Accomplished Oliver winery Le Vieux Pin has begun tenth anniversary celebrations this year. Since their first vintage in 2005, Le Vieux Pin has strived to produce wines that “capture the essence of French winemaking tradition, but with the fruit and character of the New World.” Initial forays (and success) with Pinot Noir later evolved into a Rhone-inspired focus that emphasizes Viognier and Syrah. All three varieties were present at a recent innovative pop-up dinner to mark a decade of accomplishments.
The winery partnered with Chef Robin Kort of Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures to present a foraged dinner prepared by talented Chef Jefferson Alvarez – I was particularly lucky to attend as a guest of the winery. Upon arrival in the “secret” Chinatown location patrons were greeted like old friends by winery GM Rasoul Salehi (and no doubt many were). Rasoul had personally assisted with foraging the North Shore and beyond for ingredients in the weeks leading up to the dinner. As we sat down to fresh-baked bread with goat butter and duck pate, he was on hand to pour a glass of Le Vieux Pin’s spectacular Pinot Noir Rosé, “Vaïla”.
Having recently returned from a weekend visit to the Okanagan that included a stop at Le Vieux Pin I was excited to enjoy Vaïla yet again, despite the presence of several new bottles in my own cellar. The Rosé has been a favourite of mine for years, and the clean, crisp, and dry 2014 vintage is an ideal expression of the style. We sipped the supremely refreshing wine – awash with strawberry-rhubarb and ripe peaches – as an equally mouth-watering Wild Salmonberry Gazpacho was served, topped with Pine-infused Farmhouse Cheese. The pink-orange-coloured gazpacho proved to be an excellent pairing and particularly delicious in its own right.
“Let me tell you a story about sturgeon” introduced the next course, as described in the creative menu. As Rasoul deftly poured 2013 “Ava” Viognier Roussanne Marsanne my wife and I considered the provenance of “sturgeon marrow”. Some quick research revealed the marrow is a delicacy of generations past, taken from the spinal cord of European sturgeon fish. Admittedly the texturally unique marrow was not on my personal highlights list, but the Ava provided for plenty of admiration (as it has for me since the wine’s inception). From 2013 Winemaker Severine Pinte produced a blend of 50% Viognier, 41% Roussanne, and 9% Marsanne, yielding perfumed aromas of apricot, candied pineapple, and baked vanilla.
A follow-up to the sturgeon was Seared Cat Tail, served with celeriac purée and a very flavourful scallop chip. The cat tail and rich purée were favourites, with the celeriac serving to augment the sweet floral character from the Viognier. Overall, the Ava’s dry, long-lived palate hints at serious complexity to come, with apricot pit and toasted almond notes that intensified the earthy flavours in one last spoonful of gazpacho as well.
Le Vieux Pin’s entry-level Syrah, the outstanding-value $29 Cuvée Violette, was present to provide an introduction to the winery’s extensive focus on the grape. Above the Violette there is also the Cuvée Classique, and the exceptional and powerful Equinoxe Syrah, neither of which should be missed. The 2013 Violette’s fragrant nose, with hints of spicy toast, proved a lovely match for Fire Morels with fiddle heads, ramps, and yolk sauce. The smoky, meaty character of the delicious mushrooms revealed the wine’s spicy notes hidden within a palate of mixed dark berries and chocolate. Although it could be cellared for the short term, the Violette is drinking quite well at present, with fresh acidity and delicate tannins that make it superb on its own or with a variety of foods.
Refills of Syrah were generously provided, at the expense of the winery team’s own dinners! Fraser Valley Duck Breast provided for another lovely pairing, smoked with Alder wood and served with huckleberry jus. As the meal wound down we surveyed a final creative course of “Cheese Honeycomb”, another new gustatory experience I could not have imagined. The dish consisted of a honeycomb-like lattice formed from what seemed to be flash-frozen cheese, light and ethereal, to satisfy and refresh one’s palate. It capped a memorable meal and treasured opportunity to celebrate a wonderful winery with many further years of success to come. My thanks to Le Vieux Pin and to Chefs Alvarez and Kort for a delightful experience!