B.C. Pinot Blanc worth a peek this summer

Hard to believe, perhaps, but there was a time when Pinot Blanc was B.C.’s most widely planted white vinifera grape.

That is until it was usurped by Chardonnay, which became the commercial growers’ variety of choice to compete with the popular surge of California and Australian Chardonnays.

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Pinot Blanc is widely planted in Alsace (where it’s often blended or used in crémant) and pops up as weissburgunder in Germany, as well as in many other European regions.

It arrived in B.C. as part of the Becker Project, the trial plantings in the 1970s that laid the foundation for the modern industry.

In the early 1990s, the fledgeling B.C. Wine Institute launched its first food and wine promotion, called “A Marriage Made in B.C.” A small group of wine-savvy restos (and there were only a few around) designed special menus featuring fresh wild salmon dishes paired with Okanagan Pinot Blanc by the glass.

In those days the idea of pairing food and wine was still something of a novelty to most Vancouverites. But it didn’t take long for the idea to catch on. Besides, in the right hands, Pinot Blanc (a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir) can be a simply delicious, full-fruited wine. It’s a perfect complement to the richness of sockeye or coho, but has enough of that classic Okanagan (or Similkameen) acidity to also add contrast and pair with the likes of beurre blanc or citrus-based sauces.

Happily, a few of those older Pinot Blanc plantings survived and did not fall victim to the great Chardonnay stampede of the 1990s.

Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc 2016 (Similkameen Valley): This small producer has a perennial reputation for making one of the best Pinot Blancs around and the 2016 is no exception, from what’s proving to be a very good white wine vintage. Forward notes of floral, citrus and orchard fruits precede a palate of apple and citrus, with a hint of spice, fresh with clean fruit, and subtle acidity ($21).

Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2016 (Okanagan Falls): Another serious contender, this wine comes from one of the oldest Pinot Blanc plantings in the Okanagan, dating back some 31 years. Winemaker Matt Mavety has a deft touch with oak, placing just 45 per cent of the wine into nearly neutral French barrels to bring extra weight to the palate (with the balance in stainless steel). Hand-picked, wild yeast fermented, up-front floral and orchard notes with a peach, melon and gentle citrus, wrapped in juicy acidity and generous mouthfeel ($18).

Skaha Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2016 (Kaleden): From a diminutive but increasingly noteworthy producer and grown on shale and sandstone on the west side of Skaha Lake, this offering is all stainless steel fermented. It features lifted notes of apple and stonefruit followed by a lively, fruit-driven, citrus palate with plush mouthfeel and mineral hints before a lingering end ($21).

Also of note:

Wild Goose Vineyards Mystic River Pinot Blanc 2016 (Okanagan Valley): Double gold winner at the All Canadian Wine Championships 2017 ($18).
So the next time you’re planning to barbecue salmon, why not consider giving Pinot Blanc a whirl, instead of Chardonnay?

• • •

Speaking of all things Pinot, if you’re a true B.C. Pinot Noir aficionado, you won’t want to miss the fourth annual B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration (Aug. 19), a spectacular showcase for 34 of the province’s best Pinot Noir producers. The idea is to shine a light on B.C. Pinot Noir, which is receiving increasing international attention. There will be wines from around the province, offering a great opportunity to taste contrasting styles and terroirs.

In addition to the sparkling reception and Pinot Noir salon tasting, you can take in breakout sessions and keynote speaker Richard Hemming (Master of Wine). Not to mention live music and cocktail-style dinner by top chefs including Joy Road Catering, Frog City Café, The Nash and Vij’s. It all happens at Linden Gardens in Kaleden. A free shuttle will transport guests from several key Okanagan hotel and resort locations throughout the valley so you can make a weekend of it.

All inclusive cost is $175, Tix and details on the website at bcpinotnoir.ca.

Tim Pawsey writes about wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: info@hiredbelly.com.

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