Monday 25 March 2013

March Wine Club: Tryouts

While we were naturally quite saddened when our good friends – and monthly dining companions – moved away last year, the show must inevitably go on. The time has finally arrived to resurrect our monthly BC wine dinner club, and continue the joyous tradition of sharing a few glasses over a delicious homemade meal. With tongue in cheek we decided "tryouts” would be necessary to see who could fill the large shoes that were so recently vacated, and boldly serve as the third couple in our trio of amateur chef/sommeliers. Fortunately some other good friends recently moved back to Vancouver on a permanent basis after some time away on the east coast, and they seemed like the ideal potential members: food lovers, great cooks, and budding wine adventurers!

Normally the club hosting duties rotate so that each couple hosts (and thus cooks the entree course) every third month, but it has been so long since we’ve gotten together it was hard to remember who had hosted last. The other remaining veteran couple graciously offered to serve as hosts this past weekend, and so our new junior members were invited to select whether they would prefer Appetizer or Dessert duties. Appetizer is often a particularly exciting course, where the most experimentation is embraced, so it wasn’t too surprising that they elected on contributing the first of our three courses.

Before we could begin the festivities we had to await everyone’s arrival, and so spent some time chatting on Skype with our old friends, now settling into their new Bourbon-filled life in Kentucky. Road 13’s 2011 Jackpot Viognier Roussanne Marsanne made for an ideal Skype wine to sip while we caught up: released last year to great acclaim, the VRM was awarded one of fewer than a dozen Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in BC Wine. The wine has aromas of orange blossoms and honey, while flavours of green apples and grilled pineapple accompany a delightfully round, creamy texture. Considering only 188 cases were produced it’s hard to believe it is still available for sale, but if that status remains in effect for another couple of months I’ll definitely be grabbing some more when I visit the winery in June!

Once we’d signed off Skype and welcomed our new potential members, our hosts surprised us all with a very exciting bottle of reception wine: a rare magnum of Road 13 2009 Sparkling Chenin Blanc! Considering bottles of this favourite of ours disappear far too quickly within a crowd, a magnum was ideal, and a very generous contribution to the cause. I’m sure I’ve gushed about this excellent and unique local sparkling wine previously, although this time it seemed particularly refined. Perhaps the large format bottle contributed something, as the very fine bubbles were quite notable, and the caramel and brioche nose led into a crisp, balanced finish. Road 13’s use of Chenin Blanc for their sparkling makes for a very clean and refreshing wine that everyone seems to consistently enjoy.

Our palates now fully awake we looked forward to the appetizer course provided by our new members. The individual homemade Spanakopita that came out of the oven looked and smelled fantastic: our chefs assured us it was all thanks to plenty of butter! Alongside the spinach and feta inside the flaky triangles were plenty of fresh mint and dill, which made for for an even better pairing with the bottle of Lake Breeze 2011 Pinot Blanc they opened. The tart wine was ideal with the feta cheese, while the beautiful fresh, floral nose meshed with the herbs to epitomize springtime. Despite the wine being a vintage removed (with many 2012 wines coming out at present) it showed no signs of weakness or fading flavours, demonstrating why Lake Breeze consistently sets the standard for Pinot Blanc in BC.

Fortunately we hadn’t yet run out of compliments, as our entree course was soon forthcoming, along with an excellent wine new to us all. On our plates was a bevy of bright colours in the form of Butter & Red Lettuce Salad, with blood oranges and avocado, alongside warm and rich Butternut Squash & Kale Bread Pudding. We later learned the Bread Pudding contained several cups of grated mozzarella and aged Cheddar as well as a dozen eggs! The Kettle Valley 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir in our glasses certainly had its work cut out for it in standing up to such a heady meal. Fortunately the wine had no trouble, displaying a complex profile of dark cherries and smoky spices that easily kept pace with the food. With only 174 cases produced, the Pinot Noir comes from a blend of Summerland, Okanagan Falls, and Naramata fruit, aged for 22 months in French oak. I recalled our chefs picking up a bottle on my recommendation last summer during our trip together, so it was a relief to know I hadn’t steered them wrong! With a smooth palate it was drinking wonderfully, but showed enough natural acidity to continue to last in bottle, with the possibility of even more complexity and subtle flavours developing over time.

I regretfully had to avoid a generous second helping of the delicious entree course – and reminded my compatriots to do the same – given the hefty dessert I had planned. Inspired by the spring weather I had put together a Citrus Cheesecake, with fresh raspberries and Marmalade glaze. My helpful and artistic sous-chef assisted the presentation with a sprig of fresh mint, an orange slice, and a citrus white chocolate wafer. To pair with our mouth-watering cheesecake we brought Clos du Soleil 2011 “Saturn” and Quails’ Gate 2011 Late Harvest TBA Optima.

The cheesecake was marvellous, if I don’t say so myself, with a number of second helpings plated with glee, and Clos du Soleil’s Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc proved to be a particularly excellent partner. Aromas of citrus and lychee led into an impeccably balanced citrus palate that stood up to the sweet, creamy cake, caramelized marmalade, and buttery crust. There was a great deal of sadness upon hearing the Saturn is long since sold out (only 56 cases were produced), and a 2012 vintage will not be forthcoming due to adverse weather conditions last year. Up against the popular Saturn the Optima had little chance, for despite a honeyed palate there was a sulphurous, rubberized nose that took quite a while to dissipate. Still, with 715 cases of Optima produced I hope to give it another chance in the future – perhaps my single bottle of gold medal-winning 2010 Optima will show better.

If the satisfied smiles and empty bottles were any indication I’d say we made a good impression on our new members, assuming we didn’t scare them away with our gusto. We were certainly left impressed by their contribution, and they seemed up to the challenge of taking on hosting duties next month. I for one am very glad we’ve resumed operations, as I need any and all excuses to pull a bottle or two from my cellar, to keep it in balance with everything going in! I’m already thinking about spring appetizers and aromatic whites…

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