Kamloops makes its mark on B.C. wine map

IT'S a far cry from the dog days of summer to the blustery, minus 15C winter's day earlier this year, when we huddled on a bench overlooking the Thompson River to get the low-down on Kamloops' first winery.

Last week we had a chance to taste the first three estategrown releases from Harper's Trail (owned by Ed and Vicki Collett) and were intrigued by what we found. We had an earlier preview of the 2011 Riesling, which has evolved into a pretty juicy drop, with hints of honey and apple on top with a palate wrapped in citrus and stonefruit. Think pad Thai or sautéed scallops. ($19.99) 88 pts.

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There's also a worthy rosé (a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, and Merlot) that sports a dry personality with flashes of strawberry and rhubarb. Pretty flexible, you could enjoy it with everything from grilled chicken to cold cuts and milder cheeses. ($16.99), 88 pts.

Perhaps surprisingly though, it's the unlikely field blend of Chardonnay, Gerwurz., Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc that grabbed our attention, with its vibrant, zingy citrus and distinct mineral notes below (a reflection of the lime-rock terroir), held together by firm acidity, that also suggests good things to come from this daring new B.C. player. Enjoy as a sipper or match with something spicy and you'll be surprised at how well it stands up. $16.99, 89 pts.

These wines also sport refreshingly low alcohol (10.511%), which makes them all the more ideal as summer lingers a little longer.

Tough to find on the coast, your best bet is to order right from the winery. Kudos to Harper's Trail - and to Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Michael Bartier - for putting Kamloops on the B.C. wine map. Looks like it'll be an interesting ride. www. harperstrail.com.

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With September right around the corner, no surprise that the tasting calendar is already heating up.

For whatever reason, Oregon has been somewhat under the local radar in the last decade or so. That all changes come Sept. 6 when "Oregon Takes Vancouver" yields the first tasting in many years of wines exclusively from our close neighbour to the south.

Grab a ticket to this casual sip 'n graze in the spectacular setting of the Stanley Park Pavilion for a chance to taste some of the best Pinots around - paired with barbecued wild salmon and more - and mingle with several "name" producers.

There will be more than Pinot Noir, of course, but with the likes of Archery Summit, Dobbes Family Estate, Domaine Drouhin, Firesteed, Ken Wright Cellars, Panther Creek, Sokol Blosser, et al on offer, well . . . you get the picture.

The evening (along a full day of trade events) will no doubt be further energized by the presence of Housewine Girls Michelle Bouffard and Michaela Morris, who've lassoed 24 wineries and some 75 wines to make this a worthy and eminently industrious return for the state; one that also hails the beaver as its mascot.

Oregon Takes Vancouver Sept. 6 at the Stanley Park Pavilion, 610 Pipeline Rd., 7-9.30 p.m. $99 + HST. Net proceeds will benefit the BC Hospitality Foundation.

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Belly's Best

- Tarapaca Gran Reserva 2010 (Maipo) Here's a drop that just further underscores the kind of value that Chile can deliver, especially if you look just a bit beyond the budget section. Look for vanilla and red berries with some earthy notes on top, followed by a complex, layered palate of black fruit, spicy notes and anise, with approachable tannins and well managed oak, that just keeps on going. Grilled anything. Deliciously affordable at BCLS $18.99; 90 points.

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