We're lucky to have an assortment of varieties which excel in British Columbia; most often those in the know will point you towards Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. This isn't to say a case can't be made for Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, or hell - even Zweigelt for that matter, but that quartet are most often the most critically-acclaimed.
Many local wineries have their varietal or stylistic specialties, which is a good thing. It wasn't too long ago that way too many B.C. producers were trying to be all things to all people, individually running the scales from Auxerrois to Zinfandel.
As quality across the region has increased, focus has tightened, particularly on what does well where, and winemakers keeping their energy within their wheelhouse of expertise.
Case in point: Chris Carson, the viticulturalist and winemaker at Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, owned by JAK & Janice Meyer. The house specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Carson is well-versed in the varieties, having worked extensively with them from New Zealand to Burgundy.
Dude can harness terroir like nobody's business.
The sun is shining more and more these days, and while some can enjoy balcony or backyard time, authorities have been turning a blind eye to civilized quaffing in public parks and beaches. So wherever we're cracking it, let's bust out some Chardonnays by one of B.C.'s best producers.
Meyer Family Vineyards 2017 McLean Creek Road Chardonnay comes from the winery's home vineyard in the Sub-G.I. of Okanagan Falls, a place ideally suited for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the region's G.D.D. numbers are very similar to those of Burgundy). Grown in gravel and sandy loam, a soft press and fermentation in stainless steel of the grapes were followed by a transfer to (18% new) French oak, then 11 months were spent on the lees, then bottled, unfined and unfiltred. A fairly lush style, it's quite creamy with elements of grilled limes and pineapple core, cradled by toasty gingerbread and a crack of clove.
Meyer Family Vineyards 2018 Stevens Block Chardonnay ($24.45) hails from the family's estate vineyard on the Naramata Bench Sub-G.I., north of Okanagan Falls on the east side of Okanagan Lake. A mix of silt and clay, the vineyard has a slight northerly aspect, allowing for a gentle, steady ripening and good acid preservation. The wine was whole-cluster soft-pressed, wild-fermented a couple months in stainless steel, then aged on lees six months in old French oak. The palate's awash with Gala, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith apples, citrusy acidity, a dusting of nutmeg and a dollop of meringue. Elegant and woven well. I had to double-check the price. It drinks like something in the $40 range. Get. It.
Meyer Family Vineyards 2018 Tribute Series Gordon A. Smith Chardonnay ($30.54) also comes from that Naramata vineyard and was soft-pressed, fermented in tank, then finished on the lees in (22% new) French oak for 11 months. Unfined, unfiltred. Some lovely, intoxicating aromatics here - salty sea air, lemon blossom and lemon zest lead to a decidedly tropical palate with guava, papaya, and then some lengthy green Anjou rounding things out. Further swirls and sips bring blood orange, Meyer lemon and fresh ginger. Layers upon layers upon layers. So pretty.
I've had these Chardonnays top of mind while perusing various food sites and blogs. Props need to go to my friend Jasmine who helms the @BlackFoodBloggers Instagram account, which introduced me to Toronto-based blogger Taneisha Morris. Both her Insta account (@TheSeasoned.Skillet) and website (SeasonedSkilletBlog.com) are loaded with "yummy, quick, comfort food that’s easy to repeat."
When thinking Chardonnay-friendly dishes, she had me at Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken:
"It is an extremely warm and comforting Caribbean Stew, where the chicken has been marinated in aromatic spices, braised down, an complimented with a delicious savoury gravy. The major key, and ingredient in this dish is the Browning. It is a natural food colouring sourced from a blend of caramel, vegetable concentrates and seasonings, commonly used in Caribbean households."
Any or all of these Chardonnays would hit this dish well, and it'd be portable enough for picnics! The recipe's here.
The wines can be ordered winery-direct, or can also be found at private stores around town for a few bucks more. Contact the winery to inquire about availability near you.
A Shot of Absinthe
It was late last year when a couple friends introduced us to Absinthe Bistro on Commercial Drive, a favourite spot of theirs, here in Vancouver. While the French eatery has been around for a few years (albeit originally in a different location), for some reason we'd never made it there before, and this now fills us with regret. It's SO GOOD!
The place is the result of, well, a 'Canadian-chef-meets-Colombian-marketing-pro-in-Paris' situation, and we should consider ourselves lucky that Juliana and Cory Pearson opted to eventually put down their roots here in town.
The place is quite the charmer. Juliana's warm demeanor and spot-on service is a nightly master class in hospitality, while Cory's firing-on-all-cylinders kitchen offers French classics spun with West Coast fare.
Like many restaurants nowadays, they've been doing take-out, and that's what we opted to do the other night. Our friends chose the food (think things like Foie Gras Torchon w/ Red Onion-Apple Confit, Beef Carpaccio w/ Truffle Aioli, Parmesan, Capers & Arugula and Pan-Seared Sablefish w/ Spring Vegetable & Garlic Chive Risotto), and we brought the wine.
We decided to support the home team and go with British Columbian wines, and stick with super-small, independent producers.
Lock & Worth 2018 Whole Cluster Chardonnay is incredibly juicy with fresh lime, crunchy Granny Smith apple, and a good smattering of thyme. This wine is so bright and ALIVE; while it's tasty on its own, it really hit the spot with our starters, cutting through that foie torchon with ease.
For our mains, which also included Braised Pork Cheeks w/ Apple-Diable Sauce, Fried Potatoes, and Celery Root-Red Cabbage Remoulade (YUM!), we opted to go for a couple reds, both from Okanagan producer Anthony Buchanan.
Anthony Buchanan 2018 Pinot Noir 'Ashlyn' was de-stemmed, both partially foot-trodden and punched down, then wild-fermented over a couple weeks before spending just under a year in a mix of new, second-use, and neutral French oak. That oak offers a little toasty gingerbread, which in turn provides a nice platform for dusty red and black plums, flinty mulberries, and a smattering of anise.
Anthony Buchanan 2018 Syrah 'William Dean' is whole-cluster foot-trodden, wild-fermented over a couple weeks, and saw similar oak treatment as the Pinot, with a little American wood thrown in there, too. Gobs of peppery black fruit drench a good hunk of smoked beef brisket with the tiniest kiss of spearmint lifting the finish. Damn fine wine. Damn fine.
So there's your to-do list.
Hit up Absinthe for some amazing eats (they just reopened dine-in, too). Then make a point of finding Lock & Worth's Chardonnay (~$30 at private stores such as Brewery Creek), then track down Buchanan's Pinot and Syrah at private stores around town like Firefly on Cambie, where they retail for $42. You can always contact the wineries to find out further availability near you.
This week we've enjoyed a couple bottles from two legendary wineries situated on the Naramata Bench in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. Both Hillside Winery and Nichol Vineyard started out in 1989, and have persevered over the years as the number of local wineries has shot from less than 20 to almost 400. Both of 'em are true Naramatian wineries, sourcing 100% of their fruit the Bench.
Hillside 2019 Un-Oaked Pinot Gris has both a peachy hue and palate. From grapes grown among fruit orchards on the property, the fresh-pressed juice spends a few hours with the skins, giving the wine a good clutch of texture. The acid makes in nice 'n juicy. The nose has lightly-perfumed stone fruit, and those peaches on the palate are joined by Pink Lady apples and little squeeze of pink grapefruit. Quaffable yet sturdy, it's a good choice for pan-seared salmon or halibut, poultry, creamy pastas, and so much more. $23 winery-direct, or a couple bucks more a private stores around B.C. (Also, I'm loving their sweeet new labels. Handsome!)
Nichol Vineyard 2018 'Old Vines' Syrah is true to its name. You can't get any older when it comes to Syrah in Canada, as Nichol was the first in the country to plant the variety; they did so in estate granite bedrock soils back in 1990 and 1991. The variety has become a critical darling in B.C., and Nichol has always led the charge. Experienced blind tasters would likely nail the variety with this wine - there are violets, lavender and fresh-cracked black pepper in the aromatics, which join a little smoked brisket and black berry fruit on the palate. It's fresh and buoyant though, far from a gloopy and bombastic Shiraz. Grab it winery-direct for $34.69, or you can find it around B.C. private stores for a pinch more, too.
Swirl, Sniff, Sip & Click!
The current Cornonavirus global pandemic has seen the popularity of online wine courses, tastings and seminars skyrocket; I'm intrigued to see if this continues once we're on the other side of things. While local festivals, spring release tastings, classes and such have been swapped out for Zoom events, Instagram Live tastings, and other online ventures, it seems they were initially in place of existing events - now just in an online format. The ubiquity of these in the current arena of the wine industry seems to have expanded to fresh events and conversations - opportunities that were always there, but are a lot more obvious now that many of our lines of communications have changed.
Towards the end of a Zoom cocktail or two with pals when we were at the height of the Stay Home era here in Vancouver a few weeks back, Australia's Mac Forbes came up in conversation. I'd had a question come to mind about a recent Pinot Noir he'd released. With any sort of socialization beyond those we live with being online at the time, I simply reached out instinctively right at the moment. Within minutes we were FaceTiming; me on the couch, Forbes tromping through vineyards.
Granted, that was more of an impromptu chin-wag, but it's more to illustrate how many of us have less hesitation these days to expand our vinous horizons online, even to far-flung regions of the world from where we're sittin'.
There's a bigger grab bag out there of virtual opportunities to educate ourselves with online courses, or to sip and swirl with wine-world luminaries around the globe.
Here are a couple that recently caught my eye:
Bâtonnage Women in Wine Forum
Started in Napa, California in 2018, Bâtonnage has quickly become an important hub for conversation and action in the wine industry. They are guided by their intention; from their site:
Bâtonnage is the brainchild of all those who identify as women working in all the different facets of the wine industry... even (especially) those who have traditionally been overlooked or spoken over. We strive to educate wine professionals as well as wine industry supporters on the unique challenges and opportunities that women in the field--winemakers, vineyard workers, writers and marketers, salespeople, sommeliers, collectors, and drinkers--have faced both historically and present-day. We simultaneously seek to propose pragmatic solutions for charting a positive, inclusive course forward.
This year, their events and seminars go digital. Some of the best hearts and minds of the wine industry are on the bill. Elaine Chukan Brown moderates 'Vineyard Workers: What's Really Going On,' Julia Coney moderates 'Stirring It Up: Color, Wine, and Feminism,' and we're just scratching the surface of incredible content up for grabs.
Bâtonnage events run June 16 through July 10, but you have to hop to it! Registration for events close June 14th. All the info you need is right here.
Wines of South Africa Online Wine Course
The most recent wine trip I took was to South Africa late last year, and I was incredibly inspired each day. The country is a key destination for two of my very favourite varieties, done particularly well by a couple of my favourite producers: Chenin Blanc (Hey, Ken Forrester!), and Cinsault (What's up, Natte Valleij?). South Africa is home to some of the oldest grapevine plantings in the world, and at the same time there's a new wave of young winemakers shaking things up with a strong natural wine movement, a renewed dedication to traditional method sparkling wine, and a fierce dedication to wines of time and place.
This course offered by Wines of South Africa is comprised of quick-paced bullet-points, maps, and infographics that'll get you up to speed on all the elements we expect from a master class on a wine region: namely history, geography, climate, varieties, wine styles, viticulture and viniculture, plus social and economic components. There's a quiz at the end of each module, and those who complete the course receive a certificate of completion. It's free, available to all any time, and you can go at your own pace; more here.
Grab a glass and get clicking! I'll post a bunch of other online opportunities soon!
If anyone was looking for some of the best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs coming out of British Columbia these days, Naramata's Coolshanagh Wines would definitely be among my top half-dozen recommendations.
The vineyard's soils, perched on Lake Okanagan and comprised of silt, clay, limestone and calcium carbonate, anchor vines suited to the noble Burgundian varieties damn well. Proprietors Judy & Skip Stothert were not only convinced of this through self-guided research, but visits and consulting by Chilean-based Pedro Parra, arguably the greatest terroir expert on the planet, locked in their commitment to these varieties leading the way. The wines are made by Matt Dumayne at Okanagan Crush Pad, across the lake in Summerland.
Their well-woven elegance and fine-balanced nature may make some tempted to use the B-word when discussing their quality, but these are distinctly Okanagan wines, driven by good acid, minerality, and purity of fruit.
Want to geek out? Here's the tech-y stuff about the current Chard ($37) and Pinot ($37).
Now, Coolshanagh is a Celtic term for a 'meeting place of friends.' Expanding that sentiment broader into community, Judy & Skip are in the midst of a charitable initiative. From now through the end of June, they are donating $10 from every case of wine purchased to the B.C. Hospitality Foundation, our industry charity that provides financial assistance to those in the food and beverage industry facing a major medical crisis. More on that initiative is here.
The wines offer tremendous value, and can both be enjoyed now, or easily lay down for a few years to develop further complexity.
So, 'highly recommended,' for sure!
To order Coolshanagh wines from anywhere across Canada, please visit the website of Trialto, their local agent.
Breaking Bread w/ Rosé & a Juke Box
I tried a snappy little pink wine from Southern France a couple weeks back, and it's been top of mind since my first slurp.
Domaine La Gayolle 2019 Les Platanes IGP Var Rosé is a wine grown from clay-limestone soils, built from Merlot, Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon. It's red berry-driven with hearty squeezes of Ruby Red grapefruit, and a pinch of white pepper. Dry. Delicious. Here in Vancouver, it's imported by Vino Allegro, and just over 20 bucks at private stores like Marquis, Firefly, Village Liquor, and about to hit the list at local Cactus Clubs. It's at once crushable, yet there's a good level of complexity for those who want to ponder each sip for a while.
I wanna wash down fried chicken and ribs with the stuff.
You know where I go most often for take-out for that sort of fare around these parts?
Juke Fried Chicken.
I most often get their 'Juke Box,' where you get a couple pieces of fried chicken, a quarter rack of ribs, and a side. I'm usually an Asian Peanut Slaw Guy, but I've been known to dabble in Fried Pickles. (I'm SO putting that last sentence in my LinkedIn profile.)
This brings me to tackling another element of the post title here.
Breaking Bread is an initiative started by my friend and colleague Shelley McArthur-Everett, and her team at SMC Communications, a local p.r. & media relations agency focusing on hospitality clients. Things were humming along just fine for her and the team until, you know, this whole global pandemic. Restaurants shuttered pretty quick.
And then, some opened for retail items like gift cards and merch. And then others for take-out. And others for delivery. Some did one or two of these things, others did it all. The team built Breaking Bread as a one-stop online destination for independent restaurants, wineries and breweries across Canada to provide, list, and link to their offerings, so us enthusiasts wouldn't have to slog through zillions of listings to figure this stuff out. The initiative has also provided charity support and bolstered businesses in various other ways.
At last count they have over 2000 partners. So, a major pivot for a PR agency that was thriving in a completely different arena just a couple months back.
Being so nimble and savvy has allowed the agency to make much progress, and those professional instincts now look to provide for more progress.
In light of the ongoing oppression of Black people, and the current push for us non-POC to increase our hearts, minds, positions, and actions as allies, Breaking Bread is now pledging to showcase work done by Black industry leaders, and are currently dedicating content on their channels to focus and amplify them, along with providing charitable donations.
First up for a profile they've done is Justin Tisdall, the co-owner of Juke Fried Chicken; he's the remarkably handsome guy in the pic up above. Justin's been a colleague and friend for well over a decade, and has both a charming heart and brilliant mind for hospitality. He can also mix a mean drink, and curate a rad Spotify playlist. He's a community-oriented family man, an industry enthusiast, and a guy who can lift your spirits within seconds of an encounter. I hope to be like him when I grow up.
Please visit their profile of him, and do some clicky-and-follow tapping on the local Black-owned businesses he recommends.
...then go out and get your bottle of Rosé, then pick up your Juke Fried Chicken eats.
Enjoy all of it. And then remember to do the work we should all be doing.
Here are some general resources to assist with becoming a #BlackLivesMatter ally.
Here are some Vancouver-based resources, along with educational Netflix recommendations.
I'll keep sipping, eating, and working towards a better future, too.
The B.C. Bunch
It's always the spring when B.C. wines come storming outta the gates the most fast and furious, and that's probably the only thing that has remained traditional about the last couple of months. This is when we're seeing most whites and pinks landing on shelves and lists, though some lighter and buoyant reds are always welcome at the table. too.
Here are an array of recent faves with which there was no chance of any of 'em lasting too long once a cap was twisted or a cork was pulled. We'll start top-left and move clockwise:
Culmina Family Estate Winery R & D Rosé 2019 ($19.99) - A peachy charmer coming from red Bordeaux varieties grown on their Golden Mile estate. A few Bing cherries and red currants are swirled in their. too. I always say if you're just looking category-wise, pink wines have to be among the best value, most diverse in style, and most food-friendly wines on the shelf. 20 bucks? Dude. So good. Bon Appétit recently did a deep dive into a classic Carbonara pasta; this would knock it outta the park.
Clos du Soleil Winemaker's Series 'Middle Bench Vineyard' Pinot Blanc 2019 ($19.90) - Sure the lengthy name of the wine is quite the mouthful, but this perennial Similkameen Valley favourite fills the palate even more. Awash with a bounty of crisp apples and pears, the whole-cluster pressing and lees contact results in a bit of a graham wafer note, which dovetails with that juicy fruit so well. Aussie Pie Guy's Chook Pie with free-run chicken, mushrooms and white wine cream sauce anyone?
Bella 'Cavada Vineyards' Traditional Method Sparkling Rosé 2019 ($28.90) - Fresh, fresh, fresh with zippy rhubarb and lime, with some vibrant hibiscus prettying it up. 100 percent Naramata Gamay; both a winner and a bargain. Oh, how I adore the ever-growing roster of winemaker Jay Drysdale's bubbles. Three words: Fanny. Bay. Oysters. (Also, kudos to Jay and partner Wendy Rose, who are swapping from a tasting room format to a farm tour format for the season.)
Joue White by Averill Creek Vineyard 2019 ($29.53) - A field blend of white grapes from these Vancouver Island legends is "foot stomped, left over night and then whole bunch pressed the next day into older French barriques." Then: wild-fermented on the lees with no additives like SO2, enzymes, or anything else. Meyer lemon, meet blood orange marmalade and enjoy that salty sea air. Hot damn. Double up on Tacofino goodness with their Fish Taco (crispy ling cod, cabbage, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca) off the bat and their Tuna Taco (soy, sesame, wakame, ginger, wasabi mayo) as your chaser.
Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars Reserve Chardonnay 2017 ($29.90) - This wild-fermented Chardonnay, the majority of which was raised in a variety of French oak vessels, and the remaining 30 percent in stainless steel to preserve some freshness, is wonderfully blended and now wonderfully aged; it's just hitting its stride. The Mavety family, O.G.'s of Okanagan Falls wine-growing, have done it yet again. It's woven quite well; layers of citrus fruit, lemon, lime, pomelo — all of 'em — with a couple Spartan apples, a hunk of buttery pie crust, and maybe a slight drizzle of honey. There's a freshness here, but you can totally swaddle yourself in it, too. This recipe for Grilled Tahini Chicken on Molly Yeh's site would tango well.
Tantalus Vineyards 'Maija' Pinot Noir 2018 ($21.74) - From the lauded Kelowna winery comes yet another tip-top outing by winemaker and all-around good guy Dave Paterson. Fermented with indigenous yeast and aged in 20 percent new French oak barrels for just under a year, this Pinot punches well above its stupidly-low price-point. (Shhh... Just order a bunch before they figure it out.) A recent additional vineyard planting of various clones of Pinot Noir is a good sign they're going all-in with the variety. A basket of plums, some juicy acidity, a smattering of cardamom. Put a bit of a chill on it (10 minutes in the fridge is juuust fine), and pour liberally. How about Ottolenghi's Mushroom and Herb Polenta?
Terravista Vineyards Fandango 2018 ($25) - With the Okanagan Valley's mineral-rich soils, long, stunningly sunny and warm days to ripen and allow purity of fruit, a broad diurnal temperature shift bringing cool nights to preserve natural acidity, it's a wonder we don't see Albariño and Verdejo vineyards widely dotting the landscape. Terravista were the proverbial canaries in the coal mine with the varieties around these parts, and this eighth vintage of Fandago, a blend of the two, makes for a rock-solid thesis on why we need to see more. The juice of Ruby Red grapefuit, a little fresh lime zest, a hunk of quava, all strewn with a handful of rocks and tarragon. Flip to any page of the Tinned Fish Cookbook and go to town.
Kitsch Block Party 2019 ($21) - This mix of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir comes from various vineyard blocks on the family's Kelowna estate, and is quite the fun and cheery summer sipper. Also, can we talk about what a great name 'Block Party' is for a wine of this style? Love it. Oh, and I love the juice, too. Think a proper Bellini with a spot of muddled lemon,and a wee splash of Campari. Crazy-delicious. Gordon Ramsay has a plate of Fish & Chips that'll be ready in 10 minutes!
...and Ann B. Davis as Alice is here to remind you that while all of these wines are available winery-direct, you can also find them at private wine stores around B.C. for just a couple bucks more!
Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!
Well, ain't this quite the happy trio of Aussie wine?
We start with Luke Lambert's 2018 Yarra Valley Syrah, whole-bunch fermented with indigenous yeast, aged in old oak, unfined, unfiltered, yadda yadda yadda. So pretty and floral with violets and lavender, mulberries and currants, and a sweet little dusting of cocoa; a charmer. Syrah flavour with Pinot Noir structure. A showstopper. Yum. Here in Vancouver, it's imported by Sur lie, and available at Kitsilano Wine Cellar for around 75 bucks.
Moving on, Yalumba's 2017 Eden Valley Roussanne. What's that wafting out of the glass? Dammit, it's elderflower! The beeswax-y palate is drenched in honey, white peaches, a smudge of fresh ginger, and there's an ample serving of lemon meringue pie. Good acid. Actually: great acid. Keeps things nice and lively. It's imported by Pacific Wine & Spirits, and at Marquis Wine Cellars for 39 bucks.
Finally, Pewsey Vale's incredible, incredible 1961 Block 2018 Riesling. Hella-dry with lime, jasmine, and a whole bunch of rocks. If you know, you know. Also Pacific Wine & Spirits, also Marquis Wine Cellars. $52. Drink now or lay it down as long as you want.