A food and wine pairing evening to remember

One of my favourite wine and food activities is to pair the two and introduce friends and family to gastronomic and wine nerd combinations they wouldn’t have normally sought out for themselves.

I did this recently with a group at The London Chef.  Chef Dan provided the beautiful Tuscan-inspired menu and venue, while I paired a few wines with the courses.

We began with the 2014 Vintage Brut Pinot Noir dominant bubble from Argyle Vineyards of Dundee, Oregon, and with the crostini, salsa verde, and roasted vegetables, we enjoyed the 2017 Pinot Blanc from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards of BC’s Okanagan Valley. 

The second course was a fresh pasta with basil and tomatoes that was completed by one of my all time favourites, Cristiana Tiberio’s 2017 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosé – its gorgeous, deep colour produced by 20 minutes of skin contact with the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape free-run juice.

But the evening’s crowning pairing was the 2014 Avignonesi Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, a Sangiovese gem from Italy’s largest biodynamic winery, with the chicken saltimbocca. 

Delicious, and just a little too much fun.

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Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Avignonesi, Montepulciano DOCG, Italia, 13.5% abv, C$42

Avignonesi is Italy’s largest biodynamic winery, located in tiny Valiano, Tuscany between Cortona and Montepulciano.

Its owner, Virginie Saverys, a former lawyer from Belgium,  purchased it in 2009 from the original owners, the Avignonesi family, and has spent the last 10 years converting its vines and winemaking processes to follow those of back-to-basics biodynamism.

This part of Italy makes some of the country’s best wines.  The Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOCG is the highest level designation of quality for Italian wines, and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines produced under these guidelines must be made from at least 70% Sangiovese.  Other grapes – Canailo Nero (10-20%) and Mammalo – can be added.

However, this version is 100% Sangiovese from 10-36 year old vines, aged for 18 months in oak casks and barriques.

Translucent garnet, it boasts a beautiful nose and palate of deep red cherry, strawberry, red plum, garrigue and earth.  Seamless tannins are complemented by a long finish.

Officially delicious, this wine would be a great pairing with many dishes – including chicken saltimbocca, pasta and Tuscan beef.

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Grüner Veltliner, Culmina Family Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada, 2018, 14% abv. C$27

We showed up for our tasting at Culmina Family Estate Winery about a week after the big news hit the Canadian wine world – Don and Elaine Triggs had sold their life’s work wine project to Arterra.  While chatting about the sale with manager, Maryke Vandermarel, who should appear but Don himself – who still, by the way, plans to be in and around the winery plenty.

The winery produces some stunning examples of what is possible when first class grape-growing and winemaking are combined – Riesling, Chardonnay, Rosé, Cabernet Franc, and Meritage blends.  And although I came away with bottles of just about everything, the one I really wanted to learn more about is their Unicus, the Okanagan’s original Grüner Veltliner.

Grüner is not a well known varietal.  Culmina’s Unicus is the first version of Grüner (2011) available in the Okanagan – and what a version it is.

Because she knew how keen I was to taste it, Maryke had the 2017 and 2018 vintages in the tasting line up.  I’d contacted her months before looking for some bottles for a private tasting I’d held, but hadn’t been able to offer it to my clients because it’s only available at the winery.  Now was my chance.

The 2017 was the drier version (2.6 g/l RS) and showed great acidity with soft white pepper, green grass, and lemon balm having spent time in concrete amphora, concrete egg and stainless steel.

However, the 2018 had ever-so-slightly more RS (3.2 g/l), and had spent 3-4 months on a wild ferment in neutral oak barrels in addition to its time in concrete egg, amphora and stainless steel.  What a delicious version with mouth-watering acidity, delicate white flowers, chalky rock minerality, lemon, white grapefruit and a hint of white pepper pickle juice.

While Culmina can grow 10 tons of Grüner grapes, they crop down to only 2 to ensure the yield is not too high.  If it is, the wine will end up being green and uninteresting.  And since 2015, they’ve been experimenting with using the concrete eggs and amphora to allow for texture and micro-oxygenation.

It will be interesting to watch how Culmina’s wines and brand shift over the next few years – if, in fact, they do at all.  Our visit to Culmina and chats with Don and Maryke were highlights of this trip to Oliver.

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Pinot Gris, Reserve, Hillside Winery, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley VQA, BC, Canada, 2017, 13.7% abv.

I had wanted to visit Hillside Winery for a while – not only is their Reserve Pinot Gris one of my absolute favourite wines of all time, but their celebrated restaurant is award winning.  We popped in for a visit in early July, and I ended up becoming a wine club member, because well, there is no such thing as too much wine.

Shelann Sleegers runs their tasting room.  An all-out pro with visitors, she really knows her way around wine.  I started off with the regular tasting featuring their Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Merlot/Malbec, Cab Franc, and a Rosé.

But then Shelann turned on some serious charm and brought me the ‘Terroir Tasting’ with thoughtful, but simple food pairings.  This was a turning point – the first wine of the tasting was my beloved 2017 Reserve Pinot Gris coupled with an aged Canadian cheddar.

This is literally the wine that brought me to Hillside.  I think my first bottles were perhaps two years ago, and since I have enjoyed at least a case of it – I thought maybe I should not only become a wine club member, but perhaps I should also tell you about it.  You can’t get any more until this fall though when the 2018 will be available – it has since sold out.

Held on the skins for 4 hours, this wine is gasp-worthy beautiful with its pretty onion skin tone.  The fruit was from a super ripe block at the south boundary of the Naramata Bench sub-GI, just above Penticton Creek and winemaker Kathy Malone says, “I felt the nice tropical/tamarillo tree fruit flavours would shine in this Reserve style wine with its partial fermentation in (Hungarian) Tokaj oak barrels.”

With its fruity nose of peach and blossom, the palate has generous servings of more stone fruit and white flower, all nestled in some great body. There is also a perfectly refreshing acidity which enables its food friendliness.  It is absolutely divine with almost every kind of dish – from pork chops, and risotto, to chicken, cheese and salad.

I often wonder how a winemaker decides the amount of time to hold white grapes on their skins and Kathy provided some great detail.  “Skin contact is tricky and the time frame really varies from year to year as the effect is greatly impacted by things like sun exposure through the growing season, fruit ripeness, temperature of fruit at harvest… 2017 was a hot growing year, so the skin contact was shorter than in some cooler years, which might be up to 8 hours… Often I make the decision while working at the sorting table which gives me the opportunity to really assess the fruit and what treatment would best capture its essence.”

The Terroir Tasting continued with three distinct Merlots – Hidden Valley 2012, Dickinson 2012, and Gjoa 2012 – each a study in the distinct terroirs of the Naramata Bench and paired separately with almonds, a mild blueberry pepperoni and a salted hazelnut.  The final wine in the Terroir series was the mertitage blend 2013 Mosaic.

I couldn’t resist and brought a mixed case home.  It disappeared quickly – and now I await my first fall wine club shipment.  It can’t arrive soon enough.

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South Sister, Gin, Cascade Street Distillery, Sisters, Oregon, USA, 43.25% abv, US$34.95

What sorcery is this?  Two posts in a row about gin? Well, when the quality is there, I feel I need to tell you about it so you can plan a trip and a tasting, or find some of this product to purchase.

While passing through the little town of Sisters, Oregon, we stopped to do a little walking around. Lo and behold, the Cascade Street Distillery is located on the main drag, run by a sister-brother team producing some delicious gin, vodka and bourbon.  They also promote some sister-company infused vodkas from Wild Roots Spirits.

We talked at length with Katie, Communications Director and co-owner about their venture. When asked how they got into this line of work, she admitted, “We just drank too much during college – and this was a lot more fun than the internships were were doing…” Judging by the quality of the spirits, they certainly found their calling.

I left with a bottle of the South Sister gin – distilled from corn, and infused with juniper, sage and local Ponderosa pine pods.  It was brought to 43.25% abv using local Deschutes County water – a serious step in the evolution of their high quality spirits.

This gin is outstanding – smooth, and balanced with aromas and flavours that mimic a walk through the dried sage and juniper populating the hills surrounding Sisters.

If you stop by, be sure to do an extensive tasting – they have a lot to offer.  And don’t skip the infused vodkas – I was completely gobsmacked by the pear vodka.  Pristine Bartlett pear makes this unlike anything you’ve had before, I guarantee it. A few miles down the road in Reno, we stopped for dinner at Sierra Street Kitchen + Grill and I enjoyed a Huckleberry Hooch, made with their huckleberry vodka.

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Seaside Gin, Sheringham Distillery, Sooke, BC, Canada, 43% abv, C$46

Beautiful Sooke, BC

It’s not often that I write about spirits on Winellama.  In fact, when I took the WSET Diploma, I balked at having to take a course on spirits.  In the end, it was the course I learned the most from – and got the highest mark on.  And ever since then, there has been  g i n .

However, when the gin you’ve been drinking for quite some time and raving about finally vindicates you and wins the World Gin Awards 2019 prize for ‘best contemporary gin,’ you should probably go and pay a visit to their actual distillery.

We were led through a tasting and tour by Lainey.  She was quite clear that if we were enjoying ourselves, her name was Lainey.  If not, she was Sarah.  Definitely Lainey.

Lainey in action

Of course we left with a bottle of my favourite – the Seaside Gin made from BC white wheat and malted barley (it has to be in order to be called a craft spirit in the province), botanicals including rose, lavender, coriander and juniper, and winged kelp hand harvested by a local marine biologist in Sooke.  You cannot get more local than that.

This gin is so precise and crystal clean with a saline, slightly citrus, and light almond nose and palate that help you imagine you’re walking along a west coast beach.  Enjoy it neat, with tonic, or as my favourite in a martini with a local vermouth from Devine Vineyards.

Literally hand bottled

I tried to leave with a bottle of the Akvavit and the Whiskey as well, but one was sold out and one was not ready.  This only means I must return.

Friendly service from Shirley Delicious is an understatement.

When you go, make some time to go 20 minutes up the road to the community of Shirley and enjoy a meal or coffee at Shirley Delicious.  They boast the friendliest service and best food on that side of Vancouver Island, hands down.  Ironically, they’re located on Sheringham Road.  It’s a sign.

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Gringet, Brut, Domaine Belluard et Fils, Ayse, Savoie AOC, France, NV, 12% abv.

Nestled in a valley between Geneva and Mont Blanc at an altitude of 400m, Domaine Belluard et Fils is a biodynamic (since 2001) and organic vineyard growing several grapes – but one that is most unusual and unique – Gringet.

There are only 20 hectares of Gringet growing in the entire world and 10 of them are here at Dominique Belluard’s domaine.  Some have even gone so far as to call him the ‘Saviour of Gringet‘ because of this.  All his wines are created with indigenous yeasts, and he uses concrete eggs instead of stainless steel – producing superbly balanced and fresh wines.

We enjoyed this incredible bottle of sparkling wine with a Thai food dinner made from scratch.

Chefs at work on the Thai dinner

Gold with a light but persistent mousse, this wine has a shockingly sherry-like nose with saline, almonds, bruised apricot, mango, and peach.  I actually gasped (in pleasure) when I swirled and sniffed this wine the first time.

The palate is dry with super high, mouth-watering acidity and flavours of dried apricot and nectarine, delicate white flowers, marzipan, and nuts.

Pad Thai and Larp

All of this is enveloped in a voluptuous body that is absolutely delicious and went well with our rice noodle Pad Thai and the Tom Kha coconut cream-based soup.

I wouldn’t recommend this wine with most Thai dishes, but those two were only lightly spiced, the developed dried fruit profile of the wine brought out some of the tropical flavours in them, and the body more than stood up to the richness of the food.

Yes, that is a different bottle…

Truth be told, we finished the bottle up very quickly – and were sad when it was over.  Champagne always gets the airtime and fireworks, but this was one of the best bottles of sparkling wine I’ve ever enjoyed.

This is definitely a drink to search for – if you find a bottle, buy it.  Buy them all.  It’s unique, WSET outstanding, shockingly delicious, and just delightful to drink.

 

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