WINETRIPPING: A GUIDEBOOK TO BC'S BEST OKANAGAN & SIMILKAMEEN VALLEY WINERIES

 Looking down towards Osoyoos from the Golden Mile near Oliver

Looking down towards Osoyoos from the Golden Mile near Oliver

I've been a busy bee lately, just back from trips to England and Italy, which were respectively to be an associate judge at the IWSC on Canadian and American wines and study at the Vinitaly Italian Wine Ambassador program.

Now that I'm back in Vancouver, regular trips up to the Okanagan and Similkameen have recommenced. I've been continuing my grand tour of wineries, both new and old favourites, as I finish the research for my book Winetripping. Which is no hardship! The weather's beautiful {pool weather in April? yes, please}, and the desert flowers are in bloom in Osoyoos, a rare sight.

Winetripping is something I've been working on for over a year, and am so excited to see released this June. My goal in writing this winery guide comes down to my passion for the region, which I think is some of the most beautiful wine country in the world. I want you to come and visit! 

Certainly, the Okanagan is one of the friendliest wine regions you can explore, with sweeping valley views, glistening lakes, oh, and let's not forget the hundreds of unique wineries with tasting rooms and restaurants ready for your arrival!

Ultimately, there are more wineries than you can visit, so I've curated a list of places I love recommending to friends and family. I want you to have an awesome time on your trip up to Osoyoos, Oliver, Naramata, Kelowna, Vernon or Keremeos!

There's nothing like hitting up the tasting rooms on a sunny day, choosing your very favourite wines to bring home with you, then opening those bottles up months later to reminisce about your trip.

I've heard from wine lovers that there're so many wineries that it can be overwhelming choosing where to go, and planning which you'll include and which you'll skip. So, my guide is all about making it easy for you to find the exact kind of tasting room you love, whether that's somewhere with a log cabin and dogs wandering through the vines, or a modernist producer with fancy glassware and a view over the lake.

In addition to the 89 wineries listed, other handy sections will cover arranging a tour, getting to know the local grapes, wine tasting etiquette, and suggested itineraries based on your interests (love bold reds, want the hidden gems, or maybe you're into Riesling? I've got you covered).

I feel strongly about supporting our local wineries, who work day in and out to produce this incredible beverage we all adore. By visiting the wineries, dining at their restaurants, and buying wines on site, we consumers are not only having a great experience, we're ensuring that they're able to keep doing what they love while making a good living. Cheers to that!

Find out more here.

DRINKING COCKTAILS IN VANCOUVER'S GASTOWN

In the oldest quarter of the City of Glass, a cocktail revival is underway. Follow the rush along rainy brick streets to Gastown, where young men with serious moustache street cred and women channeling Dorothy Parker, are concocting some of the most exciting drinks in the Pacific Northwest, all within stumbling distance of each other.

Pourhouse

162 Water Street, Open Daily

Seat yourself at the long bar to get the full gold rush revival experience, and to see close up all the work that goes into handcrafting each unique drink, such as slapping mint leaves and selecting bitters. Bartenders are happy to custom mix based on your preferences. Order the Don’t Give Up The Ship, with trendy acquired taste Fernet Branca tempered with gin and curaçao, or go for a classic Sidecar. Mixologist Rhett Williams has recently been experimenting with shrubs, a vinegar-based fruit syrup that can be spiced up with liquor. Make sure to watch out for his weekly roster of shrubs featuring finds like watermelon, bourbon, and wine vinegar, or the appealing dark cherry, balsamic, and peaty scotch.

The Diamond

2nd Floor, 6 Powell Street, Open Tues-Sun

Head upstairs to the second floor, where you’re greeted by fantastic stag’s head crystal chandeliers and a view of Gastown’s main square from the many tall antique windows. There’s a small bar stacked to the gills with all kinds of potions and bottles that fills up fast. Try the New Orleans Sour, a concoction of bourbon, cognac, egg white, bitters, and absinthe, or a Penicillin, a blend of scotch, ginger, lemon, and honey. The cocktail menu is generously populated with vermouths, hard to find Creme de Violette and maraschino, and members of the bitter liqueur society such as Amaro and Cynar.

Clough Club

212 Abbott Street, Open Daily

With its red-lit chesterfield banquettes, worn pressed-tin walls, and glowing wall sconces, you’ll have no trouble imagining yourself in prohibition era New York. Order the popular Apiary, a bourbon and honey cocktail spiced with walnut bitters and topped with egg white foam. Cocktails here are dark-spirit heavy, so rye, bourbon and whisky enthusiasts take note. They’re experimenting with in-house barrel aging, if this appeals try their house Negroni (Beefeater gin, Campari, sweet vermouth). Live music wednesday to sunday.

DRINKING RAKI IN ISTANBUL

In the winding backstreets of Istanbul’s ancient Sultanahmet district, my husband and I once happened upon a tiny restaurant. Drawn by my nose, we peered in to see a smattering of candlelit tables, laughing families, and dozens of coloured lanterns hanging from gold chains in the ceiling. We had a lovely meal of home styled delights, grilled fish, roasted eggplant, and bean puree, with honeyed baklava to finish.

What remains vivid is the end of the meal. The owner, who smiled broadly as he brought our bill, first set down two narrow glasses one-third full of a clear liquid and a carafe of icy water for us. “Raki”, he said, “enjoy, it is very good for you. We call it the lion’s milk”.

I took a salubrious sip, and a pungent yet precise anise roar filled my mouth. Glancing up, my husband had that look, of not wanting any more than the first swallow. The owner, witnessing our hesitation, took the carafe of water and poured a small amount into each of our glasses. Miraculously, magically, the Raki changed before our eyes into an opaque milky white.

Further travel through Turkey allowed us to become healthily familiar with the small glasses of powerful spirit. Generous proprietors would often carry out a bottle for their customers at the end of a meal, or set out a complimentary glass with mezes.

Like its licorice flavoured cousins Absinthe, Ouzo and Pastis, Raki will louche when water is added. This alchemy happens when its aromatic oils, previously happy in their alcohol solution, react to the shock of cold water by forming tiny droplets.

A potent grape spirit infused with aniseed that can be somewhat hard to find, look for two popular brands Yeni Raki or Tekirdag Raki.

Remember to sip slowly, toast your companion’s health, and enjoy the magical louching effect.

HOW TO GET THE BEST DRINKS IN VEGAS

First a cacophony of countless dings, rings, chimes, and cheers hit my ears, then the lights flashing and beckoning from a thousand slot machines. The smell of high end air freshener, like sweet suntan lotion, mingles with cigarette smoke and a man’s cologne as he brushes past. Down the carpeted pathway, my eyes catch the sign, “High Limit Slots” and beyond, a row of green felted tables. I’m on the Vegas Strip, and about to order what’s known as the world’s most expensive free drink.

Whether they are served as an old-fashioned perk, or to encourage desultory decision making at the gaming table, is a matter of opinion, but the free Las Vegas cocktail is both myth and reality. Served only to those with money on the line, the drinks may be free, but the gambling is not. I’m here to test the waters at some of Vegas’ most famous casinos to see how high I can aim, and perhaps learn some unspoken rules along the way.

“A Macallan 18 Year, neat please”, I request solicitously. I make what I hope is confident eye contact. Why not start by aiming for the stars? The Wynn cocktail waitress, tray balanced neatly on her hip, looks up at me with an arched brow. Her next glance is at my slot machine balance. Seeing my bet set at $7.50 a pop, she replies, “I can get you the Mac 12”. I nod, and she’s off, passing under the handpainted Fortuny lanterns. Judiciously, I decide to slow down the gambling to await her return. My one ounce pour is presented without fuss in a pleasantly hefty glass, all smooth spice and toasty vanilla. Whisky’s getting poured in Vegas, but if you’re looking for single malt you need to be betting high.

Next I head South along the Strip to the cavernous new Linq, home of Guy Fieri’s latest restaurant and the behemoth High Roller observatory wheel. My order is taken by an iPad wielding assistant server. Do they have Grey Goose? “No, we’ve got Stoli though. Do you want blueberry, vanilla, orange?” There’s a long list, itemized, that she scrolls through to display. I try to tip her but she refuses the money, a first in Vegas. My blueberry Stoli and soda arrives no more than three minutes later carried by a different server. I’ve barely had time to gamble. What this casino lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for in celerity.

Strolling into the hushed grey tones of the Aria, a newer five star hotel in the CityCenter development, I find one seat left at a $15 blackjack table. Almost immediately, a waitress wearing a bedazzled yet comely black microdress appears. I order a Kir Royale, wait for her confirmation, then turn to keep playing, the debonair dealer having halted for me. Several hands down, and my drink floats into view, gracefully placed onto a monogrammed napkin, like a supermodel disembarking a private jet. The lemon twist dangles precipitously from the rim just so, above a crimson float of cassis. The glass is crisply chilled, and the smell of freshly cut zest fills the glass as I take my first sip. This impressive exhibit is drawing covetous looks from the other players. The two women next to me both order one. I glance at my chips, the pile much smaller now.

Rumor has it that the Mirage’s famous volcano pipes out a pina colada scent when the eruption goes off. It’s just past 10 o’clock, and the showstopping 100 foot flame has fired. Inspired, I head through the thatch-leaved casino entrance to test out the tiki cocktail factor, asking the briskly efficient waitress, “Can you do a daiquiri or a pina colada?” Whipsmart, she immediately suggests, “Try a Miami Vice, they’re half and half”. A few minutes later, the frosty concoction arrives, smelling of sugary synthetic pineapple and coconut, a ribbon of strawberry slush tracing a dna-like helix through the glass.

Inside my last stop, the venerable Caesars, I request a bourbon and coke. Pappy van Winkle, if you please. The waitress looks over at the pit boss, standing beside our table, and he neatly shakes his head, no way. “How about Knob Creek?” I try again, and it seems this time I’m a winner. The dealer laughs, “Going for the good stuff, girl”. He draws an ace for me, patting the table for luck. Blackjack.

Tips for ordering free drinks on the Vegas Strip:

Dress For Success: or if not success, then at least to stand out. You’ll have better luck ordering the good stuff if you look the part, and it’s easier for your waitress to spot you if you’re moving between slot machines if you look distinctive (if not distinguished).

Tip, To Improve Service: While the going rate is $1 to $2 per drink, tipping your server a $5 or more on the first drink is highly likely to increase how often she visits to take new orders.

You Get What You Pay For – ie: better casinos = better drinks: The classiest casinos, Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio, Cosmo, Aria, generally have top shelf on hand for their good customers and are more likely to put together fussy cocktails like a chocolate martini or peach puree Bellini for you. The same holds true for high rollers, the more you’re betting, the higher your selection.

Plan Ahead: Fight overwhelm and panic ordering, by having an idea of what you’d like to drink. It’s much easier to ask your waitress whether she has Single Barrel Jack Daniels, than to have her list every bourbon available.

Aim for the Stars: there’s no harm in asking for the good stuff, you may be lucky enough to get it. It’s Vegas, after all.