Okanagan Wine School Lesson #1: Alcohol
Plus two valley wines that value freshness over power.
Okay, let’s start with an oversimplified version of the science behind wine. The riper a grape is, the more natural sugars it contains, and those sugars create more alcohol during fermentation. Hot climates—think South Australia—can make very ripe grapes and very alcoholic wines, while cool ones—think Champagne—less so. The Okanagan was traditionally thought of as a cool climate region and, as a result, its early winemakers pursued maximum ripeness with a rookie’s zeal. But at this stage in the Okanagan’s evolution, there’s a growing cadre of vintners who are embracing the worldwide trend away from big wines in favour of lower-alcohol wines that value freshness over power. Some of the pioneers here include Ezra Cipes at Summerhill, who’s been crafting sub-12-percent riesling for years, and Matt Dumayne at Okanagan Crush Pad, whose 12-percent gamay noir sets the standard for reds. Why should you care? Because cutting through the richness of a turkey breast with mashed potatoes and gravy is the purview of a low-alcohol scalpel, not a high-alcohol sledgehammer.