Only slightly behind schedule after spending the morning at Painted Rock we zipped up the coast of Skaha Lake into Okanagan Falls. We were eager to meet our lunch reservations at Liquidity, one of the oldest “newest” wineries in the neighbourhood. Although the winery was only completed in late 2012 and the talked-about Bistro opened just this spring, the vineyards have been yielding fruit for more than three decades – original plantings stretch back to 1976. Proprietor Ian MacDonald is an enthusiastic art lover, and has decorated the grounds and sleek, modern tasting room with remarkable works of sculpture and beautiful paintings. We admired the surroundings before seeking out our friend Kim at the tasting bar, she having already sampled some of the wares.
We were fairly confident the wine would still be there after lunch and headed directly to the attached Bistro after collecting Kim. Despite the nearly debilitating heat we couldn’t refuse a seat on the patio – albeit a well-shaded one – in order to admire the stunning views. Looking south one observes waves of rolling hills and vineyards until McIntyre Bluff emerges in the distance: in slightly cooler weather this could be one of the valley’s most impressive scenic dining venues. Scenery aside the service and food were impeccable, particularly for such a youthful operation – everything operated so smoothly one would have thought this was their tenth season!
We began with a bottle of the winery’s sold out Bubbly, a non-vintage blend of Chardonnay (70%) and Pinot Noir (30%). The 71 cases produced sold out quickly, so we took advantage of the only venue left from which it can obtained. The soft, generous mousse was particularly refreshing, with a dry finish that kept matters crisp. My order of Potted Wild Pink Salmon arrived as an artistic summer spread, with spectacular flavours to match. Cold Smoked Duck Prosciutto Flatbread followed and synchronized excellently with the winery’s 2012 Pinot Noir, showing caramelized sugar and silky chocolate-covered cherries. We concluded our meal by sharing in Kim’s luxuriously rich Goats Milk Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème, from which tiny “Strawberry Bubbles” continued to titillate our palates.
More than content we finally made our way to the Tasting Bar to sample the range of wines on offer. Winemaker Matt Holmes spent several years crafting the respected wines of Tantalus before moving to Liquidity, where he’s been able to work with a somewhat broader range of varieties. At present only Pinot Noir is available in the red domain, but we were informed that a 2012 Merlot will soon be released, along with a Reserve 2012 Pinot Noir, although only 55 cases! Several whites include the 2013 Riesling, a zingy explosion of citrus flavours with only 5 grams/liter of residual sugar. The trend towards dryness extends to the serious, spicy 2013 Pinot Gris, from vines approaching two decades in age. A luscious 2013 Viognier presented tropical and stone fruit aromas leading into a rich, creamy texture with a long, vibrant finish. The 2013 “White Blend” (Chardonnay, Viogner, Pinot Gris) has a straightforward name and creamy, lemon curd flavours benefitting from a bit more sugar (7.5 g/L) and four months in neutral French oak. Lastly, the 2012 Chardonnay spent 11 months on the lees in oak, providing for a more noticeable barrel expression along with tangy flavours of lime and green apple.
Headed back towards Osoyoos we managed to visit a few more favourites, but we definitely had to make some hard choices – it always hurts to drive past a winery without stopping! With the west side of the valley on the docket for the following day I elected on some Black Sage Bench gems, stopping first at Stoneboat Vineyards south of Oliver. Inside the quaint Tasting Room we eagerly sampled the beautifully bottled new Faux Pas Rosé Brut, with a creamy strawberry mousse and a pleasingly dry finish. The Brut is produced from pure Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Faux Pas Rosé is a blend of Pinot and Pinotage, in which we tasted similarly dry, mineral-driven strawberry rhubarb flavours. The two reds are used to great effect at Stoneboat, as we found when tasting the 2011 varietal Pinot Noir, with earthy, spicy fruit and notes of forest floor. The partner 2011 Pinotage was actually fruitier, brighter, and more perfumed, yielding an unexpected preference for a grape I tend to overlook. The grand finale of 2011 “Verglass” ensured a bottle of this rare dessert wine came home with us: Botrytis-affected, Oraniensteiner & Pinot Blanc Icewine is a mouthful, but simply can’t be missed. The mouth-watering flavours of honey, apricots, citrus, and caramelized peach jam were highly memorable.
Down the road at Church & State I was eager to visit the winery’s beautiful “Coyote Bowl” Tasting Room. The outside temperatures were so overwhelmingly high that the attractive outdoor tasting bar was closed, but we enjoyed excellent service indoors after admiring expansive views of the Golden Mile Bench. My established favouritism meant that I already own nearly every wine available, including the exciting varietal Malbec, and the Petit Verdot Malbec blend, but I was focused on trying out the 2010 Coyote Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon. During a visit last year I had neglected the Sauvignon in favour of the (admittedly superb) Cabernet Franc, so I was excited to see it open for sampling this time around. The rich, juicy palate of ripe, dark cherry flavours was quite appealing, bereft of any feared green pepper character, and I didn’t leave without a bottle on this visit. We also made sure to bring home some 2011 Coyote Bowl Syrah, a charming blend of bright fruit and savoury spices, already maturing into another sumptuous expression of some of BC’s best Syrah.
As we approached Osoyoos and thoughts of cooling swims I received the okay for one more stop, pulling into LaStella at day’s end. With the snug tasting room to ourselves we took the opportunity to visit the open-air bell tower and gaze longingly upon the surrounding vineyards slopping down to Osoyoos Lake. Back downstairs we enjoyed the hospitality we’ve relished in the past, including an unhurried exploration of the winery’s entire portfolio via perfectly suited Riedel stemware, refreshed for each wine! Fresh apple flavours from the 2013 “Leggiero” Un-oaked Chardonnay led into pears and clean, crisp peaches in the 2013 “Vivace” Pinot Grigio. The 2013 LaStellina Rosé showed a smooth, off-dry palate with a long-lasting cranberry, strawberry finish from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc – 12% alcohol makes it an excellent summer sipper.
I have a particular fondness for LaStella’s red wines, which center on some spectacular Merlot. I acquired all the newly released 2011 reds for my cellar earlier this spring, but that didn’t stop me from sampling them given the opportunity. We tasted ripe tannins, toasty blueberries, leather, and hint of olives in the “Fortissimo”, the winery’s blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese. The “Allegretto” Merlot continued the impressive trend, with generous chocolate aromas and a dusty, spicy dark fruit and mocha palate. With only 125 cases available the wine is virtually sold out already, leaving only the $100 “Maestoso” flagship Merlot, itself quite limited in availability (despite nearly 350 cases produced). We were very fortunate to enjoy a sample of this epic wine, so heady and complex I could scarcely ponder the multiple layers and endless finish. It certainly has the potential to age well (as I hope my own bottle does), but manageable tannins make for a surprisingly immediate approachability.
We finished our big day with some nice soft and sweet Moscato D’Osoyoos, LaStella’s lightly effervescent aperitif. Equally suitable for the beginning or end of a meal, morning, noon, or night, the Moscato cleansed our palates with spring blossoms and citrus flavours. I was glad to have concluded a busy day of wine touring with such a relaxing and yet invigorating experience overall.