tended to drink them with a bland smile and otherwise ignore them. So I greeted the waiter’s enthusiasm with a glum acceptance of my fate, the ox before the ax, knowing I was about to suffer for my art.
You can imagine my surprise when I found myself actually liking the wine. More than that, I was loving it. There was a slightly floral, slightly herbal, slightly citrus bouquet followed by a delicately fruity wine with a dry subtle finish.
The Okanagan is coming of age, and although their wines are decidedly different than those of the Loire or Marlborough, they are offering something that I don’t think should be ignored. Best of all, because Canadian drinkers are so conservative, the SB is bargain priced, which you don’t find often from Okanagan wines.
Let’s start with the Mission Hill Reserve. This wine is the upper end of Okanagan SB, priced around the $20 mark (they also make a more moderately priced version) and I bought it deliberately as a standard against which to taste the others (it could have been relief on the terrace, or maybe smugness at having evaded the radar trap just outside the winery exit. You always have to double check).
I wasn’t crazy. This is a really nice wine. If you’re seeking the smash-mouth attack of New Zealand or Chile you won’t be happy, but if you take a step back and think about this wine as it slides across the tongue, gripping a bit on the edge and the back, you may, like me, become a believer.
My senses were reinforced when I tried the Jackson-Triggs Reserve. This is one of Canada’s go-to wines, on every catering menu in the country. The wine is remarkably beautiful: Delicate, with flavours of Granny Smith apples, and nectarines, it is an absolutely first class drink. At this price this is a genuine deal alert.
Sumac Ridge was even more surprising. This is a winery that specializes in sparkling wine, and tends to fairly fat whites when flat. But their SB was remarkably delicate with a slightly peachy bouquet, and a nicely tart palate. This is a grilled whitefish wine if I’ve ever tried one. You don’t want a butter fried version – this needs to be saved for moments of refinement, the broiler, a bit of oregano, and a squeeze of lemon.
Open is a winery of which I know nothing. Their wines are VQA, which is always reassuring. I suspect they oaked a bit of crop as there was the slightest whiff of vanilla on the nose. It also finished just a hair sweet. In short this was the least subtle of all these wines, and therefore the least likely for me to buy again. However, I certainly would not ask for a beer if you handed me a glass.
Mission Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, 2010. $19.99 ****
Jackson-Triggs Reserve (Black Label) Sauvignon Blanc, 2011. $14.99 **** Deal Alert!
Sumac Ridge Private Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, 2010. $13.99 ****
Open Sauvignon Blanc, 2009. $13.49 ****
James Romanow writes about Wine and all things Boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze
Follow us: @SpectatorTrib