Sunday, 26 August 2012

Brunches, Gardens, and Chenin Blanc...

This past Sunday, a friend and I were invited to enjoy a summer's brunch at the home of mutual friends. The invitation was just part of a plot to get ust help with weeding their garden plot, but the upside was we were to each supply a bottle of wine to enjoy during brunch and break-time. By complete coincidence, each of us supplied a bottle of Chenin Blanc! What more, the day's selection of Chenin Blanc were each from different regions and represented completely different styles!

Chenin Blanc is a white grape that finds its traditional home in the Loire Valley of France. Signature traits of Chenin Blanc are relatively neutral aromatics that develop into honeycomb and baked apples with age, sharp acidity, relatively low alcohol, and a slightly oily texture. Like Riesling, the sweetness of a Chenin Blanc can vary from year to year and from region to region, and as such can offer quality wines suited as a bubbly aperitif, a compliment to a main course, or as a sweet finish to a meal. Our three-course Chenin Blanc tasting went as follows:

Sparkling Chenin Blanc
In its classic home of the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc is sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc for a fresh, traditional method sparkling wine called Cremant de la Loire. (A "Cremant de" anything indicates a Champagne-style sparkling wine from other regions of France such as the Loire, Burgundy, or Alsace). Inspired by the Loire, New World producers can also use Chenin Blanc to bring acidity to their bubbles and blend with more traditional grapes like Chardonnay. In our case, the sparkling Chenin from Road 13 was the perfect choice to not only toast my upcoming adventure, but also paired perfectly with the brunch buffet of eggs benedict, turkey bacon, rosemary-roasted potatoes, fresh-baked zucchini bread with homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam, and garden-fresh strawberries, raspberries, and  blackberries.
Chenin Blanc - France
The Loire is France's longest river, and is neatly divided into different wine regions according to the grapes grown. In the heart of the Loire we find the appellations of Vouvray and Saumur, home to France's finest Chenin Blanc. As with many other classic French regions, weather patterns deeply impact the vintage of Chenin Blanc resulting in some years with bone dry wines, others with off-dry. High quality sweet wines are also common from the small appellations further east of Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume. For thirsty gardeners, this was a much better way to call us back for a break than a pitcher of lemonade.
Chenin Blanc - New World
Regarded as one of the finest French white grapes, Chenin Blanc does not have the international reputation of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling. The exception to this rule is South Africa where Chenin Blanc, localy called Steen, is by far the most widely planted white grape. Here, Chenin Blanc forms the base for bulk wines and for brandy distillation, but older vines produce among South Africa's finest aged whites. Elsewhere, cooler climates in California or our own BC produce some excellent Chenin Blanc as well. After 2 rounds of Chenin, the more fruit-forward and lightly oaked South African Chenin Blanc was a welcome way to finish a day's weeding on a late summer's afternoon.

I therefore hereby declare Chenin Blanc the official wine of the 2012 Garden Season!


Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Pacific Northwest Meets the Middle East

Earlier this week, I held my last in-store tasting event. For the past 2.5 years, I've held themed events at my store that combine wines from my travels to different regions paired with locally-inspired cuisine. Some of it is as authentic as I can get (eg. empanadas with Argentine Malbec, green-lipped mussels with NZ Sauvignon Blanc, tarte flambee with Alsatian Riesling), while others are sometimes a bit of a stretch (ostrich loin in a smoked blueberry reduction with Australian Shiraz). Deciding on the theme of "Road Trip Through BC," the selected wines were intended to showcase varietals that show great potential for further growth in our wine industry. Food pairing, however, I was a bit stuck; why go through the effort of creating a BC tapas extravaganza when anyone can have their choice of BC cuisine within blocks of the store?

Instead, I decided on a menu that showcased my wine "roots" here in BC as paired with the culinary delights of where I am going in a few short weeks; a sort of Pacific Northwest meets the Middle East.  Using fresh ingredients from my garden (zucchini, cabbage, parsely) is about as BC as I got, but everyone seemed to enjoy the eccelctic mix of tapas one would not normally expect to pair with wine. Which is the point of these events: to challenge yourself to try something different.

Below is a list copied from our website of the wines I poured as well as the different tapas intended to go with each wine:
Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser 2011
Originally from Germany, Ehrenfelser and other Germanic grapes such as Riesling made their way because our latitude and general temperature is similar to Germany. With some of the oldest Ehrenfelser vines, the Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser is a lovely balanced off-dry wine that is perfect for a summer patio. 
Blue Mountain Pinot Blanc 2011
In Europe, Pinot Blanc is generally used for bulk or sparkling wine production and is not regarded as a high-quality grape. Here in BC, wineries such as Blue Mountain treat Pinot Blanc with great care, resulting in a wine that is medium-full bodied, crisp, and with a hint of creaminess from lees aging.
Tapa Pairing: Krumb Mahshy (Egyptian Cabbage Rolls) - stuffed with rice and a herbaceous blend of parsely, cilantro, and dill, Egyptian Cabbage Rolls are simmered in a broth of lemon and olive oil. The creamy texture from the lees-aged Pinot Blanc balances the texture of the rolls.
Stag's Hollow Viognier 2010
The latitude of the Okanagan may be the same as Germany, but the extreme summer heat is more reflective of the Rhone Valley. Hence, white Rhone grapes such as Viognier do very well in our climate. The Stag's Hollow offers consistent Viogniers that have a velvety palate with notes of white peaches and avocado; a perfect representation of BC Viognier.
Tapa Pairing: Ricotta-stuffed Zucchini Rolls - BC Viognier always makes me think of an California roll, so I modified this to include garden-fresh zucchini filled with homemade ricotta cheese and pinenuts.
Averill Creek Pinot Grigio 2010
As we know, Pinot Grigio is all the rage these days, and the Averill Creek shows how a Pinot Grigio can be more than just a simple sipper. Fuller in body with a lovely notes of stone fruit, citrus, and minerality, it is also great to see a wine of such quality from the Cowichan Valley.
Tapa Pairing: Ta'amiyya (aka. Falafel) - Proper ta'amiyya should be so full of parsely, cilantro, and dill that the chickpea batter is bright green; a perfect flavour profile to match a zesty and herbaceous Pinot Grigio.
Nichol Vineyards Pinot Gris 2010
A new trend in Pinot Gris has emerged in the Naramata. If left on the vines long enough, the skin of the Pinot Gris will develop a pinkish-hue. Rarely seen anywhere else, Naramata wineries such as Nichol and Kettle Valley have excelled at creating a white wine that is salmon-pink in colour with balanced notes of pears and strawberries.
Mistaken Identity Pinot Noir Rose 2011
Salt Spring Island is part of the Gulf Islands Wine Region and has a reputation of organic, locally grown produce. In the case of Mistaken Identity, certified organic and biodynamic Pinot Noir is sourced from Island vineyards to create this lovely Rose.
Arrowleaf Pinot Noir 2010 & Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2008
At around 200km in length, the climate of the Okanagan is very diverse, ranging from cool in the north to a hot desert in the south. This flight of Pinot Noir exemplified how climate can impact wine. Based near Vernon, the Arrowleaf Pinot Noir is light in body and colour with notes of strawberries and sour cherries. From the south near Oliver, the Pinot Noir from Tinhorn Creek is darker in colour, fuller in body, and richer in flavours of dark cherry and smokey spice. Two different styles, two great Pinots in their own right.
Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc 2008
Always the supporting role in Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc only shows itself on its own in the Loire Valley - and increasingly so in BC. Our short growing season makes it difficult for Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen properly, but Cabernet Franc shows great potential at becoming our signature red. Poplar Grove's Cab-Franc shows how great this potential can be.
Tapa Pairing: Buffalo Kifta (Meatballs) - The same trilogy of herbs as above (parsely, cilantro, dill) are blended with the ground buffalo meat and bound together by bulgher (cracked wheat), which makes for a more delicate and moist burger patty. Cabernet Franc tends to have a herbaceous flavour to it, and was thus the right choice for this tapa.
Burrowing Owl Syrah 2009
As mentioned above with Viognier, the desert climate of the south Okanagan is great for producing wines typical of the Northern Rhone Valley. There, Syrah is the king of red wines, and shows continued growth in quality in the Okanagan. Everyone loves "The Owl," and the full-bodied, spicy, balanced Syrah is another great example of the potential of BC Syrah.

I suppose the next step is when in Doha, I will have to recreate this theme by matching BC-inspired tapas with local beverages. I'm not sure, however, how well a White Spot Pirate Pack will pair with karkade tea...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Putting Pride in Cooking...

Recently, Vancouver celebrated its cultural and sexual diversity by hosting the annual Pride Parade. Considered one of the largest in North America with over 1-million crammed into the downtown core, which is pretty big considering there are only about 2-million in Greater Vancouver. Although I take pride in my acceptance of all people great and small, I just don't like them all crammed into one place. Thus, I take an annual pass on the Pride Parade and instead have a small BBQ in White Rock to watch the little fireworks display to mark our own Festival of the Sea.

Perhaps I watch too much Food Network, (and will eventually be the Next Food Network Star), but this year I thought to issue my own cooking challenge as one might see on "Top Chef:" to create a menu that reflects the rainbow colours of the Gay/Lesbian/etc Community flag (or, if you're South American, the Inca flag. They are one in the same, so an Inca in Vancouver might be in for a surprise should he or she visit a marked establishment on Davie Street. Likewise, if you're gay in Cuzco). "Drawing knives" as they do on such shows to determine who has which theme, I drew each of the 6 colours of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple (I passed on indigo) to inspire my meal. Here are the resulting dishes:

Red: Grilled Lamb with Romesco
The red meat that is lamb is quite obvious, but a romesco sauce is a classic Catalunian dish made of roast tomatoes and red peppers, bound together with toasted hazelnuts, oregano, olive oil, and lots of Spanish paprika.

Orange: Citrus Di Gua Fan
Di Gua Fan is a traditional Taiwanese rice dish made of coconut milk and yams. Adding a bit of orange juice into the broth and some carrots to boot helped boost the orange colour.

Yellow: Seafood Pacri Nenas
Pacri Nenas is an Indonesian curry I learned to make at a day-long cooking class in Bali many years ago. Fresh (not tinned!) pineapple is the key, and lots of tumeric helps make this a vibrant sweet and spicy summer curry. Adding prawns and squid during the last 10 minutes adds some extra protein as well.

Green: Chicken with Chimichurri
Hard to find a meat that is naturally green, so a bit of Argentine chimichurri will help add colour to any grilled meat. Simple to make, just blend together lots of cilantro, some parsely, olive oil, onion, and garlic, with a dash of cayenne for spice. Done.

Blue: Blueberry Clafoutis
Blueberries are in season here in BC, and down the road there are plenty of fresh blueberry farms to shop from. A clafoutis is a cross between a custard and a cake, using mostly egg and milk and only a little flour.

Purple: Purple Goma-ae Coleslaw
My original plan for purple was to do a purple potato salad. The fun in this is that potatoes originate in Peru, so a purple potato salad would've been the perfect play on Pride and the Inca flags. However, no purple potatoes in market now, so I substituted it with a purple cabbage coleslaw in a goma-ae dressing. Goma-ae is my favourite Japanese dressing, made essentially of ground sesame and rice vinegar.

In the end, I was proud of my Pride menu. Putting pride and love into your food is also a key factor in elevating the same dish from good to excellent; you can really taste the difference when you put your heart into it. A meal made to impress any Food Network challenge judge for sure, and paired perfectly with what else but a glass of rose! Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc Rose 2011 to be exact.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Importance of a Thank You...

If there is one thing you can say about my resume it's that it is ecclectic. While wine has been the focus of my career the past few years, my record of employment can be interpreted as having little focus. Restaurant management, live-to-air cooking show, heliski sales rep, hotel front desk clerk, and English teacher are some of the jobs that appear over the past decade or so of full-time employment.  The education portion of the resume would also seem to have little to do with my current employment. Yes, I have a WSET diploma but that does not seem to follow from a bilingual BA in History with a minor in Middle Eastern studies, including a semester abroad in Cairo. While my linguistic abilities in French and Spanish are an asset in the world of wine, I can't say that Japanese and Arabic have much to do with wine production. Travel to 39 countries (that's more than 1 per year of my life) and calling 5 of them "home" at some point also indicates a wanderlust that prospective employers may regard as "antsy." If only there were some job out there that combined the best this olio of employment has to offer. If only.....

...Well, it turns out there is, and I am thrilled that you have read this far to learn about my new job. I have been offered the opportunity of a lifetime to teach WSET Levels 1 - 3  on a 6-month contract through Fine Vintage Ltd. ( in.....wait for it.....Qatar! As it turns out, a semester abroad in Cairo, a Diploma in Wine Studies, 3 years of teaching English in Japan (and having your own cooking show), travel to many wine regions, and an indominably quirky personality can come together when the moment is right. The thread of my life's experience has finally come together to sew the perfect position for me, and I am fully prepared to take on this amazing challenge.

I should mention how this all came about. First, Fine Vintage is the Vancouver-bases institute where I completed my Levels 2 & 3 studies back in 2006. About a year ago, I contacted the company offering my skills as an Educator, quoting a Japanese proverb passed on to my by my Kendo sensei: "Any horse can run a thousand miles, but only a select few can teach a horse to do so." Meaning, I may not have graduated top of my class, but I have the necessary skills to inspire and share my knowledge. Since early this year, I have volunteered to sit in on many sessions in order to learn from the best in the business, and it seems this dedication has paid off.

Best in the business indeed, as I should also point out that Fine Vintage Ltd. is the current Riedel Trohpy-holder as best WSET Education the world!!! Owned by one of Canada's four Masters of Wine, it is a humble honour to have been selected into this role. In fact, the Owner was my instructor at these Levels and upon receiving my application, remembered my quirky personality and determination to pursue a career in Wine Education. What more, he remembered a Thank You e-mail I sent after completing Level 2, highlighting how much I enjoyed the classes.

Which goes to show you; a little thank you can go a long, long way...