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Top Three White Varietals Planted in BC

Wine is all about place.

Where it is grown has an astonishing impact on the flavours that develop in the wine. The unique climate of BC makes for unique wines, as this province is at the northern extremes of where grapes can thrive. Most wine growing regions are located between the 30th and 50th parallel, and the Okanagan is right on the northern edge of the 50th.

Hot days and cool nights are the key ingredient required to produce mouth-watering acidity in wines. White varietals planted in the Okanagan greatly benefit from this and allow winemakers to craft ageable white wines. The long sun exposure in the valley permits the grapes to ripen and develop excellent purity of fruit.

In my opinion, BC produces white wines that can appeal to a very wide range of taste preferences. Everything from sweet to dry, oaked to unoaked, light-body to full-body, and citrus to tropical flavours can be found in this province. Personally, I find the white wines to be focused on freshness, vibrancy and intensity.

Here are some of my thoughts and suggestions regarding the top three planted white varietals in BC.

The number one planted white varietal by acreage in BC is Pinot Gris with 1,166 acres planted (471 hectares – Wine BC). When it’s done right, it can be delicious. The majority of British Columbia Pinot Gris is fresh and crisp, with citrus notes leaping out of the glass, especially if the grapes are grown in the North Okanagan. These wines are typically dry or off dry and feature bright acidity. If the grapes are grown in the South Okanagan, it can be quite full and rich with tropical fruit flavours due to the warmer climate.

Pinot Gris has a reputation of being simple and almost like water, but the Okanagan produces Pinot Gris that is quite fruity with fresh flavours of lime, lemon, pear, honeydew, and peach finishing off with a minerality note. If you have tasted an Italian Pinot Grigio, the Okanagan style in comparison is typically richer.

Most local Gris is bottled and ready to drink by the time the weather starts to warm. The early release of Pinot Gris makes it financially worthwhile for wineries to grow and sell. It’s a key wine for the British Columbia market and has gained popularity among consumers.

This varietal is perfect for sunshine and a patio. Alternatively, if you are looking to gift a bottle of white wine, Pinot Gris is a safe choice. I’d also suggest comparing two bottles of Okanagan Pinot Gris. Pick one from the north and one from the south, then observe which flavour profile you enjoy more. It’s surprising how different they can be.

Pair with seafood in a lemon sauce, shellfish, roasted vegetables, or a slightly off-dry version with soy-sauce infused Asian cuisine.

My Okanagan Pinot Gris recommendations:

Arrowleaf Cellars Pinot Gris 2020 – Fresh aromas of ripe apple, pear, peach and honeysuckle. Same flavours on the palate with a touch of sweetness, moderate acidity and ripe fruit on the finish.

Poplar Grove Pinot Gris 2020 – Perfect everyday sipper. Soft orchard fruit such as pear, peach and melon on the nose. A luscious palate featuring bright citrus and nectarine flavours balanced with refreshing acidity.

Second, is Chardonnay with 1,132 acres planted (458 hectares – Wine BC). I know some readers will see the words Chardonnay and think “nope, no way!”, but I have to say, the Okanagan produces a wide diversity of styles and flavours worth exploring.

While working in a tasting room, I would pour an unoaked Chardonnay for guests and not tell them what the grape was. I would hear people think it was everything from Pinot Gris to Sauvignon Blanc. The assortment of barrel fermented Chardonnays and stainless steel fermented (unoaked) Chardonnays showcase how well this loved or hated grape grows in the Okanagan. Personally, I love this varietal.

In 1994, Mission Hill put the Okanagan Valley on the map by winning the annual International Wine & Spirits Competition in London for ‘Best Chardonnay in the World’. The awards continue as it is evident this is a varietal that thrives in the Valley.

I find the flavours of Okanagan Chardonnay are typically nectarine, lemon, peach, hazelnut and vanilla.

Try pairing unoaked Chardonnay with roast chicken or prawn ceviche, and oaked Chardonnay with smoked meats or Dungeness crab mac and cheese.

Did you know that Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape variety in the world?

My Okanagan Chardonnay recommendations:

Tantalus “Bear” Chardonnay 2020 (unoaked) - This wine boasts lovely notes of citrus zest, green apple, mandarin orange, pineapple, guava, and wet stone. Beautifully balanced with mouth-watering acidity.

Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2017 (lightly oaked) - Aromas of cream, vanilla, baked pear, and caramel. The palate is rich and bold. Full bodied mouthfeel with pronounced tropical fruit flavours. Pineapple, guava, minerality, and straw, with a layered texture and long finish.

Township 7 Reserve Chardonnay 2017 (oaked) - A creamy, barrel fermented Chardonnay with many layers. Aromas and flavours of ripe tropical fruit, pear, honey, and vanilla. Well balanced mixture of fruit, oak, and warm spice.

Gewürztraminer has 646 acres planted (261 hectares – Wine BC) and is a cool climate varietal that has thrived in BC for many years. Generally, BC Gewürztraminer has been produced on the sweeter side, but recently, several wineries have started to reduce the sugar content and allow the intense flavours to shine.

The high acidity commonly found in BC white wines, compliments the powerful aromatics and fruitiness in this Germanic grape. I’d recommend drinking this varietal within two years of release to ensure it has the highest possible acidity. If you ever smell lychee in a white wine, that’s the signature aroma of Gewürztraminer. In general, I taste flavours such as rose, apricot, lychee, ginger, spice and peach.

Try pairing with umami rich foods, Thai curry, Vietnamese cuisine or dim sum.

My Okanagan Gewürztraminer recommendations:

Priest Creek Gewürztraminer 2020 - Lychee, rose, honey and white blossom leap out of the glass. Nice balance of acidity, sweetness and spice. Weighty palate ending with a bold finish.

Sage Hills Gewürztraminer 2018 – Sweet orange blossom, mandarin orange zest, honey, lychee, and rose petal. The palate is dry with bright acidity and lingering minerality.


“White Wine Varietals of British Columbia | Wine BC.” Wines of British Columbia,


Javen - Poured By Jay

Hi, I'm Poured by Jay.

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