Tuesday 11 October 2011

We Give Thanks for BC Wine!

We had a great deal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, as our home was host to great friends, great food, and great wine! To share in our “Northern Bounty” we had invited over four American friends to join us for six courses and six amazing BC wines, each served with excitement and pride. I had spent the weeks beforehand crafting what I hoped would be a perfectly paired (vegetarian) menu that would both satisfy and entertain, while including some of my favourite wines and wineries. The most challenging aspect was avoiding any duplication as I selected the food and wine pairings: in some cases the wine came first, while in others it was the food in need of a suitor. After probably far too much stress and perfectionism it was a relief to finally sit down and enjoy our amazing meal!


While we awaited the arrival of our full complement of guests, we sipped the quintessential celebratory sparkler in our household – Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc (2008). Of course you can drink sparkling wine any time, but we tend to reserve Road 13’s unique and valuable version for special occasions because Sparkling Chenin should be celebrated! Our appetizer course to pair with the crisp acidity and bright fruit of such a wine included Pecan and Goat Cheese Marbles, to which I added cherry tomatoes for a burst of colour and variety. A second mouth-watering canapĂ© came from the superb food & wine tome Orgasmic Appetizers (and Matching Wines): Spinach Artichoke Wonton Cups were perfectly bite size versions of creamy hot artichoke dip. Both appetizers possessed a mix of sourness and saltiness that was offset nicely by the off-dry wine, while the Chenin’s acidity helped to cut the fattiness in the various cheeses.


Our salad course contained an homage to traditional Thanksgiving ingredients in the form of dried cranberries; the fresh spinach was also topped with Bosc pears, red onion, and toasted hazelnuts. The wine pairing was the well-known Black Hills Alibi (2009), a white Bordeaux-style blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Having read many reviews for Alibi over the years this was actually my first opportunity to try it in depth. The many reviews out there for the 2009 vintage are quite positive, speaking to its zesty flavours, youthful aromas, and excellent balance. Even better, because the 2010 vintage is now being sold, the 2009 is on sale for $25 from $30, and can still be found in many VQA stores. Our consensus was one of great satisfaction, as the acidity held up to the vinaigrette dressing, while the tropical flavours meshed well with the pears.


When there is no need to choose between soup and salad why not have both? Here was one dish for which the wine came first, as I knew I wanted to open a bottle of Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay from the cellar. The 2007 vintage I was serving won a Gold medal at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards, and I knew it needed a special dish to complement the full flavours of the wine. I ultimately settled on Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream, accessorized with the delicious-sounding Gruyere Croutons from a different recipe. The soup contains two fresh Granny Smith apples plus a cup of apple cider so a Chardonnay with aromas and flavours of apples certainly fit the bill. The wine was also noticeably toasty from the barrel fermentation, but despite full malolactic fermentation just as lively as described by John Schreiner.


A few great white wines aside, it soon came time for reds, and another course in which the wine came long before I could dream up a food pairing. It being Thanksgiving I would be remiss not to serve Pinot Noir, which everyone feels is ideal for turkey and all those accoutrements; but without any fowl on the table my 2006 CedarCreek Platinum Pinot Noir was in danger of going it alone. With an inkling to serve something earthy I discovered a recipe for Beet Carpaccio with Onion Marmalade that looked like a promising match to the dark cherry and spice found in the wine. Making the marmalade I used some CedarCreek Pinot Gris and was bemused at my unintentional retention of not only the Pinot family but of the CedarCreek portfolio as well; hopefully fate was smiling on this pairing! In any case after tasting the silky smooth wine it almost didn’t matter how the beets turned out, although fortunately they were also delicious, and went hand in hand with the delicious Pinot. Believe it or not there may still be a few bottles of this wine on store shelves given the massive 2006 harvest: CedarCreek produced 2-3 times as much Platinum Pinot Noir that year as usual – despite rigorous cluster thinning.


For our final savoury course – the entree if there was to be one – I waffled quite a bit on the wine pairing. Although another Pinot Noir would likely be quite enjoyable with the Mushroom Filo Strudel in the works I longed for something different to keep the variety flowing. Although I hadn’t planned on opening it just yet, given the company and the occasion the time seemed right for my cherished bottle of 2005 Mission Hill Quatrain – the inaugural vintage of this celebrated Merlot-Syrah-Cabernet blend. I’ll admit it hurt to break up the 3-year vertical I had collected thus far, but eventually one has to drink all these wines! Quatrain was first released back in 2008 to flesh out Mission Hill’s “Legacy-Series” wines alongside the Oculus red blend, and the Perpetua Chardonnay; it was soon followed by another red blend called Compendium, which is more of a baby-Oculus in style. For a first release it did exceptionally well, with it being hard to find reviews below 90-points, and plenty more accolades and awards in the vintages since 2005 (the 2008 Quatrain should be released within months). With plenty of savoury, peppery descriptors being used for the wine I made sure to generously spice the Strudel and accompanying Port Red Wine Sauce, in the hopes that plenty of mushrooms, leeks, and tomatoes would satisfy such a concentrated wine. After careful decanting, the wine was drinking beautifully and enriched our palates with loads of ripe fruit and complex flavours. I think the rapidly-rendered-bare plates and empty glasses spoke for themselves as it was apparent everyone thoroughly enjoyed their fifth course of the evening!


Despite a few full bellies no one could turn down the final course of the meal, in part no doubt because its over-the-top appearance and intimidating name inspired so much curiosity: Pumpkin Roll Cake with Toffee Cream Filling and Caramel Sauce. Drizzled in homemade caramel sauce (just butter, heavy cream, and dark brown sugar) and generously sprinkled with English toffee this cake is not subtle, and needed a complex wine pairing that could stand up to it. Fortunately I was confident that La Frenz’s Tawny Port could handle the job, after reading about the flavours “reminiscent of dark fruit cake infused with butterscotch sauce.” Although this fortified wine – one of only a small number of BC Port-style wines – is sold out as of Thanksgiving weekend, I found a bottle at Marquis Wine Cellars, which sadly appears to have been one of the last ones available. While everyone gleefully tore into the cake there were just as many compliments for the rich Tawny, which had no problems making its unique flavours apparent. Although fully enjoyable now, it seemed to me that the wine could easily age for significantly longer in order to develop an even richer character and depth, but then we wouldn’t have had six delicious wines to share in the present. It was a fun-filled Thanksgiving dinner we will all remember, plus now I’m free to think about Christmas wines…



Anonymous said...

I've heard that there are some wineries out in the gulf Islands. Have you tried any wines from, say, Salt Spring Island? That would be a fun blog entry to read.

Russell Ball said...

There are indeed great wineries in the Gulf Islands. We recently enjoyed excellent wines from Garry Oaks Winery (Salt Spring Island) among others; Garry Oaks makes a great Pinot Noir.