New book a go-to guide to B.C. wine for ‘sipsters’

Approachable wine guide offers suggestions for 50 top B.C. sips.

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The Sipster’s Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try B.C. Wines

Luke Whittall | TouchWood Editions


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$20 | 144 pages

Luke Whittall wanted his latest book about wine to come across as refreshingly conversational.

“I’ve been working in the wine industry for about 16 years now, and I realized that the way that people talk about wine is either really obtuse — like we’re doctors trying to talk about something really technical — or it’s dumbed down somehow,” Whittall says. “I wanted it to be a little more fun.”

The resulting read, The Sipster’s Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try B.C. Wines, offers up a hand-picked selection of wines from the province — along with an approachable, easily digestible explanation of what makes each one a good pour.

“It isn’t really traditional wine literature,” Whittall explains of his third book. “This is an accessible way to learn about some amazing wines in British Columbia in a way that you’ve never experienced before.”


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Working in the Okanagan wine world played a big part in Whittall’s desire to create a guide that took the formality out of wine-tasting.

“I’ve worked in wine shops where I’ve seen people say, ‘When you taste this wine, you will taste elderberries and white flowers and blueberries, and wet penguins and road tar … you get all these things,’ ” Whittall says. “And then, one of two things will happen. They will either put their nose in the glass and smell something when they really don’t because it’s really easy for sales people to be very suggestive and lead a customer that way. Or, and I think this happens more often, they will feel stupid because they don’t smell it.”

The all-too common situation, he says, leads people to doubt their wine-tasting skills — a skill set he assures that many people do have.


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“I think that really puts people off and that’s too bad because I think a lot of people are excellent tasters. In fact, I think most people are,” Whittall says. “They just haven’t been told that they can be.”

That strict approach to the tasting experience, he says, misses the mark of why most people open a bottle of wine in the first place.

“The reason that a lot of people drink wine is to have fun,” Whittall says.

While Whittall admits there’s much use for the “laser-guided-focused tasting” that occurs in professional settings such as during the Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification process, he says there’s a time and a place for “systemic tastings” versus more approachable offerings.

“In the industry, we do need to be able to do that. Chefs need to be able to do that. For technical reasons, there are all kinds of reasons for doing that,” Whittall says. “But, for most people, they are their own wine expert. They just don’t know it.


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“What I’m trying to do is to make it OK for people to kind of talk about wine in language that is appropriate for them. And that they enjoy. Because, really, wine is about having a good time — and why not enjoy talking about it?”

The book, Whittall stresses, takes an approach to wine that’s non-judgmental.

“It’s really not about saying, ‘This wine is excellent, you have to try it,’ ” he says. “It’s about being positive with everything to do with wine and the enjoyment of it, without poo-pooing anybody else.”

While writing the book — a project that took place entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic — Whittall took a decidedly relaxed approach to tasting the 50-plus wines.

“I didn’t do these in a way that was a typical wine criticism. When I opened these wines, I made food that went with it — or what I thought was going to go with it — and I just enjoyed it over dinner,” Whittall explains. “It wasn’t like what a wine student would do or what people in the industry would do. I actually put these wines into real-life experience and then wrote about them immediately after.”


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The purpose of doing this, according to Whittall, was to experience each wine in the way that a reader would — which is to say, in their own home, with their own food rather than in the more controlled setting of a wine-tasting room.

“When you’re on a wine tour, you’re excited, you’re having a great time, you’re on vacation, you’re relaxed. You’re receptive to wine in a very different way then when you come home after working all day, and all you want to do is have pizza — and that’s the closest bottle to your kitchen and you think, ‘Well, I’ll just have that,’ ” Whittall says. “What I wanted to do was try to emulate, as close as I could, the experiences that I felt most people might be enjoying wine. And, for a lot of people, I think that is having it with a meal.”


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The resulting list of wines includes several tried-and-true favourites, along with a few new releases as well.

“I had a little criteria when I was making my selection. I needed to have wines that I knew were fairly consistent over the course of the years. And I knew that they were going to be consistently good,” Whittall says. “Then, after that, I went for wines that I felt showed a really great quality — and that were consistently good.

“There are a few exceptions to that. There are a few wineries that are quite new.”

Wine aficionados who pick up the book will note that no vintages are highlighted for each wine selection. The omission, Whittall says, was an essential element to keep the guide approachable — and timeless.

“In the wine industry, we have such interesting thoughts on age. We all think that wine gets better with age, but no it doesn’t — it just changes. And, if you don’t like what it changes into, then it’s not better,” Whittall says. “That’s why I didn’t include the vintages. Even if a Volume 2 or a Volume 3 comes about, Volume 1 will still be a worthwhile reference.

“It is meant to be a little bit more universal in terms of wine.”



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