During last year's trade tasting put on by Wines of BC, I had my mind blown. Our friend and frequent columnist Kurtis Kolt was conducting a seminar on interesting grapes, the sort of geeky stuff that never sells in huge numbers, but gets a disproportionate love from wine nerds. And there it was—an Okanagan Nebbiolo, something that I would have bet (probably a bottle of Italian Nebbiolo) didn't exist before it was set down in front of me. And it got weirder. Not only was it made in the Okanagan, it was made by Blasted Church, the beloved creator of quirky labels and the legendary Hatfield's Fuse, an oddball white blend that did a lot of heavy lifting in convincing my Alberta relatives that BC wine could be both affordable and fun.
It was good, too—quite a bit more fruit forward than a classic Barolo, but a pretty impressive effort for a grape that's near impossible to grow well outside of its native Piedmont. I was impressed, but I assumed it was an ultra-low production effort, an oenological gimmick. But when I went home and looked them up, I was blown away by the changes that had taken place while my attention had been elsewhere. Not only did they make Nebbiolo, but they were making a Petit Verdot, a Trebbiano and even a Teroldego-Lagrein, which (with sincere apologies to our friends at Moon Curser, the reigning mad geniuses of the Okanagan) has got to be the single kookiest wine being made in Canada.
To be fair many of these rarities sell out very quickly, so I figured the real test would be where the wine in the main portfolio was sitting. So I secured a bottle of their Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon to take it for a spin. Even before I cracked the cap (no corks at Blasted Church) I was impressed—and not only that they added Semillon to the mix, they way they do in Bordeaux.
For starters, its addition usually comes at the expense of the super-easy drinking style most consumer expect from Sauvignon Blanc (thanks to our Kiwi friends)—but this wine has far more complexity and body, with an ability to age very gracefully. Even more interesting? The percentage of Semillon (34%) is pretty high for a style that's rare in these parts. In the glass, the nose had some of the telltale Sauvignon Blanc notes—lots of citrus—but definitely underplayed the tropical fruit that gushes from, say, Kim Crawford. In its place there was an almost smoky savoury quality that was maddeningly hard to pin down—some desert sage, maybe some beeswax. There was a real depth of complexity here, nearing the peaks of Mission Hill's wonderful, but pricey and hard to find, Jagged Rock Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon.
So it was a roaring success and a great reminder to not judge books by their covers, no matter how quirky they are. Winemaker Even Saunders has really brought an interesting swagger to this brand. The wine is sold out at the winery—amazing given its uniqueness—but still available at private wine stores and well worth seeking out.