For this Best of Vancouver issue of the Straight, I’d been working on a collection of some of the best wines I’ve tasted this year, writing occasional notes and thoughts on them as I had the time. In fact, I’d just finished notes on a particular Pinot Noir when I had to put the laptop aside and head out to a meeting I’d arranged with a colleague.
We were to meet at the bar of Burdock & Co. on Main Street in Mount Pleasant. What was initially meant to be a brief 30-minute chat over a glass of wine morphed into an epic, two-and-a-half-hour multicourse dinner. I’ve always enjoyed chef and owner Andrea Carlson’s honest cooking and devotion to local ingredients, particularly her tightrope walk between rusticity and elegance.
This visit was no different, but a thought I had as my friend and I tucked into our first dish, a pork and chanterelle mushroom ragout over fettuccine with fennel pollen, changed the scope of this column. I had this thought as I sipped a glass of Frank Cornelissen 2013 Contadino from Mount Etna in Sicily, a blend of Nerello Mascalese and a host of other indigenous Italian varieties—a crunchy, herb-driven wine that straddles the line between a red and a rosé.
Burdock & Co. has the best wine program in Vancouver. Yup, I’m calling it.
There are many wine programs in other restaurants that boast the finest châteaux, domains, wineries, and vineyards available in our market. There are those that build on their owners’ keen and savvy philosophies with a small collection of carefully selected bottles, without a doubt.
But when you look at a wine program’s place in a restaurant, it’s not about simply having a killer list of gems. It has to hum right along with the food coming out of the kitchen, it has to match the tone of the room, and it requires both an intelligent steward and discerning guardians on the floor.
Check. Check. Check.
The steward at Burdock & Co. is Matt Sherlock, who is quite the Renaissance man in British Columbia’s wine industry. Besides his position as wine director working alongside chef Carlson, he’s director of sales and marketing at Ross Hackworth’s storied Nichol Vineyard in Naramata. He is also a partner with Hackworth at Lock & Worth Winery, just 10 minutes down Naramata Road from Nichol. Aside from all of this, he is a partner in Sedimentary Wines, a wine-importing company specializing in natural wines from Italy and France.
It is indeed natural wines that populate the compact, tidy list at Burdock & Co., and since there are no official rules or certification for wines dubbed natural, there’s room for a flexibility of styles. Traits that all listed wines share include being sustainably farmed and crafted with minimal intervention in the winery. With very low amounts of sulphur dioxide added to some, they can occasionally taste a touch oxidative.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when kept in check; it’s a component of a taste profile that takes a few sips to wrap one’s head around, just like when a wine carries barnyard notes or other attributes that stray from the usual berries, orchard fruit, spices, and herbs. The wines are at once familiar on the palate, yet have additional components that fascinate or challenge, taking you out of your comfort zone (in a good way). The same can be said for Carlson’s food.
For every wine like Jean-Paul Brun 2014 Beaujolais Blanc, a Chardonnay blooming with honeydew, elderflower, limestone, and a very distinct, earthy finish, there is a perfectly suited dish to accompany it. In this case I’m looking at a new-to-the-menu sea-urchin-and-crab chawanmushi, a traditional Japanese egg custard dish. Corn risotto with lobster mushroom and poblano broth is knocked out of the park with Domaine Comte Abbatucci 2013 Vieilles Vignes Blanc, a Corsican, biodynamically farmed old-vines Vermentino laden with wildflowers and honey.
Where many restaurants may get righteous or smug with wine programs of this nature, Burdock & Co. shares these wines with enthusiasm and outright glee. A big reason for this is sommelier Jesse Walters, who just may be the nicest guy in the world. He takes such joy and pride in these wines that he just wants you to feel that same light—and the way he guides you through the wine component of your evening reflects that.
More than anywhere else I can think of, the wine list at Burdock & Co. is basically a wine version of the food menu, and vice versa. It is at once honest, genuine, stimulating, and full of a whole lot of delicious. For those looking to play with their food and wine, it’s an incredible playground.
It’s no wonder the place is a go-to for many local sommeliers on a night off, and it should be your next go-to as well.
Burdock & Co. is at 2702 Main Street.