Okanagan Wine Tour Q & A

BC winery scene

Words/pix: Henry Yuen

Chinese blog: http://blogs.taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/

When my California friends came north to pay a visit last week, the Vancouver sunshine was as good as in California. “Impressive,” they said; and I agreed proudly. Surprisingly, though from California, their main destination was Okanagan Valley. “Where your famous wineries are!” they added. Once again, I agreed and proceeded to tell them that there are wine regions in Fraser Valley and over at Vancouver Islands. I did presume, however, being from California where the winery playground of Hollywood “Napa Valley” locates, they would know what to expect of touring winery. Somehow I found myself answering a whole bunch of questions about Okanagan and the winery visits. “We are just tourists, so indulge us!” my friends urged. So here are the Q&A you or your visiting friends may find helpful before and when at Okanagan wine regions.

Cedar Creek Winery

When is the ideal season for Okanagan Wine Tour? Usually from mid-June to mid-October when interior BC is painted in lush green. June and July will see the vines budding and flowering. They will turn to full bloom in August and early September. Glimpses of grapes can be found on the vines which will soon become voluptuous clusters. The airs and tones change in late September to mid-October announcing the arrival of harvest time. Tourist high season is July to September when the weather is hot and dry and the signs at orchards everywhere waving “welcome!”

Why Okanagan? Beautiful lake views and beaches; orchards and vineyards; scenic drives around the lakes. Gorgeous weather, good wines, great culinary scenes and warm hospitality. Numerous indoor and outdoor activities for the young at heart and families.

Restaurant view at Summerhill Winery

What are the popular wine regions to visit in the Okanagan? Okanagan Valley is divided into sub-wine-regions: Kelowna/Lake Country region, Penticton/Naramata region, Oliver/Golden Mile region, Okanagan Falls region, and further south is Osoyoos/Black Sage Bench region.

What vintage of wines are you drinking at the wine tasting session? The wines you are sampling are usually from the previous harvest. Whites would normally be from the vintage of at least a year ago and Reds from even two or three vintages before. Special vintages are available upon request. All depends on the philosophy of individual winery and the winemaker’s style.

How many hours of driving from Vancouver are we talking about? It usually takes 3 ½ hours to 4 hours depending on which route to take and which wine region to visit. Start early in the morning so it’s lunch time when you get there. A picnic lunch by the vineyards or eat at one of the award-winning winery restaurants.

Cost of normal wine tasting? Average cost of sampling of each wine flight ranges from $5 and up, depending on the wines poured. Normally, the cost is deducted if you buy any wine from the winery.

How many wines are poured per tasting? Normal tasting sessions offer samplings of 4 to 5 wines from each winery who selects which wines to pour, usually includes both white and red wines. The winery usually rotates different wines for each day.

How much wines are you sampling? Normal sampling portion is one ounce pour per wine. You are getting about the equivalent of 4 to 5 oz. or about one glass of wine per winery. An ideal day of touring wineries is to visit around 4 wineries. But if you have 6 to 8 people, some tours can cater to your own choice of wineries.

barrels and bottles

Other ways to enjoy winery tours? There are lots of wine tours you can join, from half day to full day to custom tour for private group or special functions such as bridal parties, birthdays, anniversaries…etc. Price is usually per person and can range from $80 to $120 for regular wine tours and tastings. Cost of private tours will depend on size of party, the length, the service level and the wine-tasting program. Winery tours usually pick up and drop off at your hotel. Some tours could include lunch or dinner.

To get detail information about visiting the Okanagan wine regions and the wineries, drop by any Tourism Offices at the airport, at the borders and downtown on Burrard Street. Booklets, maps and tour information are yours to pick up. Or go online to http://winebc.com , or simply google “Okanagan wine tour”!Quail's Gate Winery

 

 

Argentina Wine Proudly Presents Malbec

Argenina Malbec

Words/Pix: Henry Yuen

Chinese post: http://blog.taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/

Three weeks ago, Wines of Argentina celebrated Malbec, their flagship varietal, with 70 events in 50 countries around the world. Such magnitude of world-wide celebration indicated one thing — Argentina wineries do know, and proudly so, their Malbec! No doubt an excellent promotional and marketing campaign that raises the profile and fame of this varietal, it also draws wine lovers to pay more attention and appreciation.  For example, most wine consumers now recognize Malbec as the predominant and widely grown varietal in Argentina and vice versa. This is a mega achievement for any wine-producing country.

First brought over from France in 1852, it thrives in the Argentina soil and climate. In fact Argentina has the world’s highest acreage of Malbec planted with Mendoza being the largest growing region at about 66,000 acres.  Winemakers there enjoy showcasing Malbec as the dominant and singular grape varietal in the bottle instead of hidden away in a blend. More often than not you can find 100% Malbec wines. Go to the Argentina section of any wine store, sure enough you can find a Malbec easily. The prominent “Malbec “wine label makes it easy for consumers to find.  Competitive price points for different tiers of Argentina Malbec remain so around the world.  All these prove favourable to help the sales and marketing of this varietal.

Argentina Malbec on shelf

The medium to full bodied structure and the taste profile of blackberry, cherry, plum and licorice are savoured by most wine drinkers of Argentina Malbec. It has rather softer tannins and comparatively higher acidity offering juicy mouthfeel and lengthy stay; all are good reasons why Malbec is one of the popular varietals attracting both male and female wine lovers to gravitate with a wide range of food. It pairs nicely with BBQ meats that Argentina is famous for; goes well with slow-baked short-ribs and casseroles; even goes well with moderately-spiced (not hot) S.E. Asian fares and Chinese clay-pot stews. Argentina Malbec has obviously been gaining traction to be one of the household varietals among wine lovers.

Dish & Dazzle

The annual high calibre event raises fund for BC Hospitality Foundation,  a non-profit organization supporting initiatives and events related to the hospitality industry such as offering scholarships and bursaries to culinary and sommelier students, financial aids to sick or injured members and  providing various supports to different worthy causes related to the industry.

When: May 07 Thursday

Time:  6:30pm to 9:30pm

Where: Convention Centre East

Argentina Mendoza criollo 2012 char

Riding on the success of the International Wine Festival and Eat!Vancouver, Dish & Dazzle promises to pamper your taste buds with exceptional food & wine pairing one more time. With 34 wineries from Argentina participating, the event will showcase over 90 premium Argentinian wines to go with decadents prepared by 12 well known BC restaurants. Live music, cocktail competition, raffles tickets and silent auction will round out the great evening.

If purchaser 6 or more tickets, the ticket price of $69 + service charge for this annual event offer great value for attendees. Good fun, good food & wine and good music will make this fundraising evening a not to be missed event in town. Please get your tickets early at www.dishndazzle.com and I’ll see you there.

 

 

 

New Liquor Laws – who is ready?

 

BC LiquorStoreWords: Henry Yuen

Chinese blog: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/430908/

In the business world, managing change is not just a topic or an issue, it is the essential skill and key responsibility required of the managing executives whose main job description includes: to foresee, prepare, plan and handle any changes. Equally important is their ability to minimize the risk associated and the pressure induced due to external and internal changes which are often intertwined.

The wine industry is no different, perhaps more so since it is a highly regulated industry with various levels of government eyeing closely and having a say anytime. Quite often, government’s decision making on various aspects of the business model and any operational shapes and forms, will affect within and beyond the industry. The industry is susceptible and must abide to liquor law changes which they have no control of. At the stroke of the pen or press of a button, the governing ministry would make or break the industry to a certain extend.

That’s exactly what happened recently in BC.  Changes to the liquor law are in the making and will be in effect come April, 2015. Any changes to the antiquated liquor law are supposedly welcoming. Superficially, the upcoming changes seemed to be all positive that received certain accolades; even from some industry players.  However, when changes are made without proper research and investigation; when decisions are pressed without thorough consideration and genuine concern, disapproval, disappointment and even outrage would follow, especially when deficiency in the implementation became inevitable and certain revisions are viewed to be favouring one party over another.

King Heffy draft beerAt the moment, independent wine stores are the ones with the least benefit from these changes. Obviously, the operators are crying foul from their perspective as the governmental changes would create an uneven playing field that challenges their survival as a business. Independent retails versus BC Liquor Stores? More-friendly competition? Giving the public more choices and more convenience?

The concept of allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine is supposed to provide easier retail access to the public so they can purchase these beverages at their neighbourhood stores. However, the setup requirement and restrictions are so stringent that one wonders how many of these locations would actually come to fruition. So is it all noise and no real effect? Good idea requires good execution to make it successful. So when there are so many “no”, it diminishes the original concept and maybe making no changes might be better for all parties concerned.

BCWI events

The Vancouver International Wine Festival was just here and other wine events are lining up. Judging by the success of the Wine Festival and all the sold out events, the public love their wines. The craft brewery industry is growing and glowing. These should all be promising industries with bright future regardless whether one is involved as a winery operator, a licenced restaurant, a wine merchant, an independent beer & wine store or other capacities of producing and/or promoting beer and wine. It might be true that there is no perfect setup to satisfy each and all parties; however, there is the vital need to secure stability and consistency! It really is not too much to allow for businesses to be part of, to adapt and survive and to benefit from the changes.

 

 

Sipping Sake in Japan

Lantern signs

Words/Pix: Henry Yuen

Chinese blog: http://blog.taiyanbao.ca/life/430786

Milder and lower alcohol content; a less floral but earthier bouquet; trimmer acidity with subtle sweetness are perhaps the reasons why sake has been favoured by Japanese and Asians.  But most wine lovers would agree, sake does complement Japanese cuisine intricately, especially with sushi and sashimi. The refined flavour of sake along with the tantalizing mouth feel caress the raw seafood in our palates charmingly.  No wonder sake is gaining popularity rapidly on the global beverage platforms.

Like most imported goods, the varieties of sake available in Vancouver is limited and usually of average grade. One may have to go to rather high end Japanese restaurants to find true premium sake. Make no mistake; what is available here is only a tiny fraction of the sake produced in Japan. Needless to say, my recent trip to Japan was a seven day affair of non-stop eating and drinking; with sake taking the centre stage.

premiums sake everywhere

We landed in Tokyo at night and the first thing on the itinerary early next morning was to visit the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market.  After over 2 hours of wide-eyed amazement and sometimes disbelief of the magnitude of seafood being handled and traded daily, we sat down in one of the sushi restaurants and had the best raw seafood and beautifully plated sea urchin set for breakfast. Even though it was 9am in the morning, I reminded myself it’s night time in Vancouver; therefore sipping sake was in natural order. There was no wine list to speak of so you just pointed at the display bottles to make your selection and almost immediately sake was served, and to my delight, the authentic way  – in a small square wooden box.  The wooden box emitted a very faint smokiness but somehow added a mysterious character to the sake. While small sake cups, either ceramic or glass, were common, I had come across artistic sets and strange looking shapes and I must admit, they all pushed the experience up one notch. A good way to embrace the arts of sipping local sake for sure!

Sake & sushi

No matter what season it is, slightly chilled sake has always been the norm here; room temperature sake is not unusual either. However, if you prefer your sake warm, please let them know. Mind you, they do serve sake warm, but never hot! Warm sake is usually reserved for utility grade sake while premium grade is preferably served slightly chilled. Almost every restaurant, no matter how tiny, offers sake. And more often than not; serve beer, sake and wine or anything alcoholic in a very casual manner.  Even the young waitress can go to the back, pick up a bottle and pour it for you. Sake sommelier?  I was quite sure they were around, but I did not have the pleasure to meet one during my sake days in Japan.

Sake glasses

Since restaurants of all sorts were everywhere, so were sake: On shelves, by the door, in boxes, barrels;  lined-up in bottles against the wall or by the back exit… Palpably, sake selections were never short; a few of which I was pretty sure I encountered and tasted back home. The price points varied too, but as expected, they were much more wallet-friendly. Many restaurants offer individual (200ml) sizes which they left the bottle on the table. Some were poured directly from the magnum bottle which was lifted right in front of you for your sake by the glass orders. Sake-paired meals should be available somehow somewhere; unfortunately, no one at the front desk or dining room in any of the restaurants spoke good enough English to answer my inquiry.

A display of fine premium sake in Kyoto

Most restaurants serve their sake generously to showcase their hospitality. Not only was the cup or box always filled to the brim; there were the extra friendly and very appreciative way to over-pour so the sake cup or box was actually dripping.  With a dish smartly placed underneath to catch the overflow, this gesture was not just an eye-opener, but  big hugs worth, only if they let me!  Ha, don’t I wish Vancouver restaurants could pick up this smart practice, even when serving beer and wine!

special sake glass

 

 

 

37th International Wine Festival vibrates with the Year of the Ram

Henry Yuen’s Wine Business – Beyondchopsticks.com on AM1470

vines

The 37th Vancouver International Wine Festival:

February 23 to March 01, 2015

Featured wine country: Australia

Themed wine varietal: Syrah

Main tasting room, selected events and seminars: Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre

Other festival events, wine-pairing dinners, winemakers’ dinners: Various restaurants and venues

George Wyndham Founders Reserve 2010 Shiraz - bottle image

If you think there’s still a whole month away from the 37th Vancouver International Wine Festival and there’ll be 8 days of programs to choose from, why hurry? Well, think again!

This annual wine festival is regarded by global wine lovers as one of the top food & wine events in the world, the pool of tickets will be snapped up much quicker than you could imagine; especially the main festival tastings where 750+ wines will be poured for our sipping pleasure; and hot-ticket items such as the Vintners Brunch, the black-tie Gala extravaganza and wine dinners by big-name wineries at fine restaurants.

After the successful Champagne theme and France focus last year, 2015 will showcase Syrah as the varietal and the focus wine country is Australia, with 170 wineries and 14 countries represented. This combo means at least one thing – there will be no shortage of big wines on site!

Australia - 2015 themed wine country

While formal events and more serious seminars are popular amongst the earnest and/or industrial friends, there are other fun and casual events for those who just want to have fun with wine. Wine Minglers will be where spontaneous conversations about the wine, the winemaking process, the wineries…etc. are to be had; the 25 under $25 listing 25 great choices of good wines available in BC for under $25, are the ones I recommend for novices and those who are not yet ready to spend a bunch on unfamiliar wines.

wine-pairing dinner

Plan ahead:

No matter if you are going to the main tasting only; or to as many dinners and seminars as you can, alone, or with one or more buddies; or perhaps need to buy tickets for gift-giving for these events are known to be greatly-appreciated gifts items, plan soon; purchase the tickets ASAP. The first thing  to do, go online and check out the programs, make notes and then order tickets.

Ready to swirl and sip

New this year:

1/ Wine from Croatia: Wines from this East European country will make their wine festival debut.

2/ Wine from New York States: Yes, those New Yorkers can and have developed their own wine regions. They are here to show us their pride and joy.  I look forward to comparing their wines with those of Niagara.

3/ Wines by the case: Wines poured during the Festival Tasting sessions by the wineries will be available to the public for purchase in case lot, marked by special tags right at the booth so the public can place their orders right there and then. These wines are imported under special permit for the duration of the festival and may not be available afterward. Once ordered, the wines will be delivered to local liquor store of your choice for pickup.

4/ Make that a wine-tasting weekend getaway: Check out participating downtown hotels that not only offer special Wine Festival room rates but will throw in a free ticket. Why worry about driving home, or going home when the comfort of a bed is only minutes away.

wine seminars

Reminder:

  • If you plan to sample at least half of the wines at the tasting room, one session will not cut it. Get a tasting room package so you can go in and out at a much more leisure pace instead of jamming in too much at once.
  • Map out a tasting route, work out a system: By country, by varietal, just the reds, or the whites, or any others? Stick to it!
  • For those who aim at sipping all expensive or rare-finds first, make an alphabetical list of the wineries offering them and follow the list.
  • Transportation plan: Do not ‘Drink & Drive’, please use public transits, taxi cabs, or get dropped off and picked up.

Wines for Holiday Feasts

T.creek merlot. Veramonte Cab.s. reserva with braised b. shank

Words: Henry & Stephanie Yuen                                                Photos: D.D

Chinese blogs: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/427141/

Thanksgiving wasn’t that long ago but all of a sudden there’re only a few days left to Christmas. Though the air is crisp and the temperature cold, the atmosphere is warm and jolly wherever you go. There will be sumptuous dinners, parties and all kinds of special events to behold. For many wine lovers, the shopping list of wines for the holiday season is one that needs to be procured as soon as possible.

No matter the occasion and celebration, a bottle or two of wines to bring along as an invited guest is the welcomed consideration, however, with so many choices to select from – sparkling, whites, reds and dessert wines – it is not an easy task.                  R.S. Cab Sauv

Why not start with a bottle of bubbles or sparkling? Good French champagne, as we know, is not cheap. If you do desire, try the Lanson black Label Brut, the Louis Roederer Brut Premier and Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial. For those memorable occasions and celebrations, why not pick up a bottle of the Taittinger Comets De Champagne Blanc De Blanc 2004 or the ever popular Dom Perignon. That doesn’t mean other sparkling wines are out of the question.  Good selections of BC bubbles with easier to manage price-tags are waiting. Our picks are the beautiful coloured and classy Summerhill Vineyards Cipes Blanc De Noir 2008, the vivacious Blue Mountain Brut, delightful Sumac Ridge Stellars Jay Brut and the brilliant See Ya Later Ranch Brut. These are all top-notched bubbles that would not disappoint your wallets or the dinner guests.

ChampagneFor white wines, the choices are even more. Close to home, pick up the Haywire Pinot Gris, Quails Gate Chenin Blanc, Hester Creek Character White, the Oak Bay Schonburger, Joie Farm Gewurztraminer, the Tinhorn Creek 2 Bench White. From our oversea friends, try the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and the wallet friendly Cono Sur Viognier, also from Italy, the 2012 Puglia I.G.T. of Tomarescal had provided me and my dinner guests with sensational pairing too. These are great starter wines for warming up and to go with most appetizers.                  Hester Creek Character

As a fan of Chardonnay laced with appropriate oak treatment, buttery texture and smoothness mouth feel are the lures. Right here in BC, The Time Winery Chardonnay, Quails Gate Estate Selection Chardonnay and Burrowing Owl Chardonnay are palate pleasers. Those from Meyer Winery, Quails Gate Estate Winery would not disappoint either. Burrowling Owl Chardonnay

The list for red is even longer and where do you begin?  For fans of big, bold, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon the  choices are plenty. Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, the Fort Berens Cabernet Sauvignon, The Perseus Cabernet Sauvignon and Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Sage Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Wakefield Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, just to name a few. See Ya Later Ranch Rover - Premier's Wine Award

For red blends, why not pick some big wines from Bordeaux according to your budget. Made with 75% Merlot and 25% Cab Sauvignon, Jean De Trimoulet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru is impressive. From our backyard there are the sumptuous Osoyoos Larose, the deep and elegant Mission Hill Oculus and from Hester Creek The Judge. A must buy if you can put your hands on it, the 2014 Okanagan Wine Awards Premium Cup winner – See Ya Later Ranch Shraz Viogner promises to send your palate to cloud 9.

Of course, there are lots of very well-crafted red varietal wines – Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc from around the world and locally. For example, one of our favourite Argentina reds is Don Miguel Gascon Malbec.

Don Miguel Gascon malbec

For dessert wines, the world renowned Ice Wine from the Okanagan is luxurious and can be a prelude to, the desert itself, or a sweet final note to dinner. Try the Inniskillin Okanagan Vidal Ice Wine; Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve Riesling Ice Wine and the NK’Mip Riesling are sure wins. BC also produces excellent not as sweet and syrupy late harvest, a good substitute for those who opt for a lighter dessert wine. Ready for some exotic divine? We highly recommend the one and only Walnut wine made at Vista Doro Winery here in Fraser Valley.

Cheers and a jolly happy holiday to everyone!!    Doro 2007

Everyone’s welcomed – Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, 2014

HK Wine & Dine Festival

Words: Henry Yuen      Pix: S. Yuen

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, there was this annual “Trade Fair” where all kinds of businesses lined up in one place to showcase their wares. Apparel manufacturers displaying the latest fashion trends; food companies promoting newest products; international brands demonstrating the next must-have appliances; there were household supplies, hard wares, gadgets, toys games and much more. Young ladies in beautiful tailored-made uniforms standing in front of the stalls, encouraging people to  try, test, taste and buy.  Adorned by flashy flirting signs, musical performances and non-stop actions, the fun-filled annual event was something both adults and kids looked forward to every year.

Spectacular opening night performance

Similar yet more vibrant atmosphere and high energy were felt as I walked around the   Wine and Dine Festival in Hong Kong on their opening night; a wine glass in hand, I was elated to be there! The original plan of holding this much-anticipated event in Central was altered due to the demonstration taking place in that area. Kudos to the super organizing power and determined efficiency of Hong Kong Tourism Board and the team of organizers who turned things around as if with a magic wand. Upon entering the site, I was awed by how elaborated the just-erected site in this replacement outdoor venue was! Glittering with lavishing stages, tasting rooms and different themed zones, hard to believe it was all set up in a matter of days. Held at the runway of the old Kai Tak Airport with record attendees, this food and wine event have been fully embraced by the locals and visitors alike, despite the last minute location change.

The Wine & Dine Festival attracted these groups of folks: Those who came to sip the wine, those who came to sample the food, and of course, those who enjoyed both the food and the wine; and those who simply there to cherish the gleeful festivity!

Hong Kong has been well-regarded as a food and wine paradise; the month-long Festival provided a very approachable platform even for first time comers. There is a Chinese saying that you work to keep your stomach full, clothing and lodging come secondary.  Indeed, food has always been an integral part of the Chinese social fabric.  No surprise that the last minute change in venue did not hinder the popularity of the Festival; in fact, the Kai Tak location helps raised the allure as those who are yet to step on it welcome the opportunity to come take at its Cruise Terminal look.

Hong Kong’s affluent wine culture is no doubt the backbone of the huge success of the Wine & Dine Festival. As the wine-drinking society matures in Hong Kong, wine with food, wine on its own, wine for gift-giving has become more or less a social trend, a lifestyle mean and a wind-down tool to ease the everyday hectic paces.

The fabulous setup and the long lineup at the food and wine booths avouched my thoughts and observations. A tasting zone dedicated to the ever popular Bordeaux is a true manifestation of the superiority of the Bordeaux wine reputation in the heart of the Hong Kong wine circles. Not just any French wines but only those from Bordeaux – the allure, charisma and status of a Bordeaux label lives forever in their heart! The very considerate Everyday Wine Zone is there to showcase arrays of wallet friendly wines, a perfect introduction to the new and novice drinkers indeed.  The Discovery Zone where wine merchants brought in rare, unknown and hard to find wines is, needless to say, draws in wine lovers of all levels. The Party Wine Zone focusing on sparkling wines, sweeter and dessert wines are enjoyed on their own or served in various cocktail concoctions. The Country Zone that features wines from popular wine producing regions of the world plus some emerging Eastern European countries such as Georgia and Romania is for exploration and great learning experience.  To top it off, the Riedel Grand Tasting Pavilion with a list of impressive high end wines is the see and to-be-seen arena where folks clamour for and where veteran wine lovers who are there to compare tasting notes and purchasing powers.

Everyday French wine

While there is no doubt people still gravitate towards Bordeaux wines, it is good to see that other wine regions are gaining recognition and consumers begin to realize their wines are well worth their attention and curiosity. The “Drink nothing but Bordeaux” mantra is fading and most people look for value rather than just reputation.

I had a frank discussion with a Mr. Choy  of MegaWill Wine, a wine merchant at the Festival who confessed the Bordeaux popularity and status is not a novelty among those knowledgeable wine folks anymore. When he imports Bordeaux wines, instead of exclusively high end labels, it will now be those Bordeaux labels that are more price-friendly to the drinking public. It is difficult to make a lot of money importing high-end wines since only a shrinking group of elites still clings to that mantra. Due to the geographic proximity to the Asian Pacific countries, Australian and New Zealand wines are equally popular. California wines are also welcome due to the palate acceptance of full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel etc.

Henry & Mr. A. Choy I was amazed by the large number of wine merchants prying their trades at the Festival. I guess the ever increasing drinking population and the relaxed tax rule on wines in Hong Kong readily support more entrants to the wine trade. A case in point was that at one of the Discovery Zone booths, there was this young gentleman Mr. Wing Yau urging us to try his wine. As it turned out, he was the winemaker of a plum wine made locally in Hong Kong. Under the umbrella of Hong Kong Royal Wine Ltd, only a few hundred cases were produced and he hadn’t had time to line up any distributorship or enlisted any restaurants to put his wine on their wine lists.  It was no doubt a relatively new venture for him. Ask where he got the idea and impetus, his answer was it was his love of wine which drove his interest and desire to make wine. “It would be fun to try and make my own wine!” He said so with a grin. Consistent with the self-assurance of most folks in Hong Kong, he welcomed the challenge and was not deterred by the steep learning curve facing him. That’s the spirit of the Hong Kong people that we adore and I wish him the best of luck in his new endeavour.

Henry & plum winemaker Wing Yau

While most tasting events in Vancouver charges a higher admission fee, the wine tasting portion at each booth was free. You can taste all the wines you like and would not get drunk by spiting. Spitting is in fact encouraged. Whereas the Hong Kong Food and Wine Festival charged a very low admission fee of about $3-$4 Canadian but each tasting cost a ticket. More expensive wines cost two or three tickets each. As a result, it was difficult to taste a multitude of wines unless you buy a lot of tickets. And you tend not to spit since there was no spit bucket provided. The expectation was that you would finish each glass since you’re paying for it. I guess it makes perfect sense since a low admission fee could lure even casual fans who are free to choose and decide how to spend their dollars by either drinking a little or a lot.

Yak milk wine

With over one hundred and fifty booths and more than ten wines at each booth, it was impossible for me to try too much wine without spitting. In the end, my exercise involved studying each label carefully before selecting and sipping which called for lingering a lot longer at some booths. That was something I didn’t mind at all since the food and ambiance was good and the conversations were enjoyable. Not having to worry drinking and driving, thanks to the free shuttle bus that took us back to the subway station conveniently, definitely elevated the pleasure.  My first Hong Kong Wine & Dine experience was a great one, no matter how I looked at it. I have no doubt the wine trend in Hong Kong will only get better overtime and the public will appreciate and embrace the wine arena more profoundly!

Fort Berens Estate Winery

Fort Berens wines

Words: Henry Yuen         Pix: S. Yuen

Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/415536/

Back in 2012, I wrote a story regarding the wines of Fort Berens, a pioneer winery in Lillooet up Fraser Canyon region where experimental test planting dated back to 2005. We tasted Fort Berens’ first vintage of 2011 from their initial commercial planting in 2009. I remembered very well because for a brand new winery growing grapes in a relatively unknown region, their wines were surprisingly good even back then.

Fast forward to now and deservingly so, Fort Berens Meritage has been awarded this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence, on top of other awards, a solid proof of how exceptional their wines are. I gave them two thumps up in terms of quality and value. With 20 acres under their helm, Fort Berens Estate Winery best exemplified that BC still has pockets of untapped terroir suitable to growing premium grapes outside of the 5 established growing regions.                  The winery

This time, we were able to taste some of their award-winning wines while touring the brand new facility  – a modern, sleek and hi-tech looking winery.  As we travelled through the winding lanes of Fraser Canyon through Hope, lined with mystic mountains along the Fraser River, it was difficult to imagine these hill side patches of pastures would grow grapes. When we approached Lillooet where the mighty Fraser River met the Thompson River, the valley opened up on both sides and the clouds disappeared quickly leaving the sun to warm up the entire valley. We could see this sagebrush region with dry greyish vegetation on sandy soil welcomed the long and hot summer sun with Alpine breeze cooling the nights; it in fact was ideal for the vines to flourish!

The newly built winery and tasting room features modern amenities to handle the production logistics. Situated upon the knoll overlooking the beautiful 20 acres of vineyards below, the view is breathtaking. There is room to grow but the present focus is on producing quality and delicious wines – let the wines speak for themselves! Led by a dedicated team of progressive and youthful staff to manage the vineyard and winemaking, Fort Berens is in good hands to provide the consistency wine lovers come to expect of quality BC wines, at a friendly price range too!

Fort Berens wine barrelsTasting notes:

Cabernet Franc 2012: Packs a lot of blackcurrants with a bit of clove on the nose, the entry is smooth with black fruits and berries to brighten the palate. Nice treatment due to 12 months in both American and French oak and another 12 months of bottle aging to provide the roundness.

2011 Meritage: A nice blend of 47% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc sourced from both the estate fruits and the Sundial vineyards in Oliver. Aged in both American and French oak barrels, this wine is smooth with aroma of dry cherries and currants. The mouth feel is juicy and a bit of herb and spices to provide the balance. No wonder it is an award winning wine.

2013 Chardonnay: With lots of citrus and Asian fruits aroma, there is an enticing subtle flinty note indicative of the mineral rich sandy soil of the Lillooet area. 30% is fermented on French oak barrels and the rest in stainless steel tanks, this wine is further aged 9 months in French oak before bottling to provide that hint of buttery smoothness expected of oaked Chardonnay.

ChardonnayFour Seasons hosting Fort Berens Dinner

 

 

 

Salute to “The Girls”

Words: Henry Yuen

So many worthwhile fundraising campaigns are lobbying for our dollars, it requires a bit of vetting on our part in order to ensure our contributions render maximum value to the charity. When 100% of your donation goes to the BC/Yukon Region of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, it’s a no brainer to support it. How do you do that? What about starting with a bottle or two of BC wine? By buying a couple of BC wines with a fun and fitting name “The Girls”!

The girls!

Take a look at the bottle; it has a shape and style of its own. Study the label designs; you will be intrigued by the curvy outfits and coordinating colour tones. The designing team did a witty job playing around with a little bit of naughtiness and the catchiness of the name.

While “The Girls” is the label for this pair of wines, each one has her own descriptive way of showcasing the varietals: The Vivacious Rosé and the Voluptuous Red. Lighter and easier to drink, rosé has always been associated with glee and balmy. Red wines, on the other hand, are rich and luscious. It won’t work if Rosé was voluptuous and the Red vivacious! The good news is, both wines are ready to be enjoyed immediately.

Tasting note:

Vivacious Rose: The grapes are sourced from the Okanagan with Merlot as the foundation with 24 hours of skin contact to give this wine the lovely pink hue. The nose has enticing bouquet of raspberry and strawberries. Nice juicy feel with a hint of grapefruit and melon wakes up the palate and lingers on the finish. Six months in the bottle before release gives this wine the depth on the palate. Refreshing and uplifting, this well-made Rose is delightfully fit for any occasions.

Voluptuous Red is a balanced blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Kept in new French oak for eighteen months, the aroma of cherries and blackberries is attractive and engaging, followed by cloves and other tantalizing spices to tease the palate. This medium to full-bodied wine is structured to pair well with or without food.

Under the tutelage of consultant James Cluer MW and the collaboration of a team of winemakers, these two new wines were produced at Harry McWatter’s TIME Estate Winery located in South Okanagan who is also distributing the wine.

Bill Lui, the creator of The Girls brand, commissioned the wines for a good cause but in the end the winemaking team also created a couple of fun and versatile wines that it is hard to resist. So it is a win-win situation where there is mutual benefit for a good cause.

Not a lot of cases were produced so go to http://charitablewines.org to find the list of BCLDB and private wine store   locations or go to http://twlcanada.com to order these wines directly.  What are you waiting for?

2014 Cornucopia

This is the season when skiers, snow-boarders and winter outdoor sports fans are in high alert. They all are paying extra attention to what Whistler is up to. Once the mountains are opened for the season, off they go.

Food and wine fancies are doing more or less the same, except that they know exactly when to head out there. They are likely gearing to go up Whistler in 2 weeks as we speak, in time to attend the 18th Whistler Cornucopia. This year, the ultra-popular fun-filled food and wine festival has been extended to become a 11-day long merriment. From November 6 to 16th, overriding 2 weekends!

#4 Four Seasons hosting Fort Berens Dinner

There is really no need for me to dwell into the details of the many seminars, wine-pairing and winemaker’s dinners and tasting events, such as the award-winning Fort Berens Winery dinner at Sidecut Restarant at the Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts. All you have to do is log onto the website: http://whistlercornucopia.com . Just be reminded, some of the events are already sold out!

The Blue Grouse of Cowichan

Blue Grouse Quill 2012 White WineWords: Henry Yuen

We labour through the long ferry lineups and spend hours to get to Vancouver Island for what? The answer is quite simple, and one that British Columbians should be proud of. Blessed by Mother Nature, the charm and beauty of Vancouver Island is unparalleled! We may whine along the way, but once there, we praise ourselves for making the trip – yes, it’s worth it!

Whether or not you are there as a tourist, visiting friends or families; there are lots of things to do to resonate with canvases of natural settings. While doing nothing is not a bad way to take in the tranquilizing beauty; exploring other parts of the Island will make your stay more fulfilling. For me and many like-minded Island visitors, it’s the vibrant food and wine scene that calls us there. The Slow Food movement and the Farm to Table initiatives are only some of the concepts that Vancouver Island has progressed soundly. Local farmers, artisan cheese makers and specialty food producers have no doubt been one of the top reasons foodies cross the strait.  Do not forget about the wines and wineries there! Go to Cowichan and you know what I am talking about.

#3 - vines

Island wineries do not take a back seat to those in Fraser Valley and Okanagan anymore at all. The total acreage of vineyards might not compare to the Okanagan but the quality is definitely on the upswing. Some plantings on the island dates back to the seventies so wineries have been able to work out the kinks to make the necessary improvements. So what’s the verdict?

Located in Duncan in Cowichan Valley, the Blue Grouse Winery has vineyard operation dating back to 1977. Current owner the Bruner Family shifted in 2012. They did not come from the farming industry but their love and passion of wine, their adoration of the majestic landscaped Cowichan, along with their determination and full-swing dedication in making great wines are solid foundations to build on. “Old Island vines, new classic wines” is the vision and description of this 45- acre winery. The site currently has 7 acres of vineyard in operation. Winemaker Bailey Williamson is a local British Columbian who grew up in Burnaby. He moved to Victoria in 1993 and began pursuing a serious career in the food and wine industry. His wine-making path started with entry-level jobs at several wineries. Bailey was the assistant winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards before coming over to Blue Grouse as the winemaker.

Tasting notes:

2013 Pinot Gris – I like the freshness and fruity note of this Pinot Gris. 100% harvest from Cowichan Valley, the green apple, Asian pear and hints of pomero aroma is enticing and the juicy finish refreshing. A bit on the lighter side, this wine is no doubt versatile enough for a variety of Asian appetizers such as cold plates, warm salad and crunchy tempura.

Blue Grouse 2013 Estate Pinot Gris & Estate Orgega2012 Quill Red – A blend of 47% Cabernet Foch, 21% Marchel Foch, 21% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Libre sourced from both the Cowichan Valley vineyards and Okanagan vineyards. This red is barrel aged which provided the smoothness and smokiness for a medium bodied finish that is fun to drink. Easy enough for sipping on its own, but with enough substance and character to pair with Antipasto as appetizer, Tomato-based pasta, wok-fried roots and squash, baked pork chops and ribs.

Quill 2012 red

2012 Pinot Noir – 100% Pinot Noir grapes from the Cowichan Valley. Plum and cherry made up the predominant aroma laced with soft tannins and a lingering finish. Enjoy it with roasted lambs, beef stews and braised ox-tails. This nicely-done Pinot expresses the terroir of the Island wine region fully.

By the look of things and their wines, the future is promising for Blue Grouse whose acres of land are suitable for planting selected qualitative grapes. They have the capacity and strong potential to increase the vineyard acreage, which will surely raise the over all profile of Vancouver Islands as a prominent wine region in Western Canada.