Buy the Glass: Gastown

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      It’s how many of us find new favourites. We go to a restaurant, and after perusing the by-the-glass wine list, we ask our server or the sommelier for a recommendation. Often it isn’t something we would have gravitated to, but upon our first or second sip, we’re absolutely delighted with the selection. A lot of meticulous work and care goes into designing the by-the-glass portion of a wine program, with balance being key. Priorities include an even spread of price points to accommodate all budgets; a variety of wine styles, weights, and structures to offer myriad potential pairings with menu items; some unique options to satisfy even the most enlightened, experienced, or adventurous palates; and countless other considerations.

      This week’s column is the first in a four-part series I’m calling Buy the Glass, in which I shine a light on three restaurants in one Vancouver neighbourhood and ask the people behind their respective wine programs for a glass they’re excited to pour. We begin in Gastown.

      Lineups are common outside Tacofino’s Taco Bar (Blood Alley Square); Vancouverites have been flocking to this lively room since the doors were first flung open this past January for its bright and elevated Mexican cuisine with a splash of West Coast flair. (Yup, you’ll find kale used here and there.) After high-profile positions at Reflections at Rosewood Hotel Georgia and Cuchillo, Julia Diakow has grabbed the reins as bar manager for the location, bringing a high-spirited, creative energy to the place.

      Reached by phone, she was enthusiastic about Spain’s Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Nature ($8 per glass, $39 per bottle), calling it “a Spanish cava that’s so yeasty, yet bright and citrusy, plus it’s a remarkable value considering it’s made in the traditional [Champagne] method. In fact, it’s even made using Champagne yeast imported from France!”

      When asked what she enjoys pairing it with, Diakow didn’t hesitate to recommend the restaurant’s Oaxacan corn fritters with chili, lime, and cotija cheese. “The citrus character of the wine hits the lime and cheese perfectly, while the bright acidity cuts into fried food quite well.” Sounds like a cerveza will have to wait.

      Just around the corner at L’Abattoir (217 Carrall Street), there’s also a new pro at the helm. Lisa Haley recently left her wine director position at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar to retain the same title, tacking on “assistant general manager” as well. While the list will continue to focus heavily on France to match chef Lee Cooper’s French-centric menu, Haley is looking to broaden the global selections to offer a slightly wider range of styles. When I popped into the restaurant, she went straight to France for her chosen pour, sharing a splash of Domaine Richeaume 2013 Cuvée Tradition ($15 per glass, $72 per bottle), a white blend of Rolle, Clairette, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc from Provence.

      “It’s a really fun glass of white, with good body and richness and not overly oaked,” she said. “I love that the richness comes from the fruit and not the oak, so it’s still fresh enough that you can have a couple glasses and enjoy all of that floral character, with almonds, orange flowers, and a little peach on the finish.”

      You can’t get much more seasonal than her suggested pairing of one of their starters: pasta stuffed with pumpkin, served with apples, brown butter, and pecorino fondue. “There’s enough lift in the wine to cut through some of the dish’s richness, and I like how the bright flavour profile hits the nuttiness of the pecorino,” she said.

      A few short blocks away, Justin Everett runs a stellar program as wine director of Wildebeest (120 West Hastings Street). With chef Pekka Tavela’s meat-centric, nose-to-tail cuisine, it was a good bet that when I called him up, Everett was going to pluck a mighty red from the cellar, and he certainly delivered.

      “Reyneke 2012 Cornerstone is a blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot, and 20 percent Cabernet Franc, and it comes from South Africa’s only biodynamic winery,” he shared. “It has a lot of classic Cabernet character, with blackberry, currant, and eucalyptus, and while it’s full-bodied, there are soft tannins, so it doesn’t come across as too heavy.”

      His food pairing? “Easy,” he said. “Our slow-cooked bison with pan-roasted broccoli and Portobello mushroom, smoked potatoes, shaved Brussels sprouts, and parsnip purée. I just think that braised meats are so well suited for rainy winter days.”

      Indeed. The best part is, these three spots are situated so close to one another, you can take this column as your guide, stroll around, and make a night of it. Next week, we’ll head to Kitsilano.