Wines of Worth: BC Sweet Wines

Seems pretty simple – sweets for your sweetie. But remember – just like all sweeties are not created equal, nor are all sweets. Or rather, sweet wines.  There are various styles, grapes, production methods, quality levels, price ranges and serving possibilities for sweeter wines. I’ve recommended some local sweet wines below, along with notes on the style – possible fodder for whispering sweet nothings in your sweetie’s ear.  “I’m so pleased you like this icewine – it was harvested when the grapes were at -8C….”

What – no other wine geeks out there?!

Chocolates are cliché. What about swapping the heart shaped box for something that will get your Valentine’s heart (and palate) racing? Specialty dessert wine bottles are by far much fancier than a standard table wine bottle. A little tissue, possibly a ribbon – ok, fine – you can even pair some of these with chocolate if you want. These make for an easy Valentine’s gift, and for a perfect menu pairing. Of course, a little of these wines goes a long way, so there will be lots to share – with you!



Late Harvest refers to wines made from grapes that were left on the vine past the end of regular harvest, and not picked until they are overly ripe. The longer the grapes stay on the vine, the greater opportunity for the raisinated fruit to build and swell with sugar. That is, of course, if the rains/frost/deer/birds/wasps don’t get to them first. The sugar-rich grapes naturally translate to a wine that is sweeter and higher in alcohol content.

Hester Creek Estate Winery
Late Harvest Pinot Blanc 2010
Oliver, Okanagan Valley
$18 for 200ml  13.5%

This light and bright wine shimmers in the glass, with crisp lemon, focused lime and apricot fuzz, with a touch of clay. Liquid Okanagan sunshine. 88 points.

Thornhaven Estates
Decadence 2011
Summerland, Okanagan Valley
*$17 for 375ml  12.5%

This late harvest Pinot Noir opens with mild strawberry jam and holiday cranberry. Nice light freshness, with a slightly bitter cocoa note on the finish. 87 points.

Clos du Soleil
Saturn 2011
Similkameen Valley
*29 for 375ml  14.5%

More expansive – blousier LH style, with deep peach, apricot and flower notes. Intense lime blossom and orange on the palate into a lingering savoury finish. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. 90 points.



If you can’t remember the term [bot-RYE-tis], call it by its kingly nickname, Noble Rot. This beneficial fungus develops on grapes under certain humid and warm conditions. When carefully cultivated, botrytis causes the grape to shrivel into moldy raisins (yum!), concentrating and intensifying both sugar and flavour. In addition, the acid levels remain high, which prevents the resulting wines from being cloyingly sweet. Wines often carry honeysuckle flavours, and a savoury/ pleasantly bitter component on the finish.

Quails’ Gate Winery
Optima 2011
Okanagan Valley
$30 for 375ml  11%

This stunning late harvest TBA (totally botrytis affected) wine is BC’s closest example to Sauternes. Flinty, ashen peach fuzz, rich ripe and dried apricot, marmalade and golden raisins. Very lengthy and satisfying –  a complex and savoury delight. 91 points.

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During fermentation from sugary grape juice into dry alcoholic wine, these wines were interrupted with the addition of spirit. The high alcohol spirit stops fermentation, leaving a whack of sugar in the wine, and resulting in a higher alcohol content. Port-style wines are made this way (*remember – true Port only comes from Portugal).

La Frenz
Liqueur Muscat NV
Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley
*$22 for 375ml  20%

Sold out at the winery, this very small production wine may still be available on select private store shelves and is worth seeking out. This special wine was made in a traditional solera system, dating back to the Muscat’s first vintage in 1999. Each vintage has a small percentage of the lineage preceding it. Layered notes of caramel, burnished orange, bruléed sugar, spice over citrus peel-pear pie. Very smooth and intense, with lifted citrus acid on the lingering finish. Lovely. 91 points.

Gray Monk Estate Winery
Odyssey III NV
Kelowna, Okanagan Valley
*$20 for 500ml   19%

This fortified 100% Merlot is round and ripe with soft plum, cocoa and kirsch notes. Fuller body, gently restrained sweetness and lightly dusty tannins ending with a spicy finish. Pass the chocolate! 87 points.



Have you ever squeezed marbles? Sounds crazy right? Welcome to icewine. This is the perilous struggle of Late Harvest wines x weeks more. This precious elixir is made from hand harvested grapes naturally frozen on the vine, and harvested – most likely – in the middle of a frigid Okanagan winter night. Only a few drops of highly concentrated juice come from each frozen bunch. The conditions required to produce icewine are harsh, regulated and strict: grapes must be frozen naturally on the vine at a minimum temperature of -8 degrees Celsius, for a minimum of 4 hours and at least 35 Brix sweetness.  The grapes must be picked and pressed immediately – usually in the vineyard (don’t forget it’s below freezing!).  We’re spoiled in BC with a climate suitable for annual icewine production.  For the majority of the globe, icewine is a rare delicacy.

Tinhorn Creek
Oldfield Series Kerner Icewine 2011
Okanagan Valley
$30 for 200ml  13.3%

*read about EAT participating in Tinhorn’s Jan. 2013 icewine harvest here

This is as light and fresh as an icewine can possibly be. Kerner shows off its aromatics here, with white flowers, honey and apricot on the nose, and ripe pear, dried mango and candied citrus sweetness on the palate. 89 points.

Stoneboat Vineyards
Verglas 2010
Oliver, Okanagan Valley
*$33 for 200ml   9.2%

Intensity without overpowering. The grapes for this icewine were totally botrytis affected, adding layers of complexity to an already highly evolved and intense wine. Silken sweet honey, orange and ripe apricot, balanced by pure lime zest acidity and complemented by a touch of savoury intrigue. Impressive length. 91 points.

Whistler chocolate_1Mission Hill Family Estate Winery
Reserve Vidal Icewine 2011
Okanagan Valley
$50 for 375ml  8%

Vidal is a winter hardy hybrid grape, more oft seen in Ontario than in BC. Here it is turned into honeyed, ripe tropical fruit – lush pear, pineapple and bright red grapefuit acidity. Rich and weighty and luxuriously sweet. 89 points.



These adventurous dessert wines demonstrate the will of BC winemakers to try new things. From honey to berries, cooking to freezing, the specialized wines below make a statement and a unique gift. They may be a bit harder to find, but the hunt will be rewarded.

Averill Creek Vineyard+
Cowichan Black 2010
Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
*$18 for 375ml  18%

Wild Vancouver Island blackberries are naturally fermented to 18% alcohol. Medium sweet, this wine is a nice lighter option for those with less devout sweet teeth. Blackberries and strawberries in abundance on the nose and palate: cotton candied. Dusty plum and grape candied flavours, with bright, lifted acid. 88 points.

Elephant Island Orchard Wines
Framboise 2011
Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley
*$20 for 375ml  16%

Rich, concentrated raspberry in a powerful, smooth elixir. Imagine the pure essence of summer warmed raspberries, macerated in pure sugar and doused with spirit. Remarkable. Dark chocolate fans take note. 89 points.

Unsworth Vineyards
Ovation 2010
Mill Bay, Vancouver Island
*$24 for 500ml  19%

This solera-style wine is a blend of Marechal Foch from 2008, 2009 and 2010, fortified with grape alcohol and aged in oak. The result is akin to boozy Christmas cake – with spiced plums, cassis and dried fruits. 87 points.

Sea Cider
Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island
*$25 for 375ml  16%

Inspired by the Roman Goddess of Apples, Pomona is a concentrated elixir handcrafted by freezing, then slowly fermenting crabapple juice at cool temperatures. Silken apples, citrus, toffee orange and caramel. Intense and very sweet. 90 points.

Brandenburg #3 2008
Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island
*$35 for 375ml  7.5%

A beautiful wine, interesting and complex. Venturi-Schulze has earned their cult-coveted reputation by going to extraordinary lengths to make idiosyncratic wines. After Madelaine Sylvaner grapes are crushed, the juice is simmered for several days, concentrating the flavours and the sugar, then cooled. Fermentation can last up to a year, until the yeast stops naturally, leaving a touch of residual sugar. The wine is aged in French oak and then is bottled with no preservatives and no sulphites. Off-dry and earthy with caramel, spice, roasted nuts and cassis. 90 points.

Tugwell Creek Meadery
Wassail Blush 2011
Sooke, Vancouver Island
*$27 for 375ml     14%

Estate loganberries and wildflower honey are aged in French oak and fortified for this sweet blushing mead. Soft berry, floral and citrus notes. Lifted acidity on the finish balances out the honeyed sweetness. 88 points.

Vista D’oro Farm & Winery
D’oro 2007
Fraser Valley
*$50 for 500ml   17%

This contemplative walnut wine follows a centuries old recipe from northern France for Vin de Noix, and uses walnuts harvested from the farm’s 100+ year old walnut trees. Marechal Foch, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Green Walnuts and Okanagan Brandy come together in this sultry, plush port-like wine. Deep raisins, dark chocolate cherries, earthy walnuts and dusty aged oak. 89 points.



DRINKing Guide:

*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. Price is suggested retail price. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores.


Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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