On a recent afternoon, as a friend and I were enjoying a few drinks and bites on Chambar’s sunny patio, sommelier Kaela Augustine giddily bounded up to our table with an attractive blue-and-white-labelled bottle of wine in hand.
“We just got this in,” she exclaimed as she put a couple of glasses in front of us and proceeded to pour. “It isn’t even on the list yet. It won’t go on until tomorrow, but you really need to try it!”
The bottle in question was the Chambar Viognier/Roussanne 2016: a custom blend created exclusively for Chambar by the Okanagan’s acclaimed Laughing Stock Vineyards. Winemaker David Enns had the lead, with Chambar’s (all-female) sommelier team calling the shots on the final blend.
And what a blend it is. The Viognier, which makes up half of the composition, comes from the winery’s Perfect Hedge vineyard located down south in Osoyoos, while the Roussanne comes from a grower closer to the winery’s Naramata home. After both varieties were cofermented via a natural wild-yeast fermentation, the grape skins macerated in the wine for 44 days.
The result is a sturdy orange wine, full of peaches, apricots, lemon, and ginger, which are cradled by light tannins providing a little oomph, then with just a hint of grip on the finish. It’s bright and juicy enough to hit seafood well, yet it definitely carries enough weight to stand up to grilled meats and game. In fact, as I perused the menu I was hard-pressed to see anything the wine wouldn’t take a shine to.
It easily complemented the spiced-nuts and charcuterie board we had on the table, but I can totally see it as a worthy accompaniment to chef Nico Schuermans’s coquilles St. Jacques, a dish involving seared bacon-wrapped scallops, Puy-lentil-and-sage salad, pickled beets, and maple Dijon. My next visit, though, I’m looking forward to a glass of the stuff with their canard et gnocchi: spice-rubbed duck breast, gnocchi, goat cheese, celery-and-apple salad, hazelnuts, and bigarade sauce.
Even on its own, the wine stands tall, with plenty of character to swirl, sniff, sip, and ponder. Sooner than later, head to Chambar (568 Beatty Street) and check it out for yourself, whether by the glass ($14) or by the bottle ($68).
A few days after that experience, I found myself up at the bar at Yaletown’s new contemporary Mexican hot spot, Fayuca (1009 Hamilton Street). Again, I had quite an impressive wine experience, but for those who missed the Straight’s springtime coverage of the opening, a little about the restaurant first. The culinary focus here is on northern Mexico’s Pacific coast, with indigenous elements integral to many dishes, along with British Columbia’s bounty of ingredients, from organic, seasonal vegetables to sustainable seafood. The venture is a collaboration between Ernesto Gomez, whom many know as the co-owner of the city’s popular Nuba eateries, and famed Mexican chef Jair Tellez.
It’s a welcome addition to Vancouver’s food scene, and although we have an embarrassment of quality Mexican joints around town, the elevated cuisine here makes it far from redundant. Think starters like grilled cactus with halloumi cheese, avocado, and salsa verde, and mains like Little Neck clams in red rice with green almond sauce, charred avocado, broccolini, and mizuna greens.
Now, the wine program for such a place needs to be pretty inspired and spot-on to properly echo the distinctiveness and authenticity of the food. I’m happy to report that Gomez and Tellez can consider this mission accomplished. The compact list starts out with a handsome quintet of sparklers, featuring modern classics like Spain’s Parés Baltà NV Organic Cava Brut ($10.50 per glass, $45 per bottle), then moves to geekier selections like C & P Breton Vouvray “La Dilettante” Sec 2015 ($72 per bottle), a Loire Valley fizz made from Chenin Blanc and teeming with Honeycrisp apples, lemonade, and brioche.
Venturing onward through the list, we have local gems like Lock & Worth Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2016 ($9.75 per glass, $46 per bottle), zippy with limes, yellow grapefruit, and a handful of minerals, as well as Eric Texier’s St-Julien en St-Alban Syrah 2014 ($65), a natural wonder of blackberries, white pepper, lavender, and fresh herbs from the Rhone.
The list doesn’t even hit the 30-selection mark, but it still took me a ridiculous amount of time to decide on a wine to go with dinner. It was a kid-in-a-candy-store scenario, for sure. Frankly, I could have closed my eyes and pointed anywhere on the page and I would have been more than happy with my selection.
Kudos to the team on this exciting new chapter in Vancouver wining and dining.