Saturday, December 13, 2014

A local (Irish) Christmas Dinner

Chaberton Winery

Hopcott's Meats

Who doesn't love Christmas? Even people from outside of the traditional Christmas areas (Europe and North America) embrace the season of gluttony giving! And what says giving better than being giving of your time, your space and your self.

Because, really, isn't that the whole idea?

And in my family Christmas has evolved as a tradition of making time to invite friends and family to the house:  fresh cedar boughs by the fireplace, the tree-trimming a celebrated afternoon to itself, the outside lights warm, inviting - without the post-modern garishness of a Chevy Chase Père Noël debacle. It's the only month of the year that sees Roger Whitaker, Bing Crosby and Alvin and the Chipmunks music played on a daily basis. My step-mom makes the most insanely decadent, melt-in-your-mouth, fattening-beyond-belief-but-who-cares? shortbread cookies. My Dad and I make menus requiring days of slavish labor in the kitchen with more than a few trips down to the basement to grab a bottle of this or that... it's the time of year when we celebrate the simple pleasure of being together with a decent meal and some good wine.

IMG_7049Now I've reached that point of my life where my parents and I are separated by long distance (a thousand kilometers or 700 miles) and a mountain range. Driving to their house just isn't the option it once was; what with a precocious 3 year old and her rapscallion 9-month old brother and so this Dad needs to do what my Dad did for me: I have to learn to create Christmas for myself.

Not an easy task. Or is it?

My friend Jenn Hopcott-Foxley invited me down to Hopcott's Meats the other day; something I never pass up on. I packed Clare (Thing #1) in the car and off we whisked along country roads and meandering dusty trails; the foothills to the north already cloaked in cotton-capes of fluffy wonder and the blustery clouds above promising more to come. And as we parked I could hear the query from the backseat "Daddy where are the donkeys?!". Hopcott's, you see, keeps a cute pen beside the store where little ones can pet the little ones and my daughter has been brave more than once - screwing up her courage enough to hand a carrot to the furry fellows.

Inside the store Jenn responded to Clare's question with due gravity and announced that the donkeys needed to visit their friends, the cows, in the barn and would be staying  until it warmed up enough for them to come back to the store. Clare stated imperially that "that's a very smart idea". I'm sure Jenn was much relieved.

And as Jenn and I discussed the upcoming "feast-ivites" of Christmas I spoke about how many Irish families (ours at least) were much more likely to serve roast beef than turkey - and thus this article was conceived. The entirety of this meal comes from Hopcott's and I'm proud that it showcases the brilliant quality fruit, vegetables and meat that are available not from within 100 miles - but much closer! And then I thought of my friends at Domaine de Chaberton winery in Langley (now Chaberton Estate) and realized that they were the perfect fit for a #Local Christmas Dinner (Irish-style).

This is a simple meal that I would be proud to share with any chef-colleague or picky relative; the ingredients speak for themselves. 

Baron of Beef (medium-rare) and natural beef jus

creamed leeks with Boursin cheese

steamed carrot "jewels", baby red potato and organic Swiss Chard

oven roast parsnip and baby turban squash

"petite salade" of roast beet, hothouse cherry tomato and organic peashoots

To me the key to this, and indeed any, meal is utilizing different cooking techniques to create differing flavors, colors, textures and aromas. Never forget that we eat with our eyes before we ever taste~! If the plate doesn't look amazing then we're bound to pre-determine that it "just-isn't-up-to-snuff".  Here are my tricks to making these stunning local components shine:

try searing the beef first, then adding veggies to the roasting pan
   1. Baron of beef is packed with tons of flavor but is a very lean cut! This means that over-cooking, even just a bit, will give you a dry roast. Go back to the basics: let your roast come up to room temperature before cooking, sear it well and then roast it "low-and-slow" which, for me, means about 290F until the internal temperature reaches 140F. Remember: when in doubt, cook your roast for less than you think it needs and rest it for longer! This roast was about 3-4 pounds and was 90 minutes cooking time, 30 minutes resting.

   2. When I make my creamed leeks I wilt them at least 30 minutes in chicken stock - they continue to soak up that rich, buttery flavor and only then do I add the cream and turn the burner down to it's lowest setting. Boursin is added just moments before serving to prevent scorching.

  3. When steaming veggies, remember that you can always put them back in for a few more minutes - but you can't "un-steam them". Check, check and re-check if you need to! And when I'm cooking for a large group I always cook in batches and put the cooked ones in a large ceramic bowl close to the stove wrapped in cling-film. Never overload your steamer or you'll end up with uneven cooking.

the baby-turban squash
the baby-turban squash
4. Ever have woody parsnips in the winter? Try cutting the core out of them! The outsides can be lovely creamy goodness even if the center isn't. And baby turban squash is a great conversation piece... my wife couldn't believe it was more than decoration ;)

  5. Even in the middle of winter the local hothouses are growing delicious vegetables and fruit. This salad looks far more beautiful than I would have imagined considering it took less than 5 minutes to prep! And the diversity of flavors makes this a winner with the kids as much as the adults.

And, to me, no celebration is complete without a glass or three of wine. The dedicated team at Chaberton Estates has been putting their hearts and souls into crafting elegance from BC fruit and the results are nothing less than spectacular. Remember it was just this spring that Chaberton won first place in the #WTCRightBank (Wine Tasting Circle: Right Banks of the World tasting) with 92+points for their AC50 beating some absolute premier wineries. 

And so I was proud to serve this Siegerrebe which I knew would be brilliant with the creamed leeks and steamed veggies and the CabSauv (Cabernet Sauvignon) which is the natural pairing for beef. If you aren't familiar with Siegerrebe then you're in good company because I didn't know very much about the varietal either. It turns out to be fairly obscure and only has about 100 HA planted in all of Germany which is where it's from. Certainly the New World producers have crafted surprising greatness from a grape that most seasoned journalists are dismissive of. I'll let my notes speak for themselves on what I consider to be one of the best value aromatic white wines I had in 2014.

As for the CabSauv, there's not much I can say that hasn't been said before except for this: BC does not grow CabSauv well, with a few exceptions. In an area larger than France we grow less of this bold grape than some of the smallest regions in the world. But! But in those tiny pockets of the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, when the conditions are right and winemakers are using the utmost skill: something special can happen. This is a beautiful example of CabSauv and a great representation of that "something special".

2013 Reserve Siegerrebe 

Fraser Valley VQA

$17.95 CAD, 89 points Stunning Value

... the best part of this wine is the worst part of this wine: it's highly addictive nature! I am not a lover of sugary, ripe-fruit wines; I prefer the austere or the masculine: Big, Bold Bordeaux is my "thang" as it were. So, when I opened this bottle, I had thought that I was opening it for my wife. Well she's in bed and I'm pouring the last of it into my empty glass as I write  because it's just that darned good. Ripe exotic aromas of jasmine and apple-pears, grilled pineapple and lychee, mango and guava... a veritable Fijian fruit salad of exuberance. Pair that with exquisitely crafted full lemon-drop-candy acid and a concentration of flavors that far outweigh the negligible price and you have #StunningValue and then some. This was gorgeous with the creamed leeks (expected) but the real treat was how well it paired with roast beets: a new favorite for me!

Chaberton Estates Reserve CabSauv: great value
Chaberton Estates Reserve CabSauv: great value

2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Okanagan Valley DVA

$23.75 CAD, 89 points Great Value

... I actually don't have to look that far to find a $20-something Cab-Sauv (blend) that's been aged for 3 years before release; examples abound from Spain, Portugal, Chile... anywhere one might find viticulture en-masse for the past few centuries. But from British Columbia?! Ok - a beast of a different nature, I grant you. I had no idea the price when I made my notes: observing the rich aromas of bramble-berries (blackberries/blueberry/Saskatoon/black currant), musk and cedar... the perky medium+acid which showcases a professional medium+chewy tannin structure and very good concentration. No, I just made my notes and made the mental note that it reminded me quite a bit of a Cru Bourgeois Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux. That's a compliment by-the-way :). Well if you want Bordeaux, buy Bordeaux, but if you want #GreatValue - look no further... one would be hard-pressed to find this quality from that (or any) region for a similar price.


dinner for the 9-month old
dinner for the 9-month old
And so the lesson for me this December is that creating my own Christmas isn't nearly as daunting as I had thought it would be; I put the appropriate music on, we decorated the house with lights and tinsel and I took fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and treated them with the respect they deserve. We sat 'round the table, just the four  of us, and gave thanks for the richness in our lives and savored not only the meal, but the precious time we have together.

And so from my family - to yours - we wish the very best of the Holiday Season!

Many thanks to Jenn at Hopcott's for the fine fixings I used to create this lavish feast and to the exemplary team at Chaberton Estates for the sample bottles. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews, and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on:
dinner for the adults
dinner for the adults

Monday, December 1, 2014

Top Wines and Spirits 2014

It's Monday 01st December and in less than four weeks I will be celebrating my fourth anniversary in wine journalism. Only four years and yet it seems like so much longer because so much has happened and I have been fortunate enough to work with such gifted and passionate winemakers, cider-masters and distillers.

the inimitable and always congenial John Skinner of Painted Rock showing me the Cab Sauv that haunted me all year
the inimitable and always congenial John Skinner of Painted Rock showing me the Cab Sauv that haunted me all year
It is because of their passion, and the way that this passion has inspired me, that I have decided to create The Chef and The Grape Top Wines and Spirits: a tribute to quality, value and passion.

My friends, we live in the Golden Age of Wine. Consumers have never in the history of (hu)Mankind had access to such a dizzying array of wines, of such rare calibre of excellence, from such distant corners of the world. And for a pittance! For a fraction of what one might have spent 100 years ago. We are blessed.

And here am I, perched in my corner of the office, where the vista unfolds at the base of the mountains; swaths of frozen gossamer already sheath the peaks and I can start to sense where the tree-tops, jade bristle-brushes waving in the winter breeze, will soon be sporting new coats of glistening ice-gems. And my mind wanders back through the year: the 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival, California Wine Fest, New Zealand Wine Fair and the amazing excursion from Oltrepo Pavese, Italy to name a few momentous tastings... yes, as I said, I am blessed.

These wines have been chosen out of about 2000 tasted in 2014 and have been chosen as much for Value as for sheer Excellence. That is to say, don't be surprised to see a $20 wine beat a $100 wine: to my mind, a $100 should be getting 92+points and if it doesn't then it's providing poor value. Just as a $20 wine that does score 92 points is providing amazing value.

Full descriptions are provided below:


1st place Sparkling: the STUNNING value of Cristalino
1st place Sparkling: the STUNNING value of Cristalino


1.    Cristalino Cava, Rose, Spain... 91+ points, $15+ CAD, $10-$12 USD
2.   Summerhill "Ariel", Kelowna, BC, Canada... 93 points, $85 CAD
3.   Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc-de-NoirsChampagneFrance... 93 points, $100+ CAD
honorable mentionMarques de Gelida, Gran Reserva Cava "CLAROR" (bio-dynamic), Spain... 92 points


1.   Louis Latour 2010 Corton Charlemagne, Grand Cru, Burgundy... 94+ points, $120-$160+ USD
2.   Meyer Family Vineyards 2012 McLean Creek micro-cuvee, BC, Canada... 93+ points, $65 CAD
3.   M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette Hermitage Blanc, Cotes-du-Rhone, France... 93+ points, $85 USD
honorable mentionMudhouse single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand... 92+/93 points


1st place Rose: David Akiyoshi's stunning Sangiovese
1st place Rose: David Akiyoshi's stunning Sangiovese
1.   David Akiyoshi 2012 Sangiovese rosé, Lodi, California... 92+ points, $18 USD
2.   Haywire 2012 Gamay Noir rosé, BC, Canada... 92 points, $25 CAD
3.   Cà del Gè Muscato FrizzanteOltrepo Pavese, Italy... 92 points, €9


1.   Black Hills 2010 Carmenere, BC, Canada... 95 points, $50 CAD (300 cases only)
2.   Thorn-Clarke "William Randell" Shiraz (Syrah), Barossa Valley, South Australia... 93+/94 points, $70+ CAD
3.   Bodega VistAlba Corte "A", Mendoza, Argentina... 93+ points, $65+ CAD
honorable mentionPainted Rock 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Skaha Lake, BC, Canada... 91+ points, $40 CAD


1.   Málaga Jorge Ordóñez "Old Vines", Portugal... 94 points, $75+ USD
2.   José Maria da Fonseca 20-year Moscatel de Setúbal, the Peninsula of Setúbal, Portugal... 93+ points, $65+ USD
3.   Dalva 1963 Colheita white-port, Duoro, Portugal... 93 points, $115++ USD
honorable mention: Hainle Vineyards 2010 Gewürztraminer Icewine, Peachland, BC, Canada... 93 points, $85++ CAD
1st place Spirits and perhaps the finest spirit I have ever experienced. #Magical
1st place Spirits and perhaps the finest spirit I have ever experienced. #Magical


1.   Marcel Trépout 1968 Armagnac, France... 94+ points, $150+ USD
2.  Pusser's 15-year, British Virgin Islands, West Indies... 93+ points, $90+ CAD
3.   Luksusowa potato Wódka (Vodka), Poland... 91 points, $25 CAD or less!
And now the chance to explain why I chose what I did...


... small surprise to regular readers that Cristalino Cava has taken top place - AGAIN: absolutely stunning value for the money, this bubbly has garnered awards around the world and stunned sommeliers/judges everywhere. All you need to remember is that Wine and Spirit Magazine has given this their Value Award 3 years in a row - do I hear 4??

2nd place Sparkling: the Ariel from Summerhill, BC, Canada
2nd place Sparkling: the Ariel from Summerhill, BC, Canada
... Summerhill winery's "Ariel" may be the most eloquent, elegant expression of sparkling wine I have ever had. I prefer this to Cristal and Dom Perignon, and consider it more on the level of Veuve Cliquet "La Grande Dame" but about $100 less per bottle! This is for lovers of mature sparkling wine (I just raised my hand) and carries nuanced tones of dried apricot, almonds and nougat, fresh baguette and cold, crisp, clean minerality amongst others.

... Nicolas Feuillatte may have crafted near-perfection with their 2012 Blanc-de-Noirs... I was overwhelmed by the levels, the concentration, the balance. This is one of the most beautiful expressions of Pinot Noir in Champagne I've had for years and, remember, 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival was themed on Sparkling Wine... I tasted more then a few :)

... I do love Cava, to be certain. That to one side, this offering from Marques de Gelida moves past the "limitations" of Cava and begins to express flavors and aromas most often only found in offerings from northern France for substantially more money! I was wholeheartedly impressed not only with craftsmanship but with the extreme value as this bubbly runs about $20 USD.


... Louis Latour is a legend. This wine explains why: stunning layers, concentration, balance... the words are pitifully weak next to the wine. This is truly one of the most beautiful wines I've had in years and, hard for some to believe, is an Excellent Value at $150 USD. If one could find a Bordeaux red of this calibre, it would fetch $500++USD with ease and even a Champagne of this quality would be $300 USD. No - if you are a wine-lover, forget whether you love red or white. If I was a dinosaur I would be a "Bordeaux-a-saur" and yet even I acquiesce to this wines' greatness. If you do enjoy it, make room in your cellar for Chateau Musar white as well... a must!

Jak Meyer telling me about his Exceptional micro-cuvee Chardonnay
Jak Meyer telling me about his Exceptional micro-cuvee Chardonnay
... I never expected to find one of the best values in Burgundy in Canada. Ever. And yet here I am telling you that, after working with Maison Jadot only last year, if you want fantastic value in Burgundian precision, Burgundian elegance, Burgundian intellect focused behind a purely Canadian terroir... pick up a case of the MFV micro-cuvee for about the price of 2 bottles of equivalent quality from Burgundy. An easy decision for me! Listen to the interview in the linked article above and, afterwards, you can ask Jak Meyer what Steven Spurrier thought of the wines if you don't believe me...

... wine has been grown in Hermitage for almost 2000 years. It took winemakers like Michel Chapoutier to turn that into #WorldClass product. This is, perhaps, not a record-setting year for scores from this region - but it is a singularly expressive vintage. This wine speaks with great verve of France, of region and of the varietal: 100%  Marsanne in this case. If you see this on a wine-merchant's shelf, purchase it - it is it's own reward.

... honorable mention went to Mudhouse and their inimitable winemaking duo for crafting the most eloquent expression of Sauvignon Blanc I have ever had. What Nadine Worley and Ben Glover have done is craft something so singular that it stands as an example of what is possible when people Believe. This carries depth and dimension far beyond its modest price-point and belongs to something far more grandiose. Small wonder Ben and Nadine, both, are recognized around the world for setting the highest standards for production and elocution.


... David Akiyoshi was a name I had never heard before 2014, but a name that I shall now never forget. David is, to me, one of the most skilled winemakers I have (never) met. I've only tasted two of his wines; both were, shall we say, unusual to the marketplace - and yet utterly #WorldClass. This is one of the best Sangiovese I've ever had (for the price especially) and certainly one of the best rosé. If you haven't tried his wines yet then you simply haven't experienced the new taste of California!

a guest savoring the Vancouver moment with a glass of Ca del Ge muscato frizzante
a guest savoring the Vancouver moment with a glass of Ca del Ge muscato frizzante
... Haywire wines have been blazing a trail across British Columbia and Canada. To some (the un-learned) this means little. To those in the know, it means that these fine folks are kicking ass in one of the most progressive and competitive wine-regions on Earth. Smaller production than Algeria, BC is winning top honors around the world... and Haywire is winning awards amongst British Columbians. Will this be to your taste? I haven't the foggiest... but no one could try this and say it was anything less than superbly crafted.

... The first time I tasted the wines of the Oltrepo Pavese I was stunned into speechlessness (which
rarely, never happens). These "under-dogs" of the Italian winemaking community have been battling not only a growing international marketplace but, also, disdain from their own brethren. It seems as though Italians consider this region to be a "lesser" producer... to which all I can say is that genius is rarely recognized at home! Though I was mightily impressed with many wines, this rosé stood out as something unique and worthy of notice.


... I'll perhaps never know if that sample bottle of Carmenere was really intended for me when my media pack was mixed with that of an older, more learned colleague - but I'll always be grateful for the confusion! For this was the second time I got to try the 2012 Black Hills Carmenere  and I knew - I knew - that it wasn't a fluke! This was one of the best red wines I have ever had in my life. And it was from Canada! Well throw out the rule-books and let's approach wine with an open mind because now anything is possible my friends! Graham Pierce (winemaker) and his team are pushing the boundaries of what is possible and they are doing this in a BIG way - expect greatness from subsequent vintages.

1st place Red and highest scoring wine of 2014: Black Hills Carmenere, BC, Canada
1st place Red and highest scoring wine of 2014: Black Hills Carmenere, BC, Canada
... After five generations of winemaking, I could expect competence, and hope for great professionalism - but who could predict that this family from South Australia would scoop award after award after award?! Well, anyone who is familiar with the portfolio could have... these guys are serious about their wine. The Thorne-Clarke "William Randell" takes Syrah/Shiraz to a new level that few wineries in the world can compete with and none can replicate. Ask me what I love most about it? I know that next year they'll put out the same level of product - or better. And the year after. And the year after that. And the year after that...

... Bordeaux is the standard by which all "Big Boys" measure their red-blends: Cab-Sauv, Merlot and perhaps Cab-Franc... except in Argentina where some bold wineries are including Malbec (one of the original Bordeaux varietals). In this we find Malbec with CabSauv and Bonarda... unexpectedly full of dimension, elegance and concentration this has the capacity to become a Mover-and-Shaker in the world of wine. For now expect to find this for a fraction of its true worth, and enjoy!

... my bias for BC wines comes not from being a native of British Columbia, because I'm not. My bias comes from the earnest toil that wineries are devoting to these new plantings; the absolute dedication to learning their land and coming to a fuller understanding of what the Land wants to express. None are taking that ideology more to heart than John Skinner and the team at Painted Rock on the bluffs above Skaha Lake in the Okanagan Valley DVA, British Columbia. This is not the best Cab-Sauv I had all year but it was so personal that the memory of that tasting has haunted me for months. Having watched the evolution of this winery's Chardonnay into what I consider Premier Cru level (in only a few years) I have no doubt that the development of this wine will be equally formidable. I advise purchasing sooner rather than later: the Red Icon (Bordeaux style blend) already sells in Singapore for $900/bottle.


... before this tasting I had never had a Málaga before: this spoiled me in the most beautiful way possible. The incredible concentration of flavors and aromas was staggering: warm Christmas spices like warm apple-cinnamon loaf fresh from the oven, grilled pineapple, pear chutney, fresh honeysuckle under a summer sun... and then there was the balance! Impeccable! Ripe sugars played off a near perfect harmony of lemon-balm full acid. For the price, this may be the finest dessert wine I have ever had.

3rd place Dessert: Dalva opened my eyes to an entirely new style of Port wines
3rd place Dessert: Dalva opened my eyes to an entirely new style of Port wines
... Moscatel de Setúbal is, much like any other grape, capable of greatness in the right hands. In the hands of José Maria it has grown beyond greatness and into something transcendent; this is an example to other winemakers of the power that comes with generations working towards a common goal. It is no flattery to say that this wine is on a level of craftsmanship and expression of region that many wineries may never reach: Christmas spices mixing with a hint of Raz-el-Hanout, baked earth, crusty bread fresh from the oven, almonds toasting in a pan... the aromas and flavors are so pure, so concentrated that they must be experienced to be believed.

... White Port. White Port?! Surely a joke; that's what I thought when I saw a winery owner at a stunning Portuguese wine-tasting with an aged white-port. I had always been taught that white ports were sub-standard; lacking in any true depth of flavor, concentration or finesse. I tasted the wine to be polite and was rewarded with one of the most unexpectedly decadent flavors of the year: rich nougatty-goodness with complimentary tones of slightly burnt honey, orange marmalade and orange blossom tea with the perkiest, most vibrant acid to balance the high levels of sugar. Harmonious. And this was my introduction to Dalva wines; producers of excellence and true pioneers in the crafting of vintage white port.

... I gave honorable mention to the Hainle vineyards Gewürztraminer icewine, and, small wonder; being the first producers of icewine in North America. This particular cuvée is named "Clare's vintage" in our house for it was purchased in honor of the birth of my daughter and what a spectacular way to celebrate it! Decadently sensual aromas of fresh apricot marmalade cooling in the window, over-ripe peaches dripping their honey-liquer on fingers as we devour them with gusto and an entire garden of summer flowers wafting through the room: yellow roses, daffodils, peonies, asters and dahlias. Brilliantly balanced, this will cellar for decades and reward the faithful.


... I've met them: the snobs. Those who say that only Cognac is capable of true grace, balance and articulation. To them I quote the immortal John Cleese "phhhlllllllltttttttt" as I stick out my tongue. And then, were I in a graceful mood, I would pour them a dram of this heavenly elixir. The team at Marcel Trepout have been crafting some of the finest distillate in the world, and doing so for a very very long time. Remember that Armagnac was being produced 200 years before Cognac ever got started, and practice makes perfect! Aromas that blend and intertwine so seductively as to make the word “bouquet” utterly inept: salt-water toffee, white truffle shavings, a cacophony of Summer flowers melding into potpourri with fresh peaches/nectarines/pears and hints of wild thyme/bay leaf/sage/lavender growing on the hill... this is an Experience.

2nd place Spirits: one of the finest rums on the market today and easily scoring 93+ points.
2nd place Spirits: one of the finest rums on the market today and easily scoring 93+ points.
... I'm a rum fan, no doubt about it. And, I've been an advocate for the craftsmanship of Pusser's rum; also, no question. But if someone would have told me that Pusser's 15-year would, in my mind, be challenging 18-year and 21-year Caribbean rums of long pedigree I would have been quick to argue: "I've been to Cuba!" I'ld state. "I've had brilliant examples of this work from some of the finest producers in the world!". A select group to which, for me, Pusser's now belongs without hesitation or reserve. For under $100 CAD this has been one of the finest spirits I have ever tasted: a harmony of orange zest, molasses, warm nutmeg and vanilla like a Christmas pudding just pulled from the oven and a big mug of black tea beside it... sublime. And it gives back to the community? Well that's like having your cake and eating it too :) Rhum-cake that is.

... bartenders everywhere are nodding their heads in agreement with me on my choice for third place; Luksusowa Wódka is most likely the finest quality spirit of it's class and out-performs competitors much more expensive than it is. My ultimate test for distillates is to taste them straight and at room temperature... a test for which most $20-something vodkas would make me cringe. The Luksusowa is beautiful! Crisp, clean and without any of the "petrol" notes one finds in many spirits under a certain price. I've had the pleasure of creating stunning infusions with it as well as many classic cocktails. I have never found a vodka for anywhere near the price that competes. #StunningValue

the reason why I celebrated that bottle of Marcel Trepout
the reason why I celebrated that bottle of Marcel Trepout
I sincerely hope that this enlightens you to some of the great treasures out there in the world of wine and spirits in 2014. To the winemakers, distillers, agents and importers I worked with: many thanks again for your time and generosity throughout the year. It has been my great privilege to work with each and every one of you and I look forward to being able to share more of your stories, on an even larger media platform, in the coming year.

   Chef Kristof Gillese

As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fort Berens Estate Winery, BC

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Lillooet, British Columbia

When will I learn? Never, ever, ever judge a wine immediately after opening it! These wines came across my desk only a few days ago and, as I was familiar with them, I opened them immediately and started to make notes. Wrong! Almost all wines (there must be an exception) benefit from some measure of decanting and these wines; these young wines that had just been packed up and shipped hundreds of miles certainly deserved the respect of at least minimal decanting. I didn’t write any notes that first day… just put the cork back in, non-plussed, and went on to other work. In a day or two they all started opening and they are beautiful!
Rolf (left) with guests
Rolf (right) with guests
But let me first take a moment to share some thoughts on the founders of this new venture:  Rolf de Bruin and his charming wife Heleen Pannekoek. What kind of bravery does it take for a young family to move from Holland to Canada – to make wine? Does this then infer a level of boldness bordering on foolishness when the same family decides to push the known boundaries of wine production for the most northerly growing region in the world?!
Yes, maybe foolish – even crazy… crazy like a fox :)
Some readers will be familiar with the price of land in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, which has reached ludicrously high levels for a region that in the 1980’s only had 30 wineries in it and none of those what one might consider “competitive on a global level”. But in a flash and a generation that has blossomed to over 240 wineries and several of those garnering the highest accolades for: sparkling wines, Pinot NoirChardonnayrosé and bold Bordeaux-styled blends. Oh yes, and a little gem known as Icewine.
So then this crafty, foxy family moving from Holland sees right past the incredibly competitive Okanagan Valley and hears of a little town to the north-east of the “great Valley” named Lillooet. It seems that a forward-thinking mayor had the notion in the early 2000’s to have the soil and climate of the Lillooet region (Fraser Canyon) tested for suitability for viticulture… she was another smart-cookie and the researchers told her as much: the Fraser Canyon could produce beautiful grapes. But who was going to take a chance on the northern-most region of the northern-most region?
Savvy business people – that’s who! There are only a few ways to make money: be the first, be the cheapest or be the best. Being cheapest is an impossibility in a region like this (and who wants to fight that battle anyways?). Being the best is a noble endeavor but, with tens of thousands of wineries with pedigrees of winemaking – perhaps not the easiest business plan. So why not be the first?
And so Rolf; a management consultant with almost two decades of track record bringing others success and Heleen; an equally accomplished banker having worked with medium and small businesses – helping them find the path to their financial goals. These two can see the diamond-in-the-rough. A fitting analogy as who comes into the picture as investors? A venture-capitalist, an investment banker (former mining executive), the Co-Head of BMO Capital Markets’ Metals and Mining practice, the President and CEO of Victoria Gold Corp and the head of National Bank’s Metals and Mining practice (whose family is from Lillooet).
As I said if this is a diamond-in-the-rough then these are the people who are going to see that, and make it work. And work it has: these wines have earned awards at some of the most competitive competitions in the world: the International Wine and Spirit Competition (London, UK), the Los Angeles International and the National Wine Awards of Canada just to name a few.
Yet, to me, the greatest joy in tasting these wines isn’t in the pride of choosing something that won awards. I’m not excited when I see them at a wine tasting because somebody (even me) gave them a high recommendation or 90+ points. What gives me a thrill is that these wines, these absolutely juvenile wines (please don’t consider that derogatory) are already starting to express a sense of place that exists nowhere else on earth.
These are the first, and only, winemakers on this land as of 2014. And what they are creating is worthy of note: consummately professional, eloquent, even poetic in their own way… I invite you to try for yourselves and, please, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

FortBerens 2012-Chardonnay2013 Estate Chardonnay

602 cases, $19.99 CAD

90 points, Very Good/Excellent Value

… unique! I tried my best to compare this to other regions… tried to put this wine into the same box as someone/somewhere else, and fell short. This Chardonnay simply doesn’t taste like Chardie (as they say in Australia) from anywhere else: the reserved aromas of young pineapple/Amalfi-coast lemons could make me think of a cool California region (Central Coast AVA maybe) or Chile, but the palate is led by a fierce chalky minerality… Chablis right? Or at least Petit Chablis for this price. But then there are more flavors that come in; hints of honeydew and ripe canteloupe, grilled pineapple with it’s sugary-goodness burning to the barbeque and apricots soaking in juice. Impressive levels of balance, structure and balance for such a young winery/vines. FOOD PAIRING: Oysters. Oysters and more oysters. Don’t like oysters? Anything from the sea is going to love the strength of this salty-mineral palate. Coquilles-St-Jacques a natural, this recipe comes from a mentor and guru to me (though he’s unaware of the fact): Anthony Bourdain.

2012 Estate Pinot Noir

475 cases, $25.99 CAD

90 points, Very Good/Excellent Value

… Rich layers of aromas blend ripe raspberry tea with wet sage leaves, tight minerals, dark cocoa and old leather. The palate is precise: utterly focused on bright/lean/full cranberry-raspberry-red currant acid and a medium/fine-yet-grippy tannin structure. The flavors are much the same as the nose, though slightly simpler; most of the focus being on the brightness of fresh young red berries and that keen mineral backbone holding it together. Very good structure, balance and the concentration is excellent. If I had to compare this, I would say it’s much like the great examples of Gamay Noir from places like Morgon or Fleurie in northern Beaujolais when they gather some age and become so like Pinot Noir that many sommeliers can’t tell them apart. FOOD PAIRING: the pizza-purists in the audience will shudder when I say duck pizza with sauteed watercress, garlic jam and Sbrinz cheeseThe watercress will emphasize the herbal tones, the garlic brings out earthiness, the duck is just beautiful – seriously though a bit of fat in the food will make this wine happy. And Sbrinz?? I prefer this over most of the Parmegiano family and when you try it you’ll understand why :)

Cab Franc close up Fort Berens2012 Estate Cabernet Franc

482 cases, $26.99 CAD

90+ points, Very Good Value

… I was charmed by the “friendliness” of the perky red berry aromas; melding with that Fort Beren’s seasalt-mineral-undertone much like one of my favorite treats: Lindt dark chocolate with seasalt. The palate carries brisk red currant acid and the same fine yet chewy tannin structure. Very good balance, structure and concentration of flavors which carry those same currant/young raspberry/raspberry tea flavors with a deliciously savoury backdrop. FOOD PAIRING: call me crazy but as soon as I tasted this I thought: Jerk Turkey!! If you’re not familiar with “Jerk” then please follow the link and prepare your taste-buds for a whirlwind adventure in spice and flavor! A very good representative for Lillooet winemaking AND Cabernet Franc, this young wine will not develop appreciably and is best enjoyed 2014-2017

2012 Meritage

844 cases, $28.99 CAD
72% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc

89+ points, Very Good Value

…this Bordeaux styled blend finds a unique home in Lillooet; Merlot certainly drives the bulk of the aromas: plush red raspberry jam still warm on the stove with a touch of that Cab-Franc savoury sage/wild thyme. It could almost be St-Emilion except for the fact that very very few wineries there grow any Cab-Sauv, much less blending 18%! And that’s where the subtly creeps in; aromas more (as stated above) of seasalt dark chocolate rather than what many of us are used to from the varietal as a more graphite/pencil-lead smell. The palate is cool climate class: crisp, almost-but-not-quite brittle medium+red currant acid drives a medium+chalky/chewy tannin structure. Concentration is quite good and carries much of the nose with it, balance and structure also being good. FOOD PAIRING: call it Beef Stew or Pot-au-Feuit’s still the same: the best quality beef you can afford, braised for long hours in wine and stock with ample amounts of sweet onion and roast garlic… some garden fresh thyme and rosemary thrown in. Steam some brilliantly fresh winter veg: Savoy cabbage, parsnip, turnip, squash, celeriac and serve with crusty bread or scones fresh from the oven with too much butter. #Heaven #ComfortFood
Fort Berens Horse train
Fort Berens Horse train
Many thanks to Heleen and Rolf for the generous sample bottles: your bravery took root, literally, and has shown us a completely new face to varietals we’ve tasted a thousand times before. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on: