If you’re a lover of wine, you’ll hear it all the time. Pairs well with poultry. Compliments a cheese board. A great after-dinner pour.
But if you’re not instructed, how do you know what makes a good wine and food pairing? Whether you’re a newbie or long-time wine advocate, we’re here to help. We’ve put together an Okanagan guide to wine and food pairing, that’s sure to impress at any dinner party.
Before we dive into wine pairings, let’s quickly touch on what makes the Okanagan such a great wine producing region. We know you’ve got options, so here’s why you should choose Okanagan wines for your pairing.
Why Choose Okanagan Wines?
The Okanagan valley stretches over 250 kilometers, spanning from hot semi-deserts to cooler lakefronts. It offers a variety of subregions that have their own distinct soil and climates, which gives rise to a large variety of wines. Whether you’re a fan of bold reds or refreshing whites, there’s something for every palette. In fact, 86% of BC’s vineyards are concentrated in the Okanagan Valley.
You can absolutely find great Canadian wines in a liquor store, and now even in some grocery stores. But what you’re missing is the experience. In the Okanagan Valley there are over 200 vineyards, all with their own unique offering. Whether you’re a resident or visitor, you’ll have direct access to expert wine makers and connoisseurs.
While we’re happy to put together this guide to help guide you in your self-study, we’re always here to help in person. Okanagan winemakers take pride and joy in their industry, and can help you find your new favourites. When you find wines you love and build a connection with the vineyard and winemaking process, you can’t help but share them with your loved ones.
We love shopping locally and supporting our community, but it feels good to know that Okanagan wines stack up internationally. Wines from BC confidently compete alongside wines from all over the world, and consistently take home the trophy. Take a look at the Wines of British Columbia international competitions list for some of our latest wins.
Farm to Table
The soil in the Okanagan produces outstanding wines, along with amazing produce. Putting together a pairing that features fruits, vegetables and wines grown in the same region creates something truly special. Experiencing the orchards and vineyards first-hand, and taking part of their magic home, makes for a culinary experience like no other.
What to Look For When Pairing Wine and Food.
Wine and food pairing comes down to chemistry and manipulating flavours. Some wine pairings bring balance with similar, congruent flavours. Others enhance by using flavours that are not similar, but complementary.
This can get complicated. If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out Wine Folly’s Food and Wine Pairing Basics. To keep it simple, here are some good rules to follow:
- Choose a wine that’s more acidic than your food.
- Choose a wine that’s sweeter than your food.
- Match the boldness of the food to the wine
, they should be of equal intensity.
- Pair bitter wines with fats.
- For meat-based meals, pair red meats (steak, roasts, and burgers, etc.) with red wine. White wines pair best with lighter meats, such as poultry, fish and shellfish.
- If your dish includes a sauce, match the wine with the sauce. You can even add your wine to the sauce when cooking to enhance the flavour and bring it all together.
While there are many different notes and flavours to consider, wines can typically be broken down into the following components:
- Red wines are more bitter; when looking at a wine label, high tannins typically correspond with high bitterness.
- White, rosé and sparkling wines are more acidic; wines with high acidity are typically crisper and more tart, while wines with low acidity are smoother on the palette.
- Sweet wines (reds and whites) have more sweetness; the sweetest of these are port, sherry, and ice wine.
Common Okanagan Wines and Their Best Food Matches.
With more than 60 grape varieties grown in the Okanagan, there’s not enough time to go into each one (we’ve got wine to make!). However, we’d love to introduce you to some of the most popular wines in the Okanagan and how to best pair them.
- Pinot Noir
- Gamay Noir
- Pinot Gris
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Ice Wine
1. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is typically a light-to-medium bodied red wine with low tannins and high acidity. Known for its earthy undertones, pinot’s pair well with many foods including salmon and fatty fish, roasted chicken, pasta, and beef stews.
2. Gamay Noir
Using the same vinification techniques as Pinot Noir, Gamay wines are making a comeback. The result is a variation called Gamay Noir, which Heaven’s Gate is well known for.
If you’re looking for a flexible alternative to Pinot Noir, our Gamay pairs with just about anything. It presents a sweet vanilla bouquet and is best served slightly chilled. It offers wild blackberry and dried cranberry flavours, with layers of smoked earth and freshly roasted coffee beans. For a match made in heaven, our Gamay pairs wonderfully with barbecued pork, salmon and tuna.
Chardonnay’s are rich, white wines that are of the most popular and easiest to grow vines in the world. Chardonnay pairs well with buttery or grilled seafood, chicken, and cheesy comfort foods like grilled cheese and mac and cheese.
Chardonnay’s take on the characteristics of the soil that they’re grown in, making the Okanagan’s chardonnays unique to our region. Some years ago, Mission Hill Family Estate’s chardonnay even took home the trophy for “Best Chardonnay Worldwide”.
4. Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris is a light, dry white that’s typically sweet or semi-sweet. It pairs well with roasted chicken, vegetables, fish and other light meals. Poke bowls, a popular Hawaiian raw-fish dish, make an excellent pairing for Pinot Gris.
Riesling white wines are some of the most sought after wines for collectors around the world. They are typically bright and acidic, with orchard aromas of peach, pear, apple, and tangy citrus. Their high acidity makes them a great pairing for asian food, chicken, duck, salmon and tuna. Our favourite pairing? A Mexican fiesta, with lots of cilantro and lime.
One of the sweeter white wines, Gewürztraminer’s are knownfor their fragrant floral aromas. They’re often medium to low acidity, and pair beautifully with duck, chicken, roasted vegetables, ham and artichokes.
With lychee and grapefruit notes, we recommend foods with a bit of heat and sweetness. We love our 2020 Gewürztraminer with Indian food, particularly mango chicken or biriyani.
Merlots are full-body reds known for their rich, bold flavours. It’s one of the world’s most popular wines and is very food-friendly. Merlot wines can vary greatly in flavour, from plum to oak. The key to a perfect pairing is to match the wine’s heaviness and intensity with the dish.
One of our favourite pairings is our bold 2017 Merlot, with a juicy steak and garlic mushrooms in a red wine sauce. Aging this wine will deepen its flavours, so you can choose how bold you want to go.
8. Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon has been crowned North America’s favourite red wine varietal. These wines can vary greatly, but are typically full-bodied with dark fruit and savory flavours like black pepper.
While the Napa Valley in California is one of the most well-known Cab Sav producing regions, the Okanagan is often called the ‘Napa of the North”. We produce many notable Canadian options. If you’re looking for a great pairing, we recommend the Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon with a braised lamb shank.
9. Sauvignon Blanc
As a popular North American white wine, Sauvignon blanc is known for its refreshing crispness and grassy-like flavour. This pairs beautifully with goat cheese, green salads, vegetables, shellfish, and chicken.
In the Heaven’s Gate 2019 Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon come together to create a bright and refreshing blend. With notes of citrus, gooseberry, and melon, this refreshing blend pairs well with a crisp, healthy salad.
Syrah’s are of the heartiest, fullest red wines in the world, often found with notes of blackberry, pepper and spice. As a general rule, these pair well with grilled meats, vegetables and wild game.
If you’re looking for a juicy alternative, the Heaven’s Gate Maréchal Foch delivers
fruity notes of wild blueberries and an earthy organic finish. Having your neighbours over for a barbeque? We recommend grilled chicken, a roasted beetroot and broccoli salad, and chocolate mousse for dessert.
Malbec wines are known for their dark fruit and floral notes, often including violet, black currant, plum and blackberry. Typically ‘juicy and jammy’ reds, they’re rounded out with notes of vanilla, tobacco, pepper and dark chocolate.
Viognier is a full-bodied white wine, known for its aromas of spring blossom and jasmine. With the rich flavours of apricot and peach, it pairs beautifully with cheeses (hard or soft), creamy sauces, salads, pork and veal.
Viognier is a great match for a meat and cheese charcuterie board, as well as mild spicy noodle dishes like Pad Thai.
Warm Okanagan summers and rosé wines make a beautiful pairing, with or without food. Ideal for sipping on a patio on a hot, sunny day, or blending into a morning mimosa, this light pink variety is incredibly versatile. Common food pairings include chicken, spinach, mint, feta and soft cheeses.
The Heaven’s Gate 2020 Sparkling Gamay is our first rosé made entirely out of Gamay Noir grapes. It features fruit forward notes of Strawberry and Peach surrounded by light soft bubbles. Perfect for picnics, we recommend pairing it with pesto chicken paninis in an Okanagan orchard.
14. Ice Wine
Ice Wine is a dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. Known for its incredible sweetness, these wines are delicious over ice cream, or paired with fruit-driven desserts, dark chocolate, cheesecake or soft cheeses.
The Okanagan is known for producing wonderful ice wines. Typically more expensive due to their difficulty in processing, these are great wines to try at a tasting before purchasing. For a beautifully balanced sweetness, we recommend the Beaumont Family Estate Pinot Noir Icewine, paired with a fruit and chocolate platter.
Perfect Okanagan Pairings
There are so many Okanagan wines worth mentioning, each with their own unique flavours and aromas. Regardless of what you find in your glass, when it comes to food and wine pairings, it’s all about getting creative. We encourage you to have fun with it and try something new. If you get stuck, we’re always here to help.