This brilliant Pinot Noir is worth a little waltz out to dinner

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Jack Evrensel, the ace restaurateur whose Toptable Group includes CinCin, Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar, West, and the sweetest spot in town, Thierry, as well as Whistler’s world-famous Araxi, is not a man who does things by halves. So when the magnificent 2010 Pinot Noir by Naramata’s tiny Foxtrot Vineyards came up for release, he bought the lot: all of the 100 cases that were produced. Of course, he tasted it first, and so did his wine directors: West’s Owen Knowlton, Blue Water’s Andrea Vescovi, CinCin’s Dave Marchand, and Araxi’s Samantha Rahn. They all loved it. Now it’s your turn, at any of the aforementioned restaurants and probably nowhere else.

Of course when it’s gone, it’s gone. Certainly we must have made something of a dent in the supply at a tasting the restaurant group staged a few weeks ago at Blue Water Cafe. Chef Frank Pabst produced a brace of brilliant appetizers to go along, but the undisputed star of the afternoon was the wine, subtitled on the quirky label “The Waltz”.

I’m not a little bit chuffed to tell you that I have something of a personal history with Foxtrot Vineyards and its wines. More years ago than I am prepared to admit in public, very dear friends planted the first vineyard next to their house in Naramata. I have followed its development ever since, and it has never been better than it is right now. The plot of vineyard and the house adjacent were purchased years ago by Torsten Allander, whose son Gustav has become the winemaker. He knows whereof he blends!

Eventually the Allanders acquired other vineyard properties, and the long and short of it is the wine that now sits exclusively in the cellars of the above-mentioned restaurants. It is blended from three Foxtrot vineyard blocks on the Naramata Bench, from grape stocks aged between five and 23 years. It is a fabulous wine: Gustav Allander calls it “a vibrant wine with fresh aromas of dark chocolate, black cherry, raspberry and violet, with spicy notes on the finish.”

It is all that and much, much more. The Allanders blended it in collaboration with the restaurants’ wine directors, in the tradition established last year that resulted in the two—red and white—Director’s Blends they achieved. I like Andrea Vescovi’s observation that this year’s wine was created with a view to providing “absolute friendship with food”.

The Waltz is another example of creating brilliant “heartbreak wine”, as Pinot Noir is known in some circles, out of Okanagan vineyards. More and more producers are experimenting—and successfully—with the grape. I think this one may be the best yet—certainly one of the top three I’ve tasted in several decades of B.C. wine sampling.

If you want to get next to some, you know where to go. Bring money, as such near-perfection doesn’t come cheap: Foxtrot “The Waltz” can be had by the glass for $19.50, or by the bottle for $92, only at Toptable restaurants. Lucky them for grabbing all of it; lucky you if you get to taste some.

Have a Glass…or a Hundred!

Random House of Canada has opened a Vancouver food-and-drink imprint called Appetite with a new edition of wine guy James Nevison’s (he’s in The Province) Had a Glass 2013, subtitled “The Top 100 Wines Under $20”. It’s a noble challenge he’s set himself and it follows on the heels of several previous vintages, which he coauthored with long-time tasting partner Kenji Hodgson.

Nevison surveys his hundred picks with a light, breezy style. There are reds and whites, pinks and bubbles, fortified treats and even a section he calls the Splurge: 10 wines that are “definitely worth the lapse in budget”. The price ($19.95) is most reasonable for such a useful collection; you’ll have it repaid in no time by the winning wines you’ll discover under Nevison’s comfortable tutelage. And then you’ll get to treat yourself to the Splurge!

The wines are available in many B.C. LDB stores; if you don’t see the one you want, ask someone to look it up using the barcode thoughtfully provided by the author for each entry. Each wine comes with a suggested food pairing, and there’s a nice ’n’ easy “boot camp” section that covers all the basics to enjoying any wine.

Georgia in my Wine

The above-referenced little book led me to a Georgian wine that has become a favourite on my table: Marani Mtsvane n/v is a specialty listed white priced at a most reasonable $11.90. I didn’t know we had any wines from Georgia in the LDB, but we have two reds as well, one at $17 and the other a Merlot, from the same producer as the Mtsvane, for $27.90. I’m going to hold off on the big-ticket Merlot for now, but I can recommend the Mtsvane wholeheartedly. Mtsvane is one of dozens of Georgian wine-grape varieties, most if not all of which are practically unknown here.

But this isn’t the first Mtsvane we’ve seen in B.C. Many vintages ago, winemaker and consultant Lynn Stark, working on an ambitious project for Brights in the Okanagan (and now consulting to many B.C. growers and wineries as Lynn Bremmer, with partner John Bremmer), made minuscule amounts of this and other Russian varietals—Rkatsiteli and Oraniensteiner among others, all based on experimental plantings from the “Becker Plots”. The project only lasted about three years—from 1983 to about 1986—and only Oraniensteiner seems to have any sort of presence in the Okanagan now. (The Martiniuk family’s Stoneboat winery makes a luscious sweet wine from the grape, called Verglas.)

The Brights project was one of the most visionary winemaking projects in B.C.’s relatively short winemaking history. When I say minuscule amounts, I mean really small: some of the wines were made in quantities as small as half a dozen bottles, all separately labelled and not found in any mainstream stores. They didn’t all work, but under Lynn’s inspired production techniques, some were outstanding. She did add an extra vowel to the name to make pronunciation easier: Matsvani. The currently available Mtsvane is a fresh wine with a nice bit of bite. It goes very well with grilled white fish and is also excellent with ripe fresh raspberries, if there are still any around, providing an interesting counterpoint for the palate. The price is as attractive as the wine itself and lends itself to experimenting with something unfamiliar. A look at the Georgian reds another time in this space.

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