Protect your wine

I’m not ashamed to admit that I've ruined perfectly good wine in mere minutes.

In fact, I once ruined a bottle of one of my favourite Okanagan syrahs with a callous attitude of, “It’ll only be in the car for a short time, it’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t. Less than 15 minutes in a hot car with no air conditioning – a 1995 Honda Civic Hatchback, in case you were wondering – and the wine:

  • overheated in the bottle
  • the cork smelled like a wet paper bag
  • it had an unpleasant essence of cabbage soup.

The wine may have been faulty to begin with, but the fault lies with me for not taking better care of the bottle.

When you or your summer visitors are out buying wines — craft beers, ciders, or spirits — plan to protect your purchases from the blazing-hot Okanagan sun.

It only takes a few minutes to damage one of these beverages.

Not many of us properly prepare for wine touring in the heat, thinking we'll just hop in the car, hit a few wineries and head home.

But as you're loading wine into your hot car, keep in mind that your new purchases can be in jeopardy faster than ice cream melts in your gin and tonic.

Wines under screw cap may do a bit better, but wine under a cork will not stand the heat.

A hot car can dry out a cork in record time, ruining characteristics of the vintage inside. The air in the warm bottle expands, causing leakage and exposing the wine to oxygen and oxidization.

If you can, tour at cooler times of the day. Temperature will be lower, and the tasting rooms may be less crowded in the morning or late in the day.

And your palate is fresh in the morning.

An insulated, re-usable shopping bag can protect a few bottles for a short time. The bags, for produce and dairy, are usually found beside regular, cloth shopping bags.

Cool the bag in the fridge or freezer overnight and throw an ice pack in the bottom. Better yet, take a cooler with an ice pack or two to protect your wines from direct sunlight and a rapid rise in temperature.

And finally, if you drop into a winery on the spur of the moment and are totally unprepared, ask the tasting room staff for a box or two. Put your wine in the box with the lid closed.

At the very least, the cardboard will block out the sunlight and keep the temperature a bit lower. The trunk is probably a better spot for storage — it's dark and likely cooler than the passenger area — unless you are running the air conditioning up front.

Failing all that, you can always take your box or bag into each winery for safekeeping, and enjoy your tasting worry free.

Just don’t forget to take your case(s) when you go.


Tis the season to drink pink

You’ve probably noticed a resurgence in rosé in recent years, and, as patio season approaches, many wineries are releasing their pink bottles.

Newly releases white wines are out on the shelf — the reds may still be aging for release in the fall — but rosé seems to be having its day in the sun. If you’ve tended to take a pass, rest assured that the overly sweet bottles of vintages past have given way to drier, more sophisticated styles that are both food-friendly, and easy to sip on their own.

But how is rosé made? Not by pouring finished white and reds together, although depending on a country’s wine regulations, that is a possibility.

Pouring a Pinot Gris from one glass into another with Pinot Noir will likely elicit a veiled frown in a tasting room. And the result? You’ve probably ruined two perfectly good glasses of wine.

Typical white wine grapes, like Pinot Gris may be part of the mix, but it’s the skins that are important. Pink wine is made by allowing the skin of the grapes to have some contact with the fermenting juice, but not enough to make it a red wine.

The longer the skin contact — which might be as short as a few hours — the darker the wine; rosés come in range of colours.

Then, there is the saignée method — literally “bleeding” in French — wherein some of the juice is removed after skin contact, which concentrates the flavours and characteristics of the wine.

No matter how it’s produced, rosé wines often have aromas of strawberries, red fruits, a bit of vanilla, and can be “bone” dry to lightly sweet. Try some of these, well chilled, and find your favourite.

Quail’s Gate, Rosé 2017: A blend of Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, this is a pale salmon colour with a delightful nose of grapefruit and red berries. Pair with a spinach salad topped with seasonal berries, roasted hazelnuts, and goat cheese.

Township 7, Rosé 2017: Very aromatic notes of rhubarb and strawberry, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. A more structured rosé, the finish is refreshing with nice minerality and stone fruit flavours.

Road 13, Honest John’s Rosé, 2017: A very vibrant garnet colour may lead you to believe this is sweet, but, in fact, this wine has many complex fruit flavours, from berries to watermelon to a touch of apricot. So of course, pairing with a trendy watermelon salad is perfect.

Evolve Cellars, Pink Effervescence: Why not have some pink bubbly? Pinot Blanc with just a hint of Merlot; have a bottle chilling in the fridge for a spontaneous celebration. It's the ultimate refresher on a hot day with an organic popsicle.

At around $20 a bottle, buy all four, invite some friends over, and have a drink pink night.

A terroir abroad

Ask a winemaker, vineyard manager, or anyone who works with the soil in our regional vineyards to describe the Okanagan “terroir,” and you’re likely to get a variety of descriptions.

The answer may depend on where you are when the question is asked, as you may be on granite, or sandy, or clay soil.

And you may be in a micro-climate affected by the temperature radiating off a nearby large rock face, or moisture from a lake or river, or the slope of the vineyard is just different enough in one block of vines to make “this” pinot noir different from “that” pinot noir.

In a nutshell, terroir is complicated.

I’ll save you the trouble of googling it: terroir, in short, means a sense of place. It’s the combination of soil, climate, environment, topography, sunlight…the elements that give a wine its distinction, and notes of where its from.

But, there is another aspect. Geo-politics. History, if you will. Not really a factor here in British Columbia, though government regulations certainly do play a role in agriculture, but an intriguing part of another under-the-radar wine country: Hungary.

If you’re in the wine business, and more specifically, the wine tourism business, attending the International Wine Tourism Conference, which visits a different wine region in Europe each spring, should be on your bucket list.

Not just for the seminars and networking, but for the familiarization tours. In my case, a media tour that encompassed film tourism and health tourism, along with wine.

The winemakers we met were young. Most are focused on two things.

First, reclaiming the vineyards and winemaking from the Soviet era of mass production, which sent low quality wine abroad.

Hungarian wineries are reclaiming their native grapes – Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kadarka – because they want to reflect the Hungarian terroir.

Yes, you’ll find Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc here, plus exquisite sweet wines from Tokaji made from a blend of grapes referred to as Aszú, but clearly, there is a passion for being uniquely Hungarian.

And why not? These grapes often grown on volcanic soil are truly terroir-driven.

The second focus is gastronomy.

Bistros located at wineries are high end. So much so that the restrooms are memorable, one with doors sliding open as if you were entering the Starship Enterprise. Nearby are boutique hotels that range from castles to ultra modern suites.

But the food…Instagrammers, charge your phone batteries. The days of goulash are fading. Grandma’s Chicken Paprika has been elevated to gourmet.

Foie gras, duck, and pork dominate (so does deer stew with pasta, I’d go so far as to call that comfort food), and Michelin stars are on their way. Pairing is essential to show off both the wine and the work of the chefs.

Yes, Hungary is a world away. The country’s history is complicated and often heart breaking.

But in many ways, our two regions are on the same path of discovery. Finding the authentic terroir upon which our vines grow.


Tasting event etiquette 101

Each year, I write about tasting room etiquette, usually around the time wineries open for the season.

Having been in a number of tasting rooms on both sides of the tasting bar, I’ve seen many things, and encountered many types of wine tasters, from newbies to that one guest whose ultimate goal is to prove that s/he knows bigger wine words than anyone else.

I am sure you’re not that guest.

But, as more and more events fill up the calendar, from intimate dinners to large grazing celebrations, I thought I might share a few tips on how to navigate and enjoy these experiences.

Let’s start with the winemaker’s dinner. You and your date have probably spent a few hundred bucks to attend an exquisite, multi-course meal alongside a dozen or so potential new friends. And the winemaker, who may or may not be a bit shy in front of groups, is there to guide you through the wine and food pairings.

This is your opportunity to learn more about the meal in front of you, therefore, pay attention and be quiet. Continue eating and sipping, but don’t be the person trying to whisper something to the guy or gal next to you. The winemaker then needs to talk above you and the ambient noise, especially if you’re outside with the sounds of nature.

Next, the “consumer” tasting event. You and a few hundred people are in a hotel ballroom surrounded by dozens of wineries. Before you arrive, have a decent snack, skip the perfume, and consider a pair of comfortable shoes.

When you approach a table, get your sample, then step back or to the side. You may not notice the tasters behind you who are trying to get through the crowd, but they will start pushing their glass through a sea of arms in an attempt to get to the wine.

That’s how spills happen.

Cooking classes are becoming more popular at wineries, farms, and bistros.

Some are participatory, and some are not. Before you jump up to help the chef  —I witnessed this once, the chef looked mortified as a woman attempted to peel veggies with the speed he needed, failing until other guests enticed her back to her seat — ask if it’s hands-on class.

And if you are at an event where there are food stations, let’s share, shall we? As with the wine, beer, ciders, or spirits, get your dish, then step back and enjoy.

Keep this in mind if you are planning on going to food-centric events (paired with libations), such as the multiple events at the Osoyoos Oyster Festival April 18-22, the Pig Out Festival with Oliver-Osoyoos wineries on May 5 at Covert Farms, or Chef Meets BC Grape at See Ya Later Ranch on June 23, to name a few.

We’re all out to have a good afternoon or evening satisfying our taste buds, let’s have fun and be nice out there.

More Okanagan Taste articles

About the Author

A creative thinker with more than two decades of experience in communications, Allison is an early adopter of social and digital media, bringing years of work in traditional media to the new frontier of digital engagement marketing through her company, All She Wrote.

She is the winner of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association's 2011 and 2012 awards for Social Media Initiative, an International LERN award for marketing, and the 2014 Penticton Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Hospitality/Tourism.

Allison has amassed a following on multiple social networks of more than 30,000, frequently writes and about social media, food and libations as well as travel and events, and through her networks, she led a successful bid to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to Penticton in June 2013, one of the largest social media wine events in the world, generating 31 million social media impressions, $1 million in earned media, and an estimated ongoing economic impact of $2 million.

In 2014, she held the first Canadian Wine Tourism Summit to spark conversation about the potential for wine tourism in Canada as a year-round economic driver.

Allison contributes epicurean content to several publications, has been a judge for several wine and food competitions, and has earned her advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

In her spare time, she has deep, meaningful conversations with her cats.

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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