Knowing these B.C. wine regulations makes shopping for local wine easy


In the end, you will be a better shopper, likely saving money and buying better wine.

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Today, we look at some key B.C. wine regulations to help you better shop for local wine in retail stores.

The British Columbia Wine Authority, or BCWA, is the designated body in British Columbia that manages and enforces the system of wine standards established under the province’s “Wines of Marked Quality Regulation.”

B.C. has two main categories of wine: the original B.C. VQA wine category and a lesser “B.C. Wine of Distinction” category. It’s the VQA wines you should get to know.

A VQA wine meets all B.C. Wine of Distinction requirements, including passing a blind taste test by an independent panel of tasters looking for flaws or anything not normally associated with a grape’s known attributes or the wine’s style. Many have argued, including this writer, that the wines could be analyzed by machine for faults and safety, leaving the ultimate taste test to consumers, but that is a story for another time.

The main take-away is the ‘Wines of Marked Quality Regulation’ are wines processed entirely from a full or partial fermentation of fresh grapes, grape juice, or grape must, derived from grapes grown in British Columbia. The wine must be entirely fermented and blended, and all treatments required to prepare the wine for bottling must be entirely completed in British Columbia. In short, the origin of VQA wine is guaranteed to be 100 per cent B.C. grown and made. To date, over 200 wineries currently participate in the B.C. VQA program, representing approximately 80 per cent of all licensed grape wineries in the province and just over 95 per cent of all wine produced in B.C.


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Wines that meet VQA standards can display “B.C. VQA” on the label. The label must also contain a recognized geographical indication (GI) or sub-GI where 95 per cent of the grapes are grown. There are currently 10 GIs and five sub-GIs, namely British Columbia, Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands, Lillooet, Kootenays, Okanagan Valley, Shuswap, Similkameen Valley, Thompson Valley, and Vancouver Island. Okanagan Valley sub GIs include Naramata Bench, Skaha Bench, Golden Mile Bench and Okanagan Falls. On Vancouver Island, the Cowichan Valley is the lone sub-GI.

VQA labels must clearly state the name of the grape or grapes in the wine or a proprietary name associated with the producer. If a B.C. VQA wine has more than one grape variety listed on the label, the varietal names must be listed on the label in descending order of quantity.

A single grape varietal, e.g. Merlot, must contain 85 per cent of the named grape in the bottle. If the wine consists of two varieties, that number jumps to 90 per cent of total wine, and 15 per cent must be the second grape. If three grapes are involved, 95 per cent of total wine must derive from the three grapes — 15 per cent from the second variety and 10 per cent from grape number three.

Wine may be described as “Meritage” only if the wine is composed of a blend of two or more of the following grape varieties and one of those varieties does not make up more than 90 per cent of the wine. For red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenere. For white wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Sauvignon Vert.


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The vintage date or year of harvest must appear on B.C. VQA wine labels, except for sparkling wine, fortified wine, liqueur wine and wine bearing a private label, and at least 85 per cent of the grapes used to produce the wine must have been grown in the declared vintage year.

Finally, suppose there is a vineyard name on a VQA label. In that case, the fruit must be processed by the registered certificate holder (winery), and it must all be grown in the named vineyard that must reside inside a registered B.C. GI other than the broad British Columbia moniker.

The great thing about learning a few of the key rules is you can apply a lot of the same knowledge to other parts of the wine world, with minor changes, thus expanding your wine knowledge. In the end, you will be a better shopper, likely saving money and buying better wine.

Weekend wine picks

Fern Walk Pinot Gris 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$16.99 I 87/100

UPC: 776545500908

Northern Italy meets New Zealand in the south Okanagan. The style is fresh and lean with intense green melon, grapefruit, and a twist of lime. Food friendly, it and would be a solid match for mussels or clams or any creamy pasta dish — excellent value for fans of this genre and VQA B.C. wine.

Bartier Bros. Illegal Curve 2018, Oliver, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$21.99 I 88/100

UPC: 628055147596

Winemaker Michael Bartier is a big hockey fan, and this Merlot with a dash of Cabernet Franc aged nine short months in oak comes off like his favourite hockey team: solid, if not quite Stanley Cup worthy. Spicy, smoky, savoury, fresh red fruit sloshes around on your palate in a youthful, rambunctious way, calling for more time in the bottle or some grilled beef — private wine shops, grocery, winery direct.


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Moon Curser Border Vines 2018, Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$25.99 I 88/100

UPC: 00626990114673

Border vines is a Cabernet forward blend of 69/15/10/3/3/ Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carménère, Cabernet Franc. At a hefty 14.8 per cent alcohol, you feel the Cabernet Sauvignon tannins and the power of the Petit Verdot. It is a bit of a bruiser at this point and will need time to settle down in the bottle. Rich and potent black fruits reminiscent of Bing cherries, black currants, and blueberries with dark chocolate, spice, and savoury dried herbs. Youthful and rambunctious but has fine potential. I suggest five years in the bottle or serve with a slab of rare beef.

Tantalus Pinot Noir 2018, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$29.99 I 89/100

UPC: 626990067399

The Tantalus flagship Pinot is made from multiple clones and all grown on the East Kelowna estate, within select blocks. The fruit is hand-picked, vinified in small lots, and all of it is fermented wild by block, respecting its origin. Post-ferment, it is aged in 25 per cent new oak barriques, for 11 months. The best barrels are blended into neutral barrels and left on their fine lees for another 15 months. It is a brooding bear at this point, with rich notes of black plums and black cherry and somewhat boisterous, dense tannins, albeit sweet, suggesting it needs a minimum of five years in bottle before it begins to reveal its final story.


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Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2017, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

$37.99 I 90/100

UPC: 626990396963

Poplar Grove is beginning to hit its stride with this Cabernet Franc. It’s the little tweaks but important ones along the way as it goes from a soupy savoury mid-palate to a more structured wine with dense sweet tannins toning down some of its hedonistic flare. The result is just enough structure to allow multiple layers of flavours featuring black plums and cold tea with a mocha wisp upping its complexity quotient. It spends 21 months in about one-third of new French oak and gets another full year in bottle to rest at the winery. You can drink this now, but more time will only benefit the final picture.

Recipe match: AAA Butler Steak

Created by Alan Ferrer, the executive chef at Minami Restaurant, this recipe celebrates a quality cut of beef with few simple spices and a special sauce. Prepare to want to add this dish to your regular monthly meal rotation.

2 x 4 oz (114 g) flat iron/butler steak (alternative cuts are flank or skirt steak)

Steak dry rub

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) smoked paprika

1 tbsp (15 mL) Montreal steak spice

Garlic sesame ponzu sauce

2 tbsp (30 mL) Japanese white sesame seeds

1 tsp (5 mL) minced garlic

1/4 cup (60 mL) ponzu sauce

1 tsp (5 mL) sesame oil

3 tbsp (45 mL) sweet soy sauce

Pat the flat iron/butler steaks dry with paper towel on a plate or your cutting board. Use all the spice rub mix and generously season all sides of the flat iron/butler steaks. Set aside at on a plate and cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, best is an hour. Room temperature is fine to do so.


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Once done, heat up a grill pan or a cast iron pan if you don’t have one. Use some non-stick oil spray or a tbsp of preferred oil. Then sear both sides of the steaks to achieve grill marks or a nice golden brown crust. It’ll take about 1 1/2 mins per side. Set aside to let it rest — this is a must when grilling, pan frying/searing/roasting any type of meat to retain its juices and flavour.

To finish, slice the steak against the grain. It is important to slice it thin to achieve the best texture. Plate as desired (perhaps with vegetables and potatoes as a side) and spoon the Garlic Sesame Ponzu Sauce on top. Enjoy!

Recipe Match

Steak and Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those matches you don’t want to mess with too much.

Langmeil Steadfast Shiraz Cabernet 2017, Barossa Valley, South Australia $28.99

The wine is awash in ripe, juicy red and black fruits, flecked with leafy savoury notes that finish with soft tannins — a beef killer.

Spier Seaward Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Western Cape, South Africa $21.99

Moderate amounts of blackcurrant and black cherries, with a dusting of cedar and oak, set this up for a favourite beef dish.


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