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.

Kim Crawford 2013 Wines

Words: Henry Yuen (Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/ )

Being an integral part of the country’s economy, the agricultural sector of New Zealand is a huge one.  Together with the food and forestry industry, they generate over 70% of the total export earnings. New Zealanders realize these as the pivots in maintaining the stronghold of the population and their well-beings; needless to say, they embrace and support the industries dearly.  There is a concerted effort by the New Zealand wine industry to ensure high quality wines are produced to excel in the export market and indeed, 80% of New Zealand wines are exported today. Inarguably, the wine industry has been an essential part of the overall GDP generator, crafting quality wine is the inevitable strategic initiative to ensure economic vibrancy.

Since the first planting in 1973 in Marlborough, It becomes a well-known fact that New Zealand produces outstanding and alluring Sauvignon Blanc. “Do what you do best” is seemingly the shared philosophy there. If the terroir is best suited for Sauvignon Blanc, they will then pour out the best effort to this varietal to produce the world’s best. Current data tells us almost 70% of wine produced in New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc. Surely, they have been showing the world they mea1nt what they say by coming up with a number of top of the world Sauvignon Blanc!

One perennial winner is the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Having elevated from cottage winery status to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines in less than 15 years is what I say impressive.

Kim Crawford Wines

I recently tasted Kim Crawford 2013 vintage wines, here are my wine notes.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – Harvested from the Mairau Valley of the Marlborough appellation from vines of 14 years and more, this wine opens with a bright tropical fruit and citrus aroma laced with grapefruit and pineapple. The smooth mouth feel is weaved with crispy and refreshing vibes, a hint of minerality brings out its acidity and vibrancy. If you want to sample the superior quality and characteristics this New Zealand varietal is famous for, this would be it.

Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2013  – Another fine representation of the Marlborough appellation is the Nobilo Region.  All 100% Sauvignon Blanc sourced from different blocks of vineyards of the Awatere and Wairau Valley.  The harvests from the different blocks were kept separate throughout the winemaking process to preserve their distinctiveness before blending. The result is a complex wine but tantalizing with freshness. The floral aroma and a light earthy hint bring in good complexity. It has a round mouth feel on the palate;  adequate citrus, pineapple and summer fruit notes render the zesty, easy drinking harmony.

While the superiority of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is hard to beat, it doesn’t mean other varietals always have to take a backseat and remain anonymous in the wine scene. The Monkey Bay 2013 Pinot Grigio from the Hawkes Bay region is an example of the diverse landscape of New Zealand welcoming to other varietals too. Light, pale straw in colour, it is the result of the non-skin contact treatment when pressing. The result is a refreshing and vivid Pinot Grigio with subtle dry apple skin and preserved peach aroma. It is round on entry with lots of fruit and a touch of floral note in the finish. It is off dry and a good contrast to the Sauvignon Blanc.

New Zealand’s wine history may be young in comparison to the Old World wines, but the progression is no doubt fast paced and significant enough to turn heads in the international wine scene. Try these wines while they are still in the very competitive price range in BC. Once they get more awards and wider recognition, the rising demand could pose new brackets on their now reasonable pricing.

Naramata Bench and Okanagan Falls

a rack of wine bottles

Words: Henry Yuen   Pix: S. Yuen

Summer and early fall means trips to the Interior. Back when our sons were younger and heavily involved in sports, we used to go there on a regular basis: Tournaments, camping, touring and fruit indulging. When the kids no longer tagged along and admiring the gorgeous views a given, we change our itinerary to dining and drinking .  Winery tours, wine-tastings and cuisine indulging in winery restaurants often top our list. In fact, this time of the season; with the hot sun tapering down and the lake breeze blowing softly; proves to be easier and more pleasant for folks our age.

Lake & vineyard view

Voted by USA Today as the number two finest wine regions in the world, the Okanagan is described as “Drop. Dead. Gorgeous!” The publication states, “British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley came in at a strong #2, its loyal fans reminding voters of the area’s lush landscape of mountains and rivers.  The Okanagan offers excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation in between tastings.” The exact reasons why more and more folks from all over the world come to pay a visit or plan a wine vacation to Okanagan.

Quail

With vineyards and wineries spreading alongside lakes and hillsides, you may find yourselves wondering which vineyard to start? Where to go to fully utilize the time while up there? Well, we can take a good look at these two areas that house 24 and 12 wineries separately.

Poplar Grove boasts modern design beauty

Up on the hill in Penticton is the Naramata Bench and under the Naramata Bench Wineries Association banner are 24 wineries. Once an area filled with orchards and farms, now tranquil vineyards perched upon the hill and extend to the edge of local roads. Land is precious in the Okanagan and seldom laid waste for the purpose. Dotted with beautiful wineries, modern tasting rooms and top-rated restaurants, this Bench gives visitors fun-filled reasons to explore the wineries and the terroir.   There are acclaimed wineries to newly-established ones; wines made by achieved winemakers to growers-turned enthusiasts; elaborated premises to true-to-nature type of operations. Their wines are distinct; and so are their setups and capacities. But one thing they do share – embracing and trying their very best with what Mother Nature has granted to the vineyards and wineries of Naramata Bench.

OK Resort

Further south in the heart of the Okanagan is Okanagan Falls. “The heart of wine country” is the lowest part of the valley and lots of heat and the perfect terroir for vineyards. From Lake Skaha to Vaseux Lake are twelve wineries including Blue Mountain Vineyards known for its interesting grapes and remarkable wines. Together they form the Okanagan Falls Winery Association.  Lush landscapes lend terroir beauty to the vineyards, certainly another pocket of wineries worthy of an exploratory visit or a weekend getaway. Caressing winds and cooling moisture from the lakes; warm days and cool nights, encouraging a number of vineyards to naturally progress from orchards of yore. Some vineyards have been operating since the seventies, providing maturity to the vines that inevitably helps produce great wines lined with complexity and concentration.

Lakeside hotels and cheerful motels are welcoming. You don’t need to stay far from these two wine regions at all to taste some great wines thus saving you more time for other activities or simply relax a bit before conducting another winery visits.

For detailed information of both winery associations and all their winery members please log onto: http://naramatabench.com and http://ofwa.ca

What cocktail are you drinking this summer?

Words: Henry Yuen

Imagination and creativity are the backbones behind every new dish constructed by chefs, regardless of the cuisine and the local ingredients available. They often tweak the dishes to search for flavour uniqueness. This is no difference when it comes to creating smashing cocktails!

These days, an integral job of the bar mangers, or “Mixologist” or “Drink Directors”, is to create new cocktails by mixing and matching available ingredients. Sure they don’t mind following the exact recipes traditional cocktails since they are no brainers, but the urge to create some amazing drinks that provide that “wow” factor is the given chance to grasp that artistic instinct mixologists possess and the result is always yummy.

A pot of icy cool smoky cocktail

The bar program at Earls is one successful example judging by the number of cocktails on most tables, not to mention that they are now featuring $5 cocktails this whole summer (Sunday to Thursday) nights! Diners seem to embrace the starter drinks and cocktails are taking centre stage. Those colourful; delicious cocktails tend to liven up the atmosphere to another level. I tried and enjoyed the “Mad Hatter” very much. This drink belongs to the creative cocktail category and the creativity is well-presented by serving it in a teapot with dry ice inside. The “pot” of cocktail is delivered to our table with foggy smokes escaping the lid; more smoked accompanied the liquid emitted through the sprout when poured into the glass. It’s a delightful and mighty refreshing drink of Smirnoff Vodka, pear, black tea, lime leaf and coconut water;  how dramatic! The black tea adds a profound South East Asian mood to this cocktail. Interestingly, Mad Hatter is a good fit with the hot and fluffy BBQ buns served in a bamboo basket. They both get a 10 for visual effect and flavour from me for sure.

At Cactus Club Café, their 98 Days of Summer Cocktails program is in full swing. According to bar operation manager, Sam Zavari, “guest can enjoy these refreshing cocktails which include the Watermelon Margarita and the Sunset Soda throughout the summer”.  The focus of the  their cocktails is summer’s favourite flavours and this year the cocktails feature watermelon and peach. Summer, watermelon and juice-dripping fruits do go hand-in-hand teamwork to fight the heat, more so these days when the sun is scorching and our bodies particularly crave for watermelon. “Fresh watermelon is a summer staple and the ultimate refresher on hot summer days. The bartenders are juicing twice daily which ensures optimal freshness and flavour.” Other cocktail creations include the Sunset Soda which is made with Smirnoff Orange Vodka; and the Watermelon Margarita made with Cuervo Gold Tequila.

Cactus Club Cafe Watermelon Margarita, 98 Days of Summer, 2014

Recommend bites to make the cocktail sipping more enjoyable are fresh seafood, light and uplifting such as Rob Feenie signature ceviche with Ocean Wise Lois Lake steelhead and sustainably harvested prawns. There are always the ever popular Tuna Tataki and Fish Tacos – good excuses to go grab a table and cocktail drinks.

The “Super Drinks” and Crafted Slush at Joey have been gaining momentum as the full-blown west coast sun decides to stay on.  Take the Stiff Lemonade for instance, made with Pearl Vodka, fresh lemon-lime slush and limoncello liqueur, is the great escape under the hot sun. The Blueberry Mojito, with muddled blueberries, fresh lime juice and the must  — mint leaves is so fruity and inviting, it tingles away the summer heat like a garden breeze.  Sip this with the Japanese dumplings served with hot mustards, you would end up ordering more of each.

JoeyDrinkStiffLemonadeWeb1-1024x682

 

 

Premium Sake – Warm or cold?

Words: Henry Yuen   Pix: S. Yuen

I am a novice when it comes to Sake but do enjoy a vial or two of chilled ones with Japanese food. I also find warm Sake and hotpot go quite well together, especially in cold evenings. I like my Sake warmed since hot was how it was served to me back when and somehow became a habitual thing. However, according to Sake experts, warming the Sake is not the proper way to appreciate Sake, especially for premium grade!

Rashiko Daiginjo

Applying too much heat will likely destroy the delicacy of Sake,  but when served slightly chilled, the flavour and charm of the wine will express fully; more so for Premium Sake whose flavour is so complex. “Certain Premium Sake is brilliant at room temperature but slightly chilled is the norm. If you must warm up your Sake, just consume regular Sake” states Ken Watai , President of Jizake Japan Canada, a well-established Premium Sake Importer in BC. “Traditionally, only lower quality Sake is served warm to mask the insipidity so it could still be desirable to some consumers.” He added. “If you insist to warm up your Sake, do so by immersing the vial of Sake in a container of warm water that is way below the boiling point.  Never heat Sake up in the microwave.” Ken advised.

Crispy cold sake for divine food pairing

Like wine, pairing food with Premium Sake is an uprising trend. A recent Premium Sake pairing tasting at Kamei Royale organized by Mr. Watai and Kamei’s very own Sake Sommelier and Executive Director Shingo Masuda showcased the why and how important these advices were in order to embrace the delicate yet luscious Premium Sake. This tasting event turned extraordinary with the presence of a visiting true Sake expert – the Sake Master Kazunori Sato of Yamatogawa Sake Brewery who is behind a gold-award winning Sake that we were lucky enough to taste that evening.

 

Sake glasses

Five crisp-coloured wines were poured into different sake glasses and served with modern Japanese fares.

The Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Sake has subtle fruit flavour with a clean and soft finish. The flaky Teriyaki Yellowtail steak with its sweetness complements this Sake very well. Next up was the Kissho Zuiyo Ginjo Sake, slightly dry on entry but gentle on the finish, this pairs perfectly with the dense yet soft scallop. Karakuchi Junmai Yauemon is bold and attention grabbing. If you like your Sake not chilled; this wine is awesome in room temperature or even lightly warmed. The enticing flavour of the smoked salmon marinade tuned in nicely with the boldness of this Karakuchi.

The four time Gold Award winner (A huge honour in Japan’s Premium Sake world) Daiginjo Yaemon, an exquisitely balanced, full flavour profile that lingers and seduces is served. With beautiful aroma and layers of flavours that keep on surfacing, this wine does exemplify what Premium Sake is all about. Black sesame tuna tataki with ponzu gelee brings out the sweetness and complexity of this Sake. Changing pace and the naturally soft, unfiltered Sake with a clear and sweet note – Nigori Northern Light is served. A shy yet engaging aroma brings out the crispy sensation the chef created the prawn okura tempura the chefs created to pair with the Northern Light.

Sake Master Sato and gold winner

According to Ken, the rice grains used to make Sake is the same throughout Japan; the difference is the water, the fermentation process and the skilled hands and experiences of the Sake Master. Water source makes a significant difference in the basic form and texture of the Sake; the traditional fermentation process each Sake house adopts and applies dictates the flavour and character profile of the Sake.

Compared to other alcoholic beverages, Sake is definitely more delicate, gentle and caressing. Instead of drinking Sake in a party-like and raucous environment, I prefer to sip mine with a different mood in a quieter, more relaxing temperament to fully enjoy the premium sake moment.

 

A shot or two of Mezcal – Mexican Elation

Mezcal wines

Words: Henry Yuen           Pix: Santiago Barreiro & S. Yuen

When communication methods were so primitive and languages so different; and nations lived so far apart and never even once encountered each other, there was no way for them to share any culture and knowledge. The theory derived here is also the fact – centuries ago and even in ancient times, our ancestors of different cultures of different continents; cultivated similar traditions and developed similar wisdom in the science of doing things, all on their own!

Each label tells a story

What am I referring to here, you wonder?  Distillation of various ingredients to make alcoholic beverages, that is. Regardless of what language they spoke and where they were, our ancestors knew how to make wines and spirits using what nature had given them. The Chinese produce rice wine, the Japanese brews Sake, the Italians make Grappa, the French have Cognac; Scotts have Whisky,  and the Mexicans? Oh yes, they have Tequila and Mezcal!  And I am pretty sure; other ethnic cultures have their very own national drinks. The ingredients, methods, alcohol contents and flavours may be different, but they do share more or less of the same principles.

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Let’s talk Mexican Mezcal. A popular and well-regarded spirit on home soil, Mezcal is distilled from agave plants. Like grapes, agave plants offer various species. Different species of different regions with different soils and climates will render different taste profiles. They stand to create their own uniqueness once distilled. Many of the Mezcal houses are still using organic and traditional methods to dig, roast, ferment and distill.  Behind each Mezcal logo, there are histories, habits and folklores to tell.

To make Mezcal, the base portion of the agave plant known as the “head” is harvested after the stem or flower portion has been removed for over a year. It takes 8 or 9 years, sometimes 20, 30 years before the plant is ready for harvesting. The plant is then roasted in the oven for up to 8 days. The roasted plant is ground manually in a stone mill to extract the juice. Water is now added to the juice to obtain the desired consistency, followed by the fermentation process in order to get the concentrated mixture ready for distillation. The Mezcal is now ready for enjoyment.

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Certain Mezcal master-makers prefer to conduct one more step by aging the Mezcal in oak barrel to achieve complexity, smoothness and smokiness; as well as his own signature onto the spirit.

Mezcal tasting is no different than wine tasting. The “nose” is important so grasping the aroma of the drink is only the beginning. The final product in Mezcal bottles usually contains over 40% of alcohol, it is important to take it easy, allow time for the nose, tongue and palate to get use to the strong alcoholic flavour and burn sensation. First take a small sip but let it sit in your month for 8 to 10 seconds before swallowing.  This is to condition the mouth and the palate to receive the flavour and let the contact do the job slowly. Once swallowed and mesmerized by the profound structure of Mezcal, feel free to take a bigger sip. Not a bad idea at all to enjoy with colourful Mexican fares.

authentic maxican gourmet

Do talk to the Mezcal pourer who often is a member of the production team and kows the story and the people behind that particular bottle of Mezcal. Listening to their description of the agave, the harvesting patience and distilling process is part of the enjoyment. The fact is, different agave plant species produce unique flavours and characters, and different master-makers apply their own traditions and culture throughout the process, ergo not all Mezcal is the same. A side-by-side comparison is a good way to enhance the taste profile each wine brings forward and that’s truly is an integral part of the fun.

A different shape of Mezcal bottle

 

BC Wine Industry Blooming with International Awards

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Words: Henry Yuen ( Chinese blog post: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/379905 )

Whether you go to a government liquor store or a private wine store, you should have noticed the latest releases from     various BC wineries by now. The BC VQA wineries celebrate their annual releases through a tasting event called “Bloom”. BC wine industry grew from 17 to 235 wineries in less than 25 years. It is still growing as new wine sub-regions are being discovered. There are over 9,800 acres planted in the five designated viticultural areas (Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands). Even though small in international scale, non-the-less it is extremely important to the BC economy from an employment and revenue generating perspective. Even though some wineries jobs are seasonal, there are lot of subsidiary and indirect jobs created such as restaurants, tourism and hospitality positions benefiting from this particular industry.

What about the BC wines you might ask. It is ever improving as far as I am concern judging by the over 2000 awards garnered annually through international wine competitions. Of course there are outstanding ones and there are mediocre ones and also those from new wineries with potential to improve over time. With competition from New World wines, I can expect prices of BC wines to stay competitive as the economy of scale improves and the unit cost of production coming down.

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However, don’t expect premium tier wines to be cheaper as those are in limited production with exceptional care from viticulturalists and winemakers. Wines destined for cellaring will always be hot items for collectors.  The list, including award-winners such as Mission Hill’s “World Best Pinot Noir”, Joie Farm’s list of awarded wines, and Haywire Winery’s Haywire Canyonview Vineyard Pinot Noir that just received the Lieutenant Governor Award, is too long. The best way to find out is to visit a specialty BC VQA stores, consider your budget and feel free to ask for advice. If you come across these wines, don’t miss the chance.  These are some of the gems to your liking!

http://winebc.com

http://missionhillwinery.com

http://joiefarm.com

http://haywirewinery.com

bloom 2014    Haywire-Canyonview-PN-2011-770x770Haywire-Canyonview-PN-2011-770x770

Mission Hill World's best Pinot Noir