If you have never tried wines from Upper Bench Winery & Creamery from the Naramata Bench you should. They are a small, family-run winery, owning 7 acres of vineyards, is naturally farmed, and takes a minimalist approach to winemaking; using indigenous yeast where possible. I have been tasting their wines for the past few years and I always enjoy the quality of the wines. They sent me their latest wine releases, plus one of the cheeses that they make at their Creamery. Below is my review of these wines, plus their Grey Baby cheese, and how these wines pair with the cheese.
My Wine Review
Upper Bench Chardonnay 2016 – The grapes for this wine are sourced from 3 different vineyards; all picked at different degrees of ripeness to add complexity, acidity and tropical fruit flavours. 50% were fermented and aged in new French oak sur lee, while the rest fermented and cellared in stainless steel sur lie. This Chardonnay has a deeper pear skin colour. Pronounced aromas of baked apples, ripe tropical fruit, butterscotch and ripe pears. I love the heavy scent. The wine is dry, very smooth and round with a thick mouthfeel. You get medium acidity, and balanced fruit flavours; tropical fruit and ripe pears. The butterscotch aroma continues onto the palate as well. Long length, with the flavours continuing from start to finish. Finishing with baked apples, tropical fruit and oak. Dry finish. You can enjoy this wine now, but could easily age 4-5 years.
Rating: – A really balanced Chardonnay; fruit, acidity, and oak. Great mouthfeel.
Upper Bench Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – The grapes for this wine were fermented in 700L oak vats then cellared in French oak barrels for 20 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This Cab is almost opaque in the glass, with a blend of ruby and garnet colours. Nice nose, medium intensity, showing vanilla, plums, oak, and other purple fruits. Dry, fuller bodied and round; a quite silky mouthfeel with soft tannins. Medium acidity. A mix of plums, blackcurrant, as well as other black fruit. Vanilla and oak, and a hint of perfume. With decanting the wine has more perfume and you also get some raspberry flavour. The wine has a medium length, finishing dry along with some bitterness. The wine has enough tannins to give this wine structure, but ageing maybe only for 1-2 more years. Carpe diem.
Rating: This Cabernet Sauvignon will seduce you with plum and dark fruit aromas and flavours, and it’s silky texture. Delicious.
Upper Bench Cabernet Franc 2015 – A mix of ruby and garnet colours, that is quite deeply coloured. Medium intensity, youthful nose, with aromas of juicy purple & black fruit, plums, with a cedar note, as well as some nutmeg and capsicum. Decanting lightens the aromas and adds black cherry. The wine is dry, with medium body/acidity/tannins. It does feel silky, but with decanting the silkiness reduces and you get a more tannic structure. The wine flavours are mostly of black fruits, in particular, black cherry and blackcurrant, but there is also some raspberry as well. I also picked up some minerality to this wine. Decanting also brings out cedar and sweet spices on the palate. The wine has a longer length finishing with firmer tannins and black fruits. With the firmer tannins, I’d recommend enjoying this wine with food, rather than sipping on its own.
Rating: – A bigger bodied Cabernet Franc; more aromas upon first opening, but more flavours with decanting. Good quality.
Upper Bench Yard Wine 2014 – A Merlot – Cabernet Franc (70-30%) blend that is co-fermented. The wine is almost opaque garnet and shows a very faint hint of bricking on the rim. Deeper aroma covering cedar, red cherries, candied red cherries and a hint of vanilla. The wine is dry, semi-round with firmer tannins. Red fruit and cherries, followed by blackberry and other black fruits. I also picked up a hint of violets, but that was not evident with decanting. It has a bitter, new oak flavour throughout, so would benefit by cellaring a few years. With decanting the tannins were stronger and dryer. The wine has a medium plus length, finishing with bitter oak, red cherries and vanilla.
Rating: A good quality Merlot – Cab Franc blend, mixing red and black fruits. I’d recommend letting this wine age a few years as it currently has a strong new oak component.
Upper Bench Merlot 2014 – Deep ruby in colour. Medium plus aromatic intensity, very fragrant. Red cherries, plums, and other red fruit with a touch of oak. With decanting the aroma intensity decreases, but you get some vanilla and sweet spice aromas. Dry, round with an almost heavy mouthfeel. The tannins are strong and get stronger toward the finish. The wine is on the red fruit side with raspberry, red cherry and ripe plums. There were also touches of chocolate, perfume and oak. With decanting the tannins became softer and the wine almost felt silky. Medium plus length finishing with flavours of red and black cherries, oak and some pepperiness.
Rating: – A structured Merlot, giving you aromas and flavours of ripe cherries and plum. Decanting softens the wine, making it a bit more silky on the palate.
Upper Bench Pinot Noir 2015 – Medium garnet colour; translucent to the core. A light, youthful nose, with red cherries and other red fruits, along with a hint of smoke. If you decant the wine you will also get some sweet spices on the nose. The wine is dry with firmer tannins. Medium plus body, roundish, heavier mouthfeel. A mix of floral and bright red cherries, along with raspberry and some violet on the palate. With decanting the floral flavour lessens, but you get some tea leaves and chocolate. The wine has a stronger tannic finish, with flavours of red fruits, oak and some pepperiness. With the strength of these tannins, it is not a fading violet. Give it 5-6 years of aging.
Rating: A masculine-styled Pinot Noir, with red cherries and red fruit aromas and flavours. Quite strong tannins at the moment, which will soften and reward over time.
Besides being a winery, Upper Bench also produces artisan cheeses. They graciously provided me with a round of their Grey Baby. A surface ripened blue cheese that is an easy entry point to those people who are not yet blue cheese lovers. The cheese has a creamy interior, slightly salty and mushroomy, and complemented by light bitterness from the rind.
I tried this cheese with each of the wines, with some being excellent pairings. In particular, I thought that the Chardonnay, Yard Wine, and Cabernet Franc matched well with the Grey Baby.
The buttery, tropical fruit flavour of the Chardonnay complements the creaminess of the cheese. Also, the bitterness of the blue does not conflict with the flavour of the wine but instead gives the Chardonnay an edge. Maybe it helps bring out the oak in the wine?
The creaminess of the Grey Baby counteracts the oak in the Yard Wine, leaving you with red cherries and red fruit flavours from the wine. The bitterness of the cheese rind also does not seem that prominent. A big wine and big creamy cheese. Nice.
Finally, the Grey Baby softens the tannins from the Cabernet Franc. You can taste the mushroomy flavour of the cheese more readily and you get some of the bitterness from the rind at the finish.
Where to Buy These Wines (and Cheese)
If you would like to purchase these wines and their cheese, you can get them at the winery (170 Upper Bench Road South, Penticton, BC), or online at www.upperbench.ca. Their wines are also available at various restaurants and wine shops. You can see the closest venue to you through their web map search tool.