A kind friend returned from a trip with a belated gift for my 50th birthday – a mixed half case of British Columbia VQA wines, five reds and a white.

What a terrific gift for a wine lover. As a bonus, BC wines are an area with which I am woefully unfamiliar.

Recently my paddling partner drove through on her annual trip to Texas, arriving late after a 14-hour drive from Anchorage. I had the BC white, a 2009 Thornhaven Estates Winery Pinot Gris VQA, chilling in the snow outside my cabin.

For BC (or Ontario) wines, looking for “VQA” on the label is a good strategy. It stands for Vintners Quality Alliance. It’s a classification system that guarantees quality and authenticity of Canadian wines, indicating that all the grapes used in the production of the wine come from Canadian grapes.

The VQA designation is the Canadian equivalent to the AOC designation on French wines, or DCO on Italian wines. The VQA may also be subdivided into different regions, which have specific soil and climate characteristic that influence the taste of the wines.

In British Columbia, VQA wines are made primarily with vinifera grapes (traditional grape strains, as oppose to hybrids).

As Wikipedia explains, “VQA wines may be made with grapes from relatively small agricultural yields per vine (which increases quality), they meet specific sugar or brix levels at harvest, and the use of additives is regulated. To receive the VQA designation, wine must undergo testing by the regulating bodies.”

The Pinot Gris grape used to make this delightful wine is a terrific and lesser-known white grape that is becoming one of the treasures of wine-growing in the Northwest US, and now appears to be resulting in terrific product in BC.

The Thornhaven Estates Winery is located in the Okanagan Valley about 160 km north of the border with Washington State, which puts it at the same latitude as the French wine region of Champagne.

The Pinot Gris is a grape that I will be searching out as I explore BC wines further.

My Thornhaven Estates Winery Pinot Gris was imported, and ran between $16 and $20, but the Yukon Liquor Corporation lists two BC VQA Pinot Gris examples.

The first is the Gray Monk Pinot Gris ($20.55) and the second is Hester Creek Pinot Gris ($24.85).

As I awaited my paddling partner’s arrival, I began dinner and pulled the chilling bottle from the snowdrift and opened it up for a first taste.

It was a lovely pale straw with a slight rose hue. As I took several deep sniffs, I felt that I was picking up notes of some sort of white flowers, and notes of peaches.

The first full rich mouthful gave hints of rhubarb and citrus, as well as the slight burn of a higher alcohol wine. The Thornhaven is a massive 14.3 per cent alcohol, whereas the two Yukon-available Pinot Gris are in the range of 12-13 per cent.

The Thornhaven had a long and strong finish, and was really outstanding. It occurred to me that this would be an interesting wine to try with cheese fondue, but when my friend arrived at 10:45 pm, I served it with egg noodle pasta and a vodka, saffron, alfredo, shrimp and mushroom sauce.

We both agreed it was a good wine pairing.

The Pinot Gris grape wines are true winners from our part of the world, and I encourage you to search out one and try it.

Cheers!