School may not be in session around B.C., but this September brings a fresh start for me as the new kid here at the Straight.
Yup, I’m your new wine columnist, but my standpoint is a tad different from that of the typical wine journalist. I consult for restaurants on their wine lists and also do a little staff training here and there. I judge at wine competitions, conduct seminars for people inside and outside the wine industry, produce wine events around town, and so on.
If I’m stoked on a wine I’ve discovered, you’re going to hear about it—particularly if it’s something off the beaten path that others aren’t covering.
This column isn’t going to be a laundry list of winetasting notes, either. I’ll be profiling drink-related Vancouverites you should know about, I’ll most likely hop on the ol’ soapbox regarding B.C. liquor laws, and you’ll also read about beer, cider, and spirits.
Let’s splash right into a trio of wines that have been rockin’ my world lately. If wines like high-profile California Chardonnays and Australian Shirazes are the mainstream hits of the wine world, you can consider these ones rarities and B-sides.
There’s been a clear buzz of late around Pender Island’s Sea Star Vineyards wines and I’m heartily jumping on the bandwagon, finding my spot among the sommeliers of Chambar, Blue Water Cafe, and L’Abattoir, all of whom have been spreading the gospel by the glass. Sea Star Ortega 2013($20 to $25, private liquor stores) is a charmer of an aromatic white, but let’s back up just a wee bit for a quick trip to wine school.
Ortega is the grape variety in question, a Germanic genetic crossing of Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe. To give you an idea of what culminates structure- and flavourwise here, Müller-Thurgau has Riesling as an ancestor, while Siegerrebe’s parentage includes Gewürztraminer.
Cool-climate regions are where these varieties thrive, and Pender Island’s shores fit the bill. The fossilized maritime elements in the soil come right through in the wine: a hint of oyster shell emanates through Asian pear and star fruit, all of it bound together by citrusy acidity and a wodge of honeycomb. In short, drink this and eat fish.
While many Vancouverites admire Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards for its illustrious Rieslings, it’s a limited-edition Pinot Noir that should soon be the talk of the town. Tantalus Clone 93 Pinot Noir 2012($25 to $30, Tantalus or private liquor stores) is as soft and charming as one hopes a Pinot will be, but mingling with perfumed, plummy fruit is a dimension-leaping touch of savoury character reminiscent of sun-dried tomatoes and herbs. A quaffable, juicy outing from a Pinot clone that’s more common in Germany—Spätburgunder, they call it.
The local vines planted way back in 1985 have obviously made themselves at home. When the rain starts falling, simmer some stew and pull the cork on this one.
Finally, I popped into the brand-new Chambar in Crosstown the other day to visit Jason Yamasaki, the restaurant’s energetic and whip-smart sommelier. As he toured me through the new digs and his rather stunning wine cellar, he poured me a splash of wine that left me beaming.
Tio Pepe Fino en Rama 2014 is the freshest, most bone-dry sherry you’re going to find in our market. The difference between it and the “regular” Tio Pepe is that the wine for this particular label is pulled from casks at its Spanish bodega in the spring, bottled unclarified and unfiltered, and then sent out to market in this fresh and delicate state.
Elements of salty sea air and citrus notes waft out of the glass, with roasted almonds and marinated olives on the palate. Spoiler alert: the latter almonds and olives act as a killer food pairing, too.
This wine is so limited that the only store in town carrying it is Kitsilano Wine Cellar, where it’s tagged at 36 bucks. Want to give it a whirl before you nab a bottle? Stop by Chambar and have Yamasaki pour you a glass for $6, a small price to pay for being transported to the Mediterranean.