If there’s one thing my friend Tania and I can agree on, it’s the necessity of occasionally immersing ourselves in the pleasures of the Okanagan wine country. That’s exactly what the two of us did to celebrate Tania’s 50th Birthday. Nature and wine: there’s no better combination. Plus, Okanagan wine tasting pairs really well with a friend like Tania.
Have a girlfriend you’ve been dying to spend some quality time with? I’d highly recommend an Okanagan wine tour. Read on to get a few ideas for putting your dream itinerary together.
All in all, Tania and I spent four days exploring fabulous wineries and eating next-level food. We definitely did more than our fair share of Okanagan wine tasting and food testing—or is it wine testing and food tasting? Either way we indulged ourselves deliciously. Read on for the highlights!
Our Okanagan wine tasting adventures began in Oliver, BC, at Terrafina Restaurant at Hester Creek. It was a Tuesday evening and we were lucky enough to get a patio table. I had a Cabernet Franc and Tania enjoyed a Rosé. We indulged in the Heirloom Tomato Salad and Caesar Salad to start, then shared the House Smoked Salmon Pizza. Its crispy capers were such a delicious surprise. The staff was friendly, attentive, and funny.
Francesco, Terrafina Restaurant at Hester Creek
No Okanagan wine tour is quite as convenient and fun without a good driver. (I mean, really, who wants to worry about driving when you’re on a tasting-and-testing tear.) Prior to our trip, when I searched for a driver, I was looking for someone who could give Tania and I a private tour that catered to our specific tastes. Devon at Vineyard Versed checked all of the boxes. She is a great driver and she knows her stuff: the region, the grapes, the wineries, and their histories!
Pool-side Okanagan wine tasting? Yes please! At Black Hills Winery, we enjoyed Whites, Rosés, and Reds. We savoured everything around us…a pool in front of us and grape vines growing around us. I could smell the heat of the day as we tasted for about 1.5 hours, taking our time and enjoying the cabana experience.
I have long been a huge Nota Bene fan, but on this Okanagan wine tour, the Tempranillo and I began a full-on love affair. Since then, I have used the Tempranillo in my latest Sangria—exquisite! I belong to the Black Hills wine club and have cellared quite a few years of the Nota Bene. This will be great if I ever decide to do a vertical tasting. (I do need to pay attention to the “best time to drink” of each year though as I wouldn’t want any of the wines to go to waste.)
We headed to Okanagan Falls to test—I mean taste—some more of what the abundant Okanagan wine country has to offer. The first thing you notice when you walk into the Noble Ridge tasting room is the expansive view. It overlooks the grassy picnic area, vines, and in the distance you see Vaseux Lake. This is Okanagan wine country at its most spectacular.
Our wine tasting started with some bubbles. Then, when we tasted the King’s Ransom Chardonnay it blasted my belief that I didn’t like Chardonnay, more specifically oaked Chardonnay. The oaked Chardonnay has a richer buttery vanilla flavour whereas an unoaked Chardonnay lacks depth and is fresher and more fruity. The King’s Ransom Chardonnay is a must try! And, despite my former prejudice, the oak barrel makes all the difference.
The only downfall of Noble Ridge is that you stand for tastings. I would prefer to sit and take all the elements in. However, I believe they do offer this for larger groups.
Tania and I at Noble Ridge
At Liquidity Winery, where we lunched, we were greeted by the National Geographic Photo Ark by Joel Sartore. The exhibit is an ambitious project committed to documenting every species in captivity—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations. It’s a great initiative.
Matt Martin, the chef at Liquidity Bistro, is 21 years old and has great vision. When he emerged from the kitchen to say hello, I asked him what his favourite thing to make was and he said, “Ice cream.” He likes creating the perfect texture. I will say his pulled beef sandwich creation was perfect in its own right. Matt is off to San Francisco in the off season to work with some Michelin chefs in San Francisco. I’m certain he’ll return with even richer culinary gifts.
Carrot, Beet and Flax Crackers with cream and fennel
Pulled beef sandwich with grilled tomatoes, blue cheese, salsa verde, horseradish, squash and roasted cucumber on a Ciabatta bun.
The Bistro started their own garden this season as they believe people want to know the story behind their food. They’re right: I am one of those people!
Painted Rock Winery is modern, simple, and definitely visually appealing to me.
Even though this was the last stop on our wine tasting adventures for the day, we sat and really enjoyed our tasting. (You already know how I feel about sitting down to do a tasting.)
While I was there, I purchased a few bottles of the Red Icon, a 2018 gold medal winner at the National Wine Awards of Canada. It’s a winner to me; aged in new french oak, its dark fruits and sweet spices are delectable.
Me getting some wine tips at Painted Rock
During our time in Okanagan wine country, Tania and I stayed in the brand-spanking-new Coast Hotel. My take aways: the pool wasn’t open yet; the hotel was very clean; it was worth spending a little extra and having a full fridge, a cooktop, sink, and microwave in our room.
The downfall was the breakfast selection. I have a hard time with so many sugary options. I think it would be great if there was plain yogurt and real fresh fruit salad to sweeten it naturally. More whole grain options and fewer muffins and danishes, please. Whole grain waffles would be a great addition!
On Day 3 of our Okanagan wine tasting adventure, we drove to the west side of Kelowna where we had lunch with my mother-in-law, Val, at Quails’ Gate Winery’s Old Vines Restaurant. We had a patio seat right on the vineyard and the view just beyond the vines was Okanagan Lake. Jaw-dropping.
This spot had it all. The quality of food, the scenery, the company. Plus, the staff was A+. (I could have done without the young boy running around but hey, perfect doesn’t exist.) Lunch was delicious, especially since we paired it with wine flights. I would have liked to do a wine tasting here but it was a very busy place! A thought for next visit may be to reserve a patio table that overlooks the vineyard and Okanagan Lake for a proper tasting.
A favourite wine of mine (yes, I do have quite a few) is the Old Vine Foch, so this stop was essential. Interestingly, I am finding that the quality of wines you can buy at the vineyard are of a higher quality than you will find at the liquor/wine stores. The liquor store stocks mainstream, with a section for higher quality wines. And here I purchased a few bottles of an Old Vine Foch, Reserve.
This must-see winery—the last of our Okanagan wine tour—is located right in downtown Kelowna. The vibe inside the tasting room was friendly and fun.
Tania and I had tried Sandhill One at Cardero’s in Vancouver last summer and we both gave it a thumbs up. It’s called Sandhill One because it is the first Bordeaux blend made by Sandhill. It’s a full bodied wine blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Can’t you just taste the juicy black fruits, plums and currants?
I joined the wine club at Sandhill during this visit because I want more of what they have. I enjoy a few of their wines and the wine club enjoys some selections that aren’t available to the public—in particular the sumptuous Petit Verdot.
A few miscellaneous thoughts for Okanagan wine tour planners and tasting-testing enthusiasts:
Reserving a private tasting could be worthwhile! When planning out your Okanagan wine country adventure, check and see if there is a private tasting experience you (or your driver) can book, especially at a winery that can accomodate groups. As I have mentioned, I prefer to have a seated tasting as it feels less rushed and I like to enjoy all the elements around me.
Wine Club offerings—why not see if it’s worth it for you to join? Questions to consider are…
Does it cost anything? Can I cancel anytime? Can I decide which wines I get? If, for example, I am a red wine drinker, can I get only reds?
My Napa Valley culinary tour may be of interest to you. Have a read here.