La Dolce Vita Comes to Downtown: the Wine Wizardry and Welcome Fun that is Ricco Bambino

While it's just like a wine bar, it is actually a winery – with a bar

Interestingly Kelowna does not have a wine bar. Penticton has the personable and rootsy Mile Zero wine bar, and pretty much every town in any wine country I’ve been to, no matter the size, has a local wine-centric haunt that showcases the range of their respective region’s bounty. But now Ricco Bambino has opened its doors downtown on Pandosy, and while it’s just like a wine bar (and easily the swankiest one in the Okanagan at that), it is actually a winery – with a bar.

While they may not showcase the scope of the Valley’s wineries like the afore pined-for regional wine bar, within their own offerings they have quite a range that expresses the region’s variety fairly well. They’re able to do this because they source fruit from four wineries, and so are able to hand harvest exactly what they want and then press, ferment and the rest of it over at the Okanagan Crush Pad.

The Crush Pad’s concrete tanks, or a still taken from a sci-fi movie?

Down with OCP

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Okanagan Crush Pad, it is Canada’s first purpose-built custom crush winery facility. Located in Summerland, it’s a kind of large wine incubator where they crush and ferment their own wines, the Haywire and Narrative brands, as well as other smaller wineries’ like Rhys Pender’s Little Farm, and with “a constant rotation of clients, to date have helped launch 12 new wineries” (The Buyer, 05/22/2016). So that collective workshop aspect is cool for one, but they are also unique in the Okanagan for initiating winemakers here to the concrete tank: big egg-shaped fermenters, which have been “growing in popularity over the last few years, particularly since being endorsed by luminaries such as the Rhone’s Michel Chapoutier and Loire biodynamic wine guru Nicolas Joly”.

Custom crush and its minimal intervention approach has been highly successful in other New World wine regions around the globe which no doubt made Otago, New Zealand winemaker Matt Dumayne (also one of Western Living’s 2017 Top 10 Foodies of the Year) a perfect fit for the OCP, and Ricco Bambino’s owner, Jason Alton could not be more jazzed about him and the flavours and textures he brings to their wines: “I didn’t even used to like rosé, but after trying our winemakers’ I just want to drink that all the time”. I can see why too, it’s 100% Cab Franc and has the body/refreshment combo down pat (also: not sweet like many a BC rosé that use the saignée method, basically leaving them on the vine too long for rosé but necessary for the primary yield red Pinot Noir).

Wines crafted in concrete have a round mouth feel, greater purity of fruit – an authentic expression without the addition of any unwanted flavours imparted by the use of oak or additives. Also key to this purity is the fact that they’re created with wild yeasts and minimal manipulation and intervention – bringing out the actual taste of the land rather than trying to mimic a Napa or Burgundian flavour profile.

So while Ricco Bambino does not have its own literal terroir to tend (they recently bought land for this – more on that below), certainly their winemaking style is very terroir respectful. And while this flexibility with the fruit sourcing approach has created a range of Ricco Bambino wines that is a bit all over the map (as is the Okanagan still, even as it tries to figure out what it does best), it does befit a wine bar’s need of having a little something for everyone.

Aperitivo Chic

Before we get into the wines, I need to talk about how hot the interior design is. It’s not terribly Kelowna. It’s not a dark cozy wine bar. It’s glam, it’s kinda girly (go now before all the bachelorette parties hear about it), and man is it stylish. All the pink and gold and deco and brass and succulents might make you think that you walked into your trendy, girly design bf’s Pinterest board, but its Italianissimo look grounds it.

Inside the cheerful and stylish new Ricco Bambino with wall to ceiling glass windows.

Instead of rustic Tuscany think Rome or Capri at apero hour, that classic Euro mod vibe that just never goes out of style. However, like all things New Kelowna, it definitely has an aspirational vibe – Ricco Bambino basically translates to “rich kid”, so money, youth and all its indulgences and ambition feel like part of the brand to be sure.

“We wanted to capture the feeling when you drink wine: which is bright, cheerful, happy, somewhat sophisticated, somewhat opulent — those kinds of elements.”

And that they did. The palette is all rosé and champagne tones set off by olive green, natch. Bar-to-ceiling mid-century shelving stocked with vino, rows of Aperol, Campari and bright cans of imported olives lend a workaday contrast to sumptuous u-shaped velvety banquettes curling around round marble tables; and a range of sexy angular lamps and pendants are set of by the natural forms of all sorts of plants. All this without seeming too forced or incongruous – would it be super irritating if I called it “decadent quotidian”?

And about those plants – mostly succulents or tropical, almost architectural in shape, with variegated greens and purples, they along with green drop ceilings (and the outside green wall!) are definitely a focal point. Which is saying something considering right smack in the room are three giant concrete tulip-shaped fermenters (which will soon be put to use).

While the three concrete tulip tanks currently sit empty, rest assured they’re not just for looks. They’ll soon have wine fermenting in them.

So back to the drinks… yes wine is great and all, but you know what can be better than wine sometimes? Cocktails made with wine! Yup this is definitely the place to hit up for that after work aperitivo. Wind down and catch up with some pals over one of their many Spritzes (three parts sparkling wine, two parts liqueur, one part mineral water – all $15 a glass). I had a perfectly balanced Campari Spritz, even though our gracious and super-knowlegable host Tanita (and also Alton’s wife) swore by the Aperol Spritz as the best one – they also do an Elderberry Spritz, and other Italian staples like the Bellini and Rossini. Another nice apero hour touch was the complimentary dish of salty snacks dropped off when you sit down. Further light bites available on the menu are in the same vein (olives, Marcona almonds, preserved anchovies, cheese and, wait, note to self: Sturgeon caviar at 115 bucks a pop for when we ink that big “brobilizing” deal with Airbnb, lol).

All you fashionable folks can enjoy an Aperol Spritz. I’m old school and this was a perfectly balanced Campari Spritz ($15). Nailed it!

First timers will want to try the wine sampling menu just like you would at a traditional winery (it’s not unlike Black Hills’ paid table-style tasting room where generous Riedel samplings come with a serious side of sommelier knowledge – albeit not for $5 – that invites mood and convivial context into the tasting experience). They have flights of three or all six (ample doses per glass at $15 and $30).

The Wines

Walking in, the vibe certainly gets you thinking pink and bubbles right off the bat but you’d be remiss not to check out their fine whites and a nice warm Southern red (Syrah) that both seemed – at least to my tastes – a little less typical of many Okanagan styles. The Bianco (Viognier/Reisling 70-30 blend) had none of the cloying sweetness that can be an issue for both those varietals, and was instead silky, with a really balanced and round texture.

Pictured are three 2oz pours: Kicked Out of the Country Club – a crisp and fresh bubbly; Very Troubled Child – a Metodo Italiano Sparkling Rosé Brut; and Bianco – a blend of Riesling and Viognier.

The straight up Viognier is apricot dry with subtle aromatics and a long finish – both of these whites are smooth and un-Okanagany in their lack of sweetness or super-overwhelming aromatics which to my layperson’s/wine curious mind is interesting since I always thought those varietals and their longer growing seasons result in a fruitier, sweeter taste in general. Or maybe we just assume wine flavours with the way they’ve been typically engineered to taste. Or maybe this concrete fermentation is a total game changer – I have heard that it mellows the harsher palette that can come from stainless. You will totally notice a creamier softer feel and more of the wines actual flavours.

The SO loved the red, a Syrah (from grapes grown at the Sekhon Family Vineyard in Osoyoos), but I’m no fan of the dried berry notes typical of it, and he also raved about the signature Syrah peppery taste but I couldn’t really pick it out (could have been the mouth party of Campari I was drinking that got in the way).

The bubbly comes in pink and white and both are prosecco style. Both are dry (brut) but there are less residual sugars in the rosé (lately the region is impressing me in the actually-dry rosé realm: first 50th Parallel and now these guys’ rosé prosseco and their Cab Franc rosé). Prosecco style sparklers (aka the Italian Method1) are more gently effervescent, but often more fun and lively than the Traditional Method2 with its more typical, predictable yet highly desirable flavour profile (they will be releasing a traditional around Christmas). They also got us excited about their plan to release a pét nat, a daring and funky little bub. What happens here is the original fermentation is halted before bottling, allowing the process to complete in the bottle with no yeast sugar mix added – so what you risk in making a wine you have almost no control over, you make up for in tasting the exact representation of the wine and terroir.

The Rosé – 100% Organic Cabernet Franc grown in eolian veneer over glacial till in the South Okanagan.

Overall there is a lot going on here. A wide range of wines with more coming up soon (a Cab Merlot, traditional sparkling, and the trendy yet risky pét nat), a wine bar that levels up the lounging and modern design game in Kelowna, the whole what’s-an-urban-winery-without-a-vineyard thing – and we haven’t even mentioned that they’ve purchased and are beginning a brand new vineyard in Oliver to add to their portfolio eventually.

However their vision is bold and their foundations are solid – something this town could always use more of. Ricco Bambino is set to officially open up shop on Pandosy this coming Tuesday, August 14th. The Grand Opening party is from 6 to 8pm – Salute!

1All sparkling wine gets it lovely froth from a second fermentation and that extra yeast contact. In the case of Prosecco aka the Italian Method aka the Tank Method aka the Charmat Method aka Metodo Italiano the second fermentation happen in a tank – a more cost effective and large-scale type of production than the Traditional Method that occurs in the bottle.
2Sparkling wine created in the Traditional Method aka Methode Champenoise aka Methode Classique aka Metodo Classico aka Crémant undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. By adding a mix of sugar and yeast to the bottle it ferments and creates the CO2, and the contact with the lees (what yeast becomes after it eats all the sugars) creates the famous “bread” or “biscuity” notes of top-tier bubbly. We wrote about this in our piece on BC bubbly here.