Several weeks ago, I had the happy opportunity to explore a significant portion of the range of Gary Monk Estate wines.

A friend of mine who helps organize the annual Rotary Club Wine Festival represents the Gray Monk Estate Winery, and invited me and several other Rotary Club members to taste their wines.

Gray Monk Estate Winery is one of the original family-owned vineyards in the Okanagan, and is now operated by the second generation of the Heiss family.

Tasting seven different wines or more requires a certain approach. When I worked as a wine merchant in the US, there were evenings when we would be tasting 30 to 35 wines.

When tasting a number of wines, I find that I need to just taste each one, and then spit it out, rather than swallow. Otherwise, by wine ten, I’m fully enjoying the wines, but realize that I’m not able to discern the tastes enough to warrant continuing.

For the Gray Monk tastings, I set out to taste and then spit, and once I work through the selection, go back to drink and enjoy the ones I most enjoyed.

When you taste a range of wines, it is traditional to work from sweet to dry whites, and then from soft to robust reds.

This way your palate explores the gentler and more subtle tastes at the beginning, when you are fresh, and holds the more robust wines to the end, when the combination of wines may have reduced your ability to discern more minute tastes.

So I have arranged the wines the way we tested them, and provide a brief description of what I learned.

2009 Gewurztraminer VQA ($20.55) – Yellow green in hue, this German-style, slightly sweet wine had notes of honey and fruit, reminding me of suggestions of ripe white peaches and maybe honeydew melon.

I was braced for a cloying sweetness, which is not my favourite flavour area of wines, but was pleasantly surprised by the crisp fruity finish of this wine.

While Gray Monk suggests matching it with salads or Asian food, I could imagine it served at a summer picnic with cold chicken. This wine was a very pleasant surprise.

2009 Riesling VQA ($20.55) – I was prepared to enjoy this wine more than the preceding, and found it agreeable, but not my favourite white.

This wine, with its light golden colour was all about citrus – lemon, lime and white fruit notes.

It was fresh on the tongue but, for me, slightly disappointing, coming on the heels of the very surprising Gewurztraminer. A bit of a “one note” wine for me, it landed on one place on my tongue, but just didn’t excite me.

Latitude 50 White ($18.50) – This is the featured white wine served on Air North, so many of you may have tasted it. First created in 1990, it blends four vinifera grape varieties into the best selling VQA product in British Columbia.

The wine’s multiple grapes give it a more complex bouquet and tastes that land on different parts of your tongue. It’s slightly lower alcohol and a very agreeable wine.

There’s a slight spiciness to it, and slight suggestions of raisons and mango and citrus, and it stays on your tongue a long time after you swallow (a good thing for wines, provided you like the taste!)

2008 Chardonnay Unwooded ($20.55) – Fermented entirely in stainless steel; the Heisses have (happily for me) chosen to forego the heavy oak woody taste that many California and Australian wineries pursue, and focus on brining out the character of the Chardonnay grape, in the European style.

The results are very pleasant, with a long finish. I’d happily match it with grilled halibut or Alaska King Crab. Makes me look forward to summer!

2008 Pinot Noir VQA ($20.55) – I had high hopes for this wine, given the excellent examples emerging from Oregon, and several superior examples that I have tasted from BC.

The bouquet was promising, but I found it little thin, and not really living up to my hopes. It made me wonder whether the climate is right in the Okanagan for Pinots, and yet I am assured that it is.

I’ll have to give it a second chance, but it seemed to be the weakest of the reds we tried.

2008 Latitude 50 Red ($18.50) – This was a fun red blend! Gray Monk blends four different premium wines, including, I am told Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and perhaps GamayNoir.

It has an excellent white pepper bouquet, flavour and finish, and plenty of red fruit in the mouth. I’m trying it with a steak soon, as I suspect it will be great with it.

2007 Merlot ($20.55) – This last wine tasted had a rich colouring, a good Bordeaux bouquet, and decent tannins. I found the finish a little short, but I may chalk that up to the fact that by this point I had tried six other wines.

It’s definitely worth going back to try again, and I’d pair it with roast red meat. I may try it with lamb for Easter.

All in all, I found two or three happy surprises, which out of seven wines tasted is definitely above average. Though I’m not a huge white wine fan, and lean towards dry ones when I do, it was the 2009 Gewurztraminer that made the biggest impression on me.

And it’s always fun when you are surprised by wines.

Cheers!