Earlier this month my father and I went on a three-day tour of vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Years ago it was maligned for its jug wine output, but with advancements in global warming and improved winemaking techniques, it’s starting to turn heads.
My father played the role of
begrudging gracious designated driver and photographer during our trip, while I did all the talking and tasting. On a few occasions I think the vineyard staff thought he was some sort of security detail.
Anyway, the first place I visited was La Stella Winery in Osoyoos, a vineyard whose wines are not exactly the easiest to acquire if you do all your shopping in government liquor stores. Their distribution is mainly limited to VQA shops and restaurants.
So, La Stella. A Canadian winery making Italian-style wines from French/international grapes. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because what they’re making is actually very good – and the prices reflect that fact.
From the outside, La Stella was more impressive (and, ahem, commercial in appearance) than I had expected:
Built in what looks like some sort of Italian-villa-meets-missionary-revival style of architecture, the winery actually matches the arid Osoyoos desert climate quite well. But let’s not be mistaken: this is not a part of the world where there was any Italian or Spanish influence on culture or architecture.
But none of this seems to matter in the New World of wine production, where history is manufactured and vineyards can make wine in any style they want. In this case, La Stella is a winery with an Italian bent. And not just any Italian bent, but one of a Tuscan variety – a *super* Tuscan variety. Which means you’ll find wines made mainly of merlot and cabernet sauvignon when you were probably hoping for sangiovese, nebbiolo or barbera. Oh well.
Now that we’re here, let’s look at a few more photos. Like all wineries claiming to be prestigious, La Stella has the obligatory stack of expensive oak barrels in its driveway:
Meanwhile, the tasting room was, unsurprisingly, a carbon-copy of what you might find in Napa Valley or Sonoma County:
Sadly, the prices on the chalkboard seemed to be out of Napa or Sonoma as well:
That’s right, their bottles start at $21 and crank up to $100 for the top offering. It would have been nice to see a mix of whites and reds in the $20-$30 range, but instead their reds start at $35 and soar in price from there. But this is the New World, after all, and they have oak barrels, new vineyards and flashy tasting rooms to pay off…
But hey, their vineyard is beautiful and lies in a prime location overlooking the west shore of Lake Osoyoos:
Now, to the wine. Well, despite my snarky comments so far, it was enjoyable.
The best value of their bunch in my opinion is their Fortissimo Selezione di Famiglia 2010, which sells for $35. A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and just a splash (8% of the blend) of sangiovese (at last, an Italian grape!), there is a lot going on in this bottle.
And it’s a good bottle, too. Aged in Slavonian and French oak, it has a distinctly Italian feel to it. It has a freshness, some firm tannins and the kind of acidity you would expect from a wine made in this style. It was genuinely enjoyable to drink, although I still bristle at its price.
It could be difficult to sell to the average wine consumer at this price, but genuine wine fans who want an Italian-style wine made in Canada with French grapes might think it’s worth the cash.