A DIY week-end get-away to Okanagan Wine regions

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Henry Yuen (Chinese blog:                                                      http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )

To thoroughly enjoy a wine tour of the Okanagan, a lot of people assume a weekend trip will be an undercut. I can certainly understand the rationale as there are so many fun things to do and interesting places to visit. With over 200 wineries and growing, it certainly is a challenge to choose where to go and perhaps a bit greedy to try and cover the entire area searching for a particular vinous exploration.

Having said that, if you only have a weekend, an awesome trip to the Okanagan to taste food and wines is more than achievable than you may think. Sure, a thorough map-out plan would enhance the journey but not necessary since over the years Okanagan’s hospitality industry has grown to comprehend and deliver what hospitality is all about, ergo a spontaneous decision simply to get away can still be a pleasant road trip – just drive up there late Friday afternoon and return Sunday evening. Well, that’s what we recently did! We confined our trip to the southern Okanagan region visiting wineries and vineyards in Oliver, Osoyoos, Summerland and Penticton.

We may be familiar with the area but the wine industry’s rapid growth in recent years makes it difficult at times to keep up with the latest news and developments! Glad to notice recent changes are not only promising but have definitely raised the Valley’s overall profile as the food and wine destination.

Bravo to the pioneering effort of Summerhill Pyramid Estate Winery whose winery restaurant finally got the approval from the liquor distribution branch to serve not just their own wines but wines from other places; as well as spirits if customers fancy a cocktail. Other similar winery restaurants’ eager anticipation to be granted the same flexibility will likely happen soon. This certainly is a big step forward to show the Province’s liquor law is in alignment with times and doesn’t loiter in the dark ages any more.  Other than the regulation changes, we also saw the regions becoming much more user-friendly. Wine route signs are prominent so getting to destinations is a whisk. From local artisan bread, cheese and farm produce; casual picnic in the vineyard to gourmet fine-dining, the food scene is noticeable. Hotels and accommodations are readily available. People are friendly and willing to help and please. From the young server that knew exactly what to do upon approaching our table to the gas station attendant offering warm assistance; the overall experience was a charming one.

Upon arrival Friday evening we checked into the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos. This modern lakefront hotel is both chic and quaint with apt amenities, not surprised at all to find a pair of washer and dryer in our suite! We then took a short drive to Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver just in time for a fantastic six-course wine-pairing dinner at their Miradoro Restaurant to wet our appetite for the next two days! The dinner featured two Gold Medal Plates champions ‘Marc & Marc’ showcasing their skills and collaborating with the restaurant resident chef Jeff to create a line-up of amazing plates paired with outstanding local wines. The welcoming drinks to pair with the canapés were the refreshing 2012 Moscato Frizzante from Orofino Vineyards and the never-disappointing 2005 Steller’s Jay from Sumac Ridge Winery. Next up were the 2012 Alibi, a Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon blend from Black Hills Estate Winery and the mood-setting 2012 Two Bench Rose from Tinhorn Creek Vineyards to go with local heirloom tomatoes. The beautifully crafted 2012 Old Vines Trebbiano from Hester Creek Estate Winery and the pleasing 2011 Pinot Noir from Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery were paired with the albacore tuna. Two seemingly contrasting wines: The 2010 Nk’Mip Cellars Chardonnay and the 2009 Tinhorn Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir were poured and both worked magically with the buttered-poached scallops and lobster. For the Angus beef dish, we had the very desirable 2009 Tinhorn Creek Vineyards 2 Bench Red and the harmonizing 2010 Church & State Wines Coyote Bowl Petit Verdot Malbec. Before dessert came the aromatic 2011 St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery Gewurztraminer to go with local artisan cheeses. To round out the evening, we had the 2011 Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards Riesling Icewine. We were having such good time we didn’t want to leave but after a few hours of driving and a stomach full of brilliantly matched food & wine, the soft down duvet and comfortable bedding at the Watermark Beach Resort was calling.

IMG_4706Miradoro dining roomAfter a restful sleep, we were ready for a full Saturday of wine tastings. A short drive to Black Hills Estate Winery up on the Black Sage bench in Oliver was the first stop. Established in 1996, this winery has 27 acres up on the Bench and has been producing some amazing grapes; thanks to the dry desert condition with warm days and cool nights. The strong breeze keeps the moisture in check, providing ideal growing condition.  Adjacent to the pool and patio area framing a nice view of the valley, the tasting room is set up to welcome both big and small groups. Black Hills has large followers and a growing list of wine club members. Exclusive wines like the 2011 Nota Bene can only be purchased through the wine club. A blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, this Nota Bene was aged 80% in French and 20% in American oak. It’s a mellow fruit-forward wine full of blackberries, plum and a hint of sage on the nose with a toasty, lengthy finish; definitely a wine worth cellaring.  The flight of samplings included the 2011 Viognier, the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2011 Carmenere and the 2010 Syrah, chosen carefully to showcase the particular season’s harvest. IMG_4753

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Hester Creek Estate Winery has gone through quite a transformation since 1968. Hard work and improvement paved every step of the way. Not only the wines are outstanding, the winery is a not-to-be-missed wine tour destination with lots of history! Featuring Mediterranean villa style guest houses, a fantastic Terrafina Restaurant on site and a tasting room offering small plates to go with the wines, a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen to conduct cooking classes and wine-paired events etc, the exterior and interior designs, the ambiance, the décor are all ravishing. Under the tutelage of winemaker Rob Summers, General Manager Mark Sheridan and Director of hospitality Roger Gillespie, the exploring and wine-tasting experience guarantee to be enjoyable – you can literally feel their passion; their pride and joy in being integral parts of the improvement process. Roger guided us through their wine portfolio. The Character Red and White are good value wines for all occasions. The line-up of whites  were the 2012 Pinot Gris, 2012 Pinot Blanc and the 2012 Chardonnay. For the reds, there were the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2011 Reserve Merlot and the well-crafted 2010 Judge. From the oldest vines planted in the Golden Mile Bench, the Judge is a Bordeaux blend aged over 24 months in 75% in French oak and 25% American oak; fantastically laced with ripened berries, a soft plum aroma and a hint of spice. Bold and jammy, this wine finishes nicely with a bit of cocoa and toasted fragrant and is definitely a collector’s wine!IMG_4777 

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After a delectable lunch at Terrafina, we headed north to Naramata just in time to catch the harvesting activities at Serendipity Winery. Converted from an orchard, this young winery established was in 2005 with 10 acre producing some promising fruits and the proprietor, Judy Kingston, a lawyer-turned winery operator who finds much joy in working with nature, is expecting a good harvest. Pickers from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces had been working hard in the vineyards since day break. Soon after, meal time was served and we sat down to join them for some team-bonding conversations and most rewardingly, wine tasting with Judy. Outside, winemaker Richard Kanawaza was busy working with other staff on the de-stemmer making sure the time frame from picking to de-stemming was as short as possible. We sampled the 2011 Rose, lively and fruit forward but not too sweet displaying generous Asian fruit aroma and a dry finish. The cutely-named White Lie blend has lots of pear, honeydew aroma with crisp and juicy ending note. The 2010 Devil’s Advocate is a red blend with bouquet of dark cherries and spices. The finish is soft with black fruits and a bit of vanilla and chocolate at the end. As we depart, truckloads of grapes on crates were coming in from neighbouring vineyards to bolster the production. What better way to witness a busy harvest in action when time is of essence!IMG_4810

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Not too far away on Naramata Road in Penticton is Hillside Winery & Bistro. The winery was founded in the 1980’s also by converting an orchard to a vineyard. The objective all along is to craft wines in its natural state that best expresses what the vineyard has to offer. With meal time approaching, we decided to have the tasting in conjunction with our dinner at the Bistro which is tucked away at the garden-like back porch. The 2012 un-oaked Pinot Gris is refreshing and crisp with bright fruit character. A different style is the 2010 Pinot Gris Reserve that has a vivid bouquet of tropical fruits. The time spent in Hungarian oak barrel gives it the supple treatment and a smooth finish. The 2010 Old Vines Gamay Noir has lots of berry fruits in the bottle. Eight months in barrel adds nice texture but adequate acidity of the Gamay still retains. The 2010 Syrah is from the HiddenValley vineyards and is filled with berry aroma with a touch of clove and spices and enough tannin to offer a pleasant finish. Cabernet Franc is a varietal that flourishes in Okanagan and the Hillside Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc is consistent with that assertion. A medium-bodied wine with raspberry and red fruit aroma, it is velvety due to the well-integrated oak treatment. The finale is the Hillside Winery 2008 Mosaic crafted as a Bordeaux style blend with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot exhibit in harmony. It is luscious and silky on the palate with an elegant finish.

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IMG_4826The stay at the Summerland Waterfront Resort & Spa for the evening was greeted by an art show at the lobby displaying works from various local artists, a lovely way to end the day. Waved goodbye to the cool evening breeze, we relaxed in front of the fireplace to reminiscent the tasty events of the day. Accompanied by the morning sun the next morning, we enjoyed our breakfast in the balcony overlooking the glistering OkanaganLake. What a sight to behold and what a splendid start to another day!

We headed back to Naramata in Penticton to kick off our packed Sunday activities.  Perseus Winery on Lower Bench Road was the first on the itinerary. Built upon the hillside, the tasting room has a picturesque view of the OkanaganLake and the Penticton city proper. Greeted by Rob Ingram, the President of the parent company, Terrabella who is a chartered Accountant by trade and brings years of valuable experience in the management and financial fields to the Winery. It was refreshing to hear somebody from an entrepreneurial aspect balancing the passion from the wine side with the practicality and common sense of the business operations. IMG_4862

An array of whites and reds awaited us for tasting. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc has rich aroma of honeydew and grapefruit. Lightly oaked, it is crisp and sprightly. To offer flexibility, there is the innovative 2012 Pinot Blanc 3 Litres ‘bag in a box’ that caters to special events and larger groups. With no spoilage and 6 weeks shelf life, it is a make-sense alternative to guarantee freshness of this Pinot Blanc which is loaded with peach and melon bouquet and a palate-pleasing finish.

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The 2012 Gewurztraminer was harvested right from the Naramata Bench. It has lots of green apple and a floral aroma on the dry side which I quite enjoyed. The 2012 Viognier is from the dryer and warmer Similkameen region. Asian fruits aroma exhibiting fragrances of lychee and mandarin orange peel made this wine sensual and very appealing. On the reds, we sampled the 2011 Cabernet Franc, from the dryer Blind Creek also in the Similkameen, has tantalizing red fruit aroma. The light oak treatment balanced the acidity and tannins well. The 2010 Perseus Invictus, a blend of 56% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec, is regarded as their flagship red.  On the palate, the luscious fruity and spicy hint linger along the beautifully-balanced tannin. With a silky structure, a complex aroma of dried figs, berries and subtle mint and smokiness, this crafted wine offers good potential; decant or cellar. The limited release 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, with 75% in French oak and 25% in American oak, is another solid and profound surprise. Flows of black current and preserved plum on the nose; dry cherries and berries to prelude the cocoa and tobacco finish, is no doubt a candidate for your private cellar.

Poplar Grove Winery is our next destination. High upon the hill of Naramata overlooking the breath-taking OkanaganLake, the contemporary building hosting an airy and open tasting area and a warm and welcoming restaurant the Vanilla Pod was built in 2011. Led by Ian Sutherland, owner and Executive Winemaker, we had a visual and descriptive tour of the gorgeous tasting room and the cellar room, while sipping the refreshing Rose refreshing our palate with gusto lime aroma. Transforming from an artisan winery in 1993 to the existing breathtaking 36,000 sq. ft. building operation, their wines have also come a long way to the current stellar status. Staying with the tradition of doing what they know best, they start with six core wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah and the Legacy blend on their over 110 acres estate vineyards. Besides this core wine group, other specific series are crafted for the restaurant and the wine club to showcase the skills of the winemaker and the philosophy of the winery. To pair with our lunch orders, we had the 2011 Pinot Gris. 100% stainless steel tank fermented, it is crisp and lively with grapefruit and star-fruit aroma. The limited production 2011 Chardonnay has a golden colour; thanks to 20% fermented in French oak which also provides the smoothness on the palate. On the nose is the enticing hints of Asian pear and pineapple. We couldn’t give up tasting the CSM, a well-balanced blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot exclusively at the winery restaurant and wine club. We also tasted the 2009 Cabernet Franc with raspberry and caramelized onion on the nose; red currents on the palate with a balanced finish, a well-crafted wine that supports the winery’s focus of sticking to the core and doing the best with it.IMG_4876

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Arriving at the other side of Penticton, we went into Painted Rock Estate Winery’s   immaculate architectural building with a stunning view enveloping from the east side to the equally beautiful SkahaLake. With 60 acres planted, the expansion plan on the horizon is to build a restaurant and maybe guest houses to go in next to the sleek and high-tech tasting room. Starting as an apricot orchard, the site was not converted until 2004 to the current vineyard with first planting in 2005. The topography of the slope and the wind from the mountain blowing down to the lake provide the ideal condition   preventing infestation and rotting. Planted mostly were Bordeaux varietals at the beginning and other varietals were introduced later. The 2012 Chardonnay has good flavour intensity and structure resulted from 50% in new French oak which also renders the golden colour, complimented by the stone fruit aroma and smooth mouth feel. The 2010 Merlot seduces with prunes and plum aroma. With 80% in new French oak, it has a toasty and cocoa note on the palate with soft tannins. The 2010 Syrah, benefited from 18 months in 60% new French oak and 40% new American oak, demonstrates well-balanced tannin and a hint of toffee and coffee beans on the nose. The award winning 2010 Red Icon blend infused with blackberries and dry cherries hints is ranked highly amongst the top. 18 months in 80% new French oak gave the wine the added structure lined with smoky and earthy mouth-feel.IMG_4898

IMG_4901The afternoon tour ended with a visit to the Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland.  My first visit to this facility, I can easily feel the energy and excitement in the air as workers were busy loading grapes into the de-stemmer. We were told they would be doing this throughout the night as new crews were coming in. Launched in 2010 by industry stalwart, Christine Coletta, it is a facility setup to provide custom- winemaking for others in the industry. However, with experienced winemaker, Michael Bartier and other renowned international experts providing advice and expertise on a regular basis, their own labels of Haywire and Bartier & Scholefield (B & S) wines are well received. Christine Coletta is evidently the pioneer in the BC wine industry who back at the hay days successfully helped position the VQA brand to its current status. Also a visionary and astute marketer with many years in the PR and Marketing sector for the industry, her recent induction into the BC Restaurant Association’s ‘Hall of Fame’ is an attestation. Outside in the vineyard, we couldn’t help but noticed each row of vine was marked with different names and soon found out they were the names of those who helped planted the vines. What a wonderful and thoughtful gesture to appreciate and recognize the hard-working folks; a good story to share with visitors for sure. IMG_4939

Under the watchful eyes of winemaker Michael Bartier and winery manager, Julian Scholefield, the winery is full of activity and excitements! The large concrete egg-shaped tanks to give the wines more depth and complexity are in full production mode. Thinking outside the box and addressing to the fine details are what this winery does approvingly. We sampled a number of wines and I must admit they were all impressive! The 2012 Haywire Gewurztraminer emits floral bouquet. The 2012 B & S Sauvignon Blanc caresses with baked apple and grapefruit aroma and balanced acidity. The 2012 B & S Semillon displays subtle minerality and oyster shell hints due to its rocky and stony soil profile in the Black Sage Bench. 3rd vintage 2011 Pinot Gris from Switchback Vineyard is brisk and fruit-forward. The refreshing 2011 Gamay Noir Rose has luring strawberry aroma and a light body with restrained acidity. The 2011 B & S Chardonnay carries the lightly oaked treatment nicely, 50% in new French oak and 50% in new American oak brings out the creaminess. The 2011 Haywire White label Pinot Noir has bright fruits and plum aroma. A good contrast is the 2011 Haywire Silver label Pinot Noir that has gone through some fermentation in those egg-shaped concrete tanks which fine-tuned and smoothed the wine structure. The 2011 B & S Merlot and Syrah are both fine products to express the terroir and the best of BC grapes. To round out the sampling, we had the 2011 B & S Goal as the finale. With a blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, this is a nicely crafted wine with a silky, lengthy finish.IMG_4925We were happy to walk out of the place knowing we just had sampled some outstanding wines that represent the terroir and the meticulous efforts put into the vineyards and the winery. We got a lot out of this weekend; an awesome snapshot of what Okanagan wine tour is all about and how hard folks work behind the scene to make everything come together. If you go, it’s guaranteed you will have a good time exploring!

Okanagan’s world-class food and restaurant scene

Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen

( http://taiyangbao.ca/author/stephanieyuen/?zh=vans )

No matter what the reason, every Okanagan visit proves to be a lovely break for me!

The most recent one took place this early Fall, when trees were at their ultimate forms of natural beauty; when orchards and vineyards were changing hues.  With many shades of red and gold adorning the highways and the random sun emitting warmth into the car, the 4-hour drive was a pleasant one.    

We chose this time to go simply because the vines and wineries at harvesting time were calling. Oliver, Summerland and Penticton were our destinations. While visiting wineries and tasting the wines were the main focus, we were both ready and excited to bite into the top-notched restaurants and food programs we heard so much about. The fact that the valley has always been the land of bounty, where orchards, farms and ranches flourish, the region’s developing into a sensational food and restaurant scene is a natural fit. From artisan cheese-makers to lamb-roasting dinner; music and wine to chefs’ wine-paired feasts, Okanagan is now poised as the haven for culinary tourism.

Our delicious journey began at Miradoro (Tinhorn Creek), where Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest (formerly of Aurora on Main & E. 8th), partnered with two Marcs of Gold Medal Plates fame.The two champs from Atelier in Ottawa and Auberge Du Pommier in Toronto brought along their magic wands and the three of them orchestrated an evening of palate supremacy, the ticket price of $155, along with a take-away gift bag of a bottle of Tinhorn Creek wine and other gadgets, was enchanting. Take a look at this lavishly presented plate of Scallop and Lobster poached in butter with the pickled garlic and miso sauce as the surprise flavour factors. 

#1 Miradoro

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Breakfast next morning was a $12pp very generously-prepared and displayed continental buffet breakfast, beverages included, inside the modern, quaint and beautiful lakeside Watermark Beach Resort Hotel where we stayed the night. The word continental was an understatement, with hot eats such as eggs and bacon; cold treats such as smoked salmon and fresh fruits; oven-fresh baked goods including croissant, the value was exceptional. Full and happily contented, we began our packed program of the day.

The much anticipated lunch at Hester Creek’s Terrafina was as hearty and delightful as any family-style meal in Tuscany would be. The pan-fried Squids and Smoked Trout Sandwich were masterfully done. Unpretentious was the dining room and the ambiance, locally-sourced and tastefully-crafted were the seasonal menu items. We were told that Terrafina’s made-to-order pizza was ‘Okanagan famous’, no wonder we say quite a few of them on some of the tables.#3 Pan-fried squids

#4 Chef at TerrafinoTucked away in the lush green garden at the back of Hillside Winery’s tasting room, the country setting of Hillside Bistro was particularly warm and welcoming in the gloomy nightfall. Executive Chef Robert Gordonier may be young, but the flavour profile of the dishes we ordered that evening showed nothing short of innovative ideas and culinary senses. Infusing local recipes with Asian ingredients and seasonings is much more challenging than some might assume. The application of hoisin sauce in the braised beef shank was a real showcase of how it should be done. An extra thumbs up to Gordonier who gave the credit to his Chinese wife!#6 Hiiside-chef & his own sauces#5 Hillside - Braised beef shankBlessed with a majestic view, Vanilla Pod Restaurant at the very architectural building where Poplar Grove lies was the perfect lunch spot on a mild autumn day. The reflection of the sun upon the surrounding vineyards and river belt was as sumptuous as the meal. We opted for a couple of simple lunch items to share, but simplicity here referred only to the name of the dish, the presentation and the depth of each dish was astounding. The salad was a collection of the latest harvest of plump, juicy and colourful grape and cherry tomatoes from the garden; the artisan cheese in the ham & cheese sandwich established its own name and fame; but it’s the rice pudding that took my breath away! “Many locals come here just for this pudding!” said our waiter. The golden rice pudding, presented stylishly, was beyond my imagination. We did thank the waiter for insisting us to try!#8 yummy rice pudding

Wines of South American

Words: Henry Yuen ( http://www.taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )

Why are wines from Argentina and Chile so likable? Mostly because the price point to quality ratio is never disappointing; definitely excellent values for those wine lovers whose affinity is quality driven rather than reputation alone. No doubt certain varietals flourish in specific parts of the continent; be it Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere in Chile or Malbec in Argentina. The consensus is that these varietals are perfect match to the terroir and growing conditions and is difficult to replicate in other parts of the world.

Vina Santa Rita Winery

santarita_triple_c_red07__41915_1374682842_1280_1280This winery in Chile is known for it’s offering of the familiar ‘120’ tier of wines. On top of this, they have the ‘Reserva’, ‘Medalla Real’ and the coveted ‘Triple C’ tiers of wines. The ‘120’ tier is tagged with everyday price that is considered to be very consumer friendly. For example, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon offers adequate black fruits and earthy aroma with berries, tobacco and tannins on the finish and delivers beyond the price sipping pleasure.

The 2010 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon is a higher tier at $14.99. The fruit is more intense with cocoa and tobacco on a smooth finish. Up a few notches is the 2009 Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $19.99. It carries more complexity and   fruity intensity on the nose, followed by a lengthy, velvety finish. The 2007 Triple C (55% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Carmenere) at $38.99 portrays skilled winemaking technique and varietal cultivation. Well-balanced and full-bodied with bold and intense flavour, definitely a classy wine showcasing how much Chilean wines came around since the bulk wine era.  

While the Santa Rita line up is impressive, other worthy considerations are:

Concha Y Toro Trio at $14.95 – A fine effort that combines black fruit and plum as the welcoming bouquet; and a hint of spice and tobacco to finish.

The 2011 Errazuriz Estate Carmenere – At $14.99, this is a mouth-watering beauty with red fruits and ripe berries on the nose and a chocolate and cocoa finish.

Finca Decero

Finca Decero Winery from the Mendoza region of Argentina is a rather focused winery. Decero literally means “from scratch”. They find out what’re best for the terroir first then concentrate the expertise onto crafting those wines. As a result, only red varietals are grown. There is no attempt to stretch its resources beyond what the appellation, the soil and the land are providing.  As a matter of fact, the results are so positive there is no need to consider anything else!

The vineyards, located at the foothills of the Andes at an elevation of above 1000 meters, are granted with adequate sunlight; ideal conditions of warm days and cool nights, Mother Nature’s gift benefits the grapes to flourish to the fullest.2010 Decero malbec-bottle

Five wines are produced from this single vineyard producer. What not to like about the 2010 Decero Malbec? Nothing! This enticing example of a typical Argentine Malbec is well crafted with herbal aroma and dry cherries bouquet; laced gently with a hint of mint, the reserved oak treatment enhanced the balance of the wine. The 2010 Decero Petit Verdot is from a 40 acres vineyard. A fruit forward wine exhibiting flows of red fruits and plum. With 16 months in new French oak, this wine is delicately smooth with soft tannins. The 2010 Decero Syrah has a fine combination of barnyard earthiness, limestone and herbal aroma. On the palate, it is peppery with generous ripe plum and black fruits. 14 months in oak produced the velvet body structure. The 2010 Decero Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied with black current and prune on the palate. With light stem contact during fermentation, it gives the wine the balance tannins. The aroma of sage along with a hint of fine cigar and tobacco note provides a lengthy and luring ending. The 2009 Decero Amano is a fantastic wine with the 2006 vintage garnering 94 points from Wine Advocate and the 2007 getting the Top 100 wines from Wine Enthusiast. The 2009 with great finesse is as fine a wine. A blend of 60% Malbec, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Tannat, the bouquet of black current and dried stone fruit is a beautiful invitation. On the palate, this full-bodied wine is jammy with soft tannins and a hint of smoky and cocoa on the finish. The benefit of the gently basket pressed, 20 months in French oak and a year in bottle gives this wine the unique touch that lingers. A good demonstration of the winemaker’s determined focus and a sincere testament of not having to do too much but staying with what you know best.     

As for other Argentina Malbecs, I like the Norton Reserva Malbec ($17.99), with its jammy, plum and spice aroma with a smoky finish. The Altos Las Hormigas Malbec ($15.99) is a good deal with plum and berries fruits and the finish is earthy and spicy. My favourite is the 2007 Valle Las Acequais Malbec from Mendoza ($22.99), it only takes the first sip to love its fine effort.  It is a full-bodied Malbec with lots of red fruits and prune on the nose and silky soft tannins. If you want to find out what a good Argentina Malbec tastes like, this is it!2007 Valle Las Acequais Malbec from Mendoza

These are great examples of good valued South American wines that deliver consistent quality and signature craftsmanship. At very approachable price points, South American wines have no doubt been garnering more and more retail attentions.

Fall is here, let’s eat your heart out!

Words & Pix: Stephanie Yuen

Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/stephanieyuen/?variant=zh-hans

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Quinto Quarto: Brain & Bottega Dinner

Chinese are known to eat everything and anything, well almost! When it comes to offal, we eat plenty! Quite often, when the term ‘internal organ’ is mentioned, facial expressions of surprise, dismay or even disgust are shown, sometimes verbal expressions such as ‘barbarian, non-human’ are added. You could imagine how happy and awed I was to sit amongst fellow offal eaters at Campagnolo Roma; ready to indulge into an evening of ‘tendon, ears, skin, heart and brain’!

Oh yes, pig brain! That’s part of the Quinto Quarto: Brain & Bottega Dinner Chef Nathan Lowey in stored for us, in time to inject some Halloween mood into every body there. But before brain was served, we had to go through the following extremely creative and somewhat exotic dishes:

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Appetizers:

1/ Puffed beef tendon that reminded me of shrimp chips Chinese restaurants often serve with Crispy chicken.

2/ Pig ears that shaped and deep-fried like French fries; extra crunchy thanks to the soft ear bones.

3/ Pigs Trotters which were deboned, braised and then fried.

Primo: Pasta with softened julienne pig skin  – who would have guessed those semi-translucent shreds were pig skins?

Second: Beef heart stuffed with sweetbreads and black truffles, the texture of the heart was a lot like beef tongues.

And now, the brain – blended into the dark chocolate torte, was indeed a piece of cake. Finally, the Vanilla ice cream sprinkled with duck crackling bits!

To go with the wild menu, we had the following wines from Bottega, a young, innovative and very energetic winery who produces grappa, wine, sparkling wine and liqueur that distributes to 120 countries worldwide:

Bottega Prosecco N/V , Bottega Pinot Grigio 2010 , Bottega Valpolicella Ripasso 2010 

Bottega Amarone 2009 , Alexander GrappaIMG_5114

Both Campagnolo on Main and Roma put on one-of-a-kind feasts regularly. Go online to find out when and what the next one will be!

www.campagnoloroma.com

www.campagnolorestaurant.ca

Mushroom Festival at Siena

For those mushroom-craving folks who may not be able to or are not too keen on going deep into the forest for mushroom hunting, Siena’s $32 three-course Mushroom Festival menu comes highly recommended, by the four of us who last week, had a joyous dinner there!

We ordered two mushroom dinners, a sumptuous plate of antipasti, a grilled flat iron steak and a mushroom risotto. The total ticket price $140, tax included.IMG_5125

In terms of value, the $32 menu was almost as good as a steal, simply because the portion, flavour and presentation of each single course were solid.  Good choices were offered for the first and main courses. The texture of the crimini & oyster mushroom soup was creamy but silky smooth. My pork tenderloin with morels was tender and juicy; the olive oil sautéed potatoes and Chianti sauce elevated the palate satisfaction. The porcini stuffing in theravioli was a bit too salty for our liking but the charred shallots and the Madeira cream were marvelous. Not a steak person, but the two slices of grilled steak I bit into were one of the most flavourful beef I had in recent months; the balsamic-basil marinade did its trick. Same comments could be made to the risotto – steamy hot with perfectly balanced amount of creamy and cheesy texture – bravo! IMG_5133

White chocolate and black truffle tart was the dessert that came with the mushroom menu, but I had to order the blackberry panna cotta off the menu and found myself absolutely lost in it. Black was the colour; started with blackberry-blended top layer which was a fruity and sweet sensation and eggless custard was velvety and dreamy.

Siena’s Mushroom Festival will last till November 6, reservation, I say, is a must! www.eatsiena.com  1485 W 12th Ave.Vancouver.  (604) 558-1485

2/ Something different is happening everyday at Seventeen89

Paul Puratich, a third generation fisherman who knows his seafood like his own palms and Chef Daryle Nagata, one of my favourite Canadian chefs partnered up and opened Seventeen89 recently and is already creating a buzz. No, it has nothing to do with which restaurant was there before, who cares really? But everything to do with what Nagata and Puratich are doing.  Let’s look at the Fall menu line-ups that offers something different on a daily basis. From your choice of beer on tap plus a pair of bratwurst pretzel dogs and Chef’s addictive crispy fries for just $10 on Tuesdays; BYOB with zero cockage fee on Wednesdays and Nagata will happily and readily create hearty, delicious food to pair with your wine; to Senior Sunday when the older and wiser 65 and up get 25% off their meals! Neighbourhood friendliness and reaching out to the community – now we’re talking!Chef Nagata's fall-coloured beef dish

1789 Comox Street (at Denman), Vancouver. Information: 1789.ca or call 604-428-0705Chef Daryle Nagata and Paul

3/ Thomas Haas’s One! Bar – Grab it while you can!

Chocolate and dessert fans know what the name ‘Thomas Haas’ entails. The limited release of 1000 only ‘One! Bar’ is  his newest seduction. The one and only Chocolatier in Canada, Haas’s newly created to-die-for chocolate bar is made with carefully selected wild-foraged cocoa beans from Grenada. He happens to be one of the few Chocolatiers in the world to allow access to this unique and robust vintage of 65% cocoa from Valrhona’s prestigious Sourcers’ Selection. To refine the bar even further, Haas has intensified the flavour profile to 79 per cent using a unique blend of 100 per cent pure cocoa — this bar truly is a one-of-a-kind indulgence for the palates and senses.ONE!-Black

One! Bar Raffle for Canucks Place
In the spirit of the Thomas Haas annual charitable Easter Egg raffle, chocolate lovers will have a chance to win the very first ONE! Bar produced, bearing serial number 0001 and an interactive chocolate experience with Thomas Haas. Thomas will welcome the winner and up to seven of his or her friends to his North Vancouver chocolate kitchen for a fun and interactive evening of chocolate making and tasting.
 
Raffle tickets will be sold at both Thomas Haas cafés at the following rate: 3 for $5, 7 for $10, and 15 for $20 and will be randomly drawn on
Dec. 3, 2013. One hundred per cent of the funds raised will be applied towards the purchase of toys for Thomas Haas’ longstanding charity of choice, the Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

North Shore Store
Unit 128, 998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver. 604-924-1847

Kitsilano Store
2539 West Broadway, Vancouver. 604-736-1848 

 

Wine Notes – Recently tasted wines at Icon

Words: Henry Yuen (Chinese posting: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )

Mid-Autumn Festival and Thanksgivings are good indications of the arrival of a new season – time for the fall release of various wines. I had the pleasure of tasting some outstanding wines and attending an educational tasting session at ICON Fine Wines and Spirits. Headed by big names in the industry: Jay Garnett, Kim Trowbridge and David Walker, this boutique wine agency prides itself with exceptional product portfolios, a more intimate ambiance and personalized services.

De Martino Winery

Over the years I have gone to quite a few wine tasting events and winemakers dinners etc. I got to meet the winemakers and talked to the wineries proprietors. However, at wine tasting in a group setting, the interaction is usually not a long one as there are other people looking for the same opportunity. In winemaker dinners, the winemaker usually does most of the talking and the Q & A session is often a brief one.De Martino wines

So when I was told I would get the opportunity to meet one on one with the winemaker from De Martino Winery from Chile, I jumped at this exciting chance without hesitation even though I had visited their winery last November and thoroughly enjoyed their wines. How often do you have the winemaker all to yourself? I learned a lot from that session as the conversation was free flowing and there was no disruption to sidetrack the focus.

The winery has a relatively long history with almost eighty years in operation and currently operated by the fourth generation of the De Martino family. Head winemaker, Marco De Martino, is full of energy, passion and progressive in his outlook as to the direction of the winery and its viticulture practices. Fifteen years ago, the winery already envisioned its vineyards to be in an organic environment stressing sustainability in its viticulture practices. Today, they are the second largest organic wine producers in Chile. Not only that, a feat not a lot of wineries could even dream of is that their wines are the first carbon-neutral wines in Latin America meaning they are as environmental friendly and responsible as possible!

Marco is adamant that his wines must be good and that all the elements in their vineyards respect the land and provide sustainability for future generations. Most vines are planted in the east-western direction to get the maximum exposure of sunlight. No canopy style of vine management is employed because canopy style while comes with higher yield usually result in lower quality grapes. In terms of winemaking, Marco’s preference is a balanced approach and consequently no new oak is used but rather encourages the wine to develop itself rather than force feeding the result in.

With all the accolades and recognition, how good are his wines?  The Legardo Limari Valley Chardonnay 2011 is a well-crafted with soft buttery texture and a hint of mouth-watering saltiness upon entry. It is lightly oaked to give it the right structure and smoothness. The Organico Maipo Valley Cabernet Malbec 2010 portraits a well-balanced blend with lots of black fruits and prune aroma. It has soft tannins and a hint of herbs that enthrals the palate, for under $20, it is a very good value wine. The Legado Choapa Valley Syrah 2012 is made with grapes sourced from vineyards in the northern cooler region at the foothills of the Andes. This wine is medium-bodied with lots of plum, black current and adequate tannins. The Legado Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a palate-pleaser with lots of black fruits, cassis and currants. 12 months in oak provides a beautiful smokiness and cocoa aroma. The Legado Carmenere 2011 is my favourite. All that you ask for in a fabulous Chilean Carmenere is in this bottle – no more, no less!

All these De Martino wines are priced competitively; there is no down side to stocking them up for the upcoming festive season. It’s nice to chat with Marco and further understand what long term vision of De Martino Winery is all about.  Of course, tasting the result of that commitment is the best way to embrace their philosophy and effort which deserves our attention and a big salute!                      

Wakefield Wines

Wakefield CabS 2009This South Australia winery in Australia is truly a family business. Three generations of making wines at ClareValley since 1969 and has been successfully passing on the winemaking expertise from one generation to the other, it has deep roots in the community.

Occupying 178 hectare by the Wakefield River, the vineyard has been producing top quality grapes on terra rosa soil (red brown soil loaming over limestone). Combining with warm days and cool nights, the terroir at Clare Valley boasts perfect conditions for growing Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 Shiraz is a fine Australian classic, a lovely Shiraz that has lots of red fruit, berries and plum aroma combined with hints of spice and cocoa; and the benefit from both French and American oak treatment embraces nicely in the finish.

The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine expression of the virtue of this juicy red varietal. The aroma of black current, cassis and prune is engrossing. On the palate, it is jammy with a smoky hint followed by a velvety finish thanks to 12 months in French oak (5% new).

The aromatic 2011 Riesling with seductive citrus and baked apple bouquet is well-balanced. The acidity is refined producing a not-too-sweet palate feel which allows this wine to showcase its refreshing and crispy goodness for pairing with most Asian cuisine. Generations of strong winemaking in the family secures the consistency needed to crafting good wines that puts the family time-honoured philosophy intact.

Tea with Dad

 

TeapotsWords: Stephanie Yuen

We lived in a government housing estate near the old Kai-Tek airport where we would go anywhere within 20 kilometer radius of home on foot. My dad used to walk us to the park to throw basketball, to the dock side to watch ferries rolled in and to catch half-priced matinees in the Kowloon-Seng district. Having a dad who’s a teacher gave us plenty of outdoor activities together. As the daughter who showed immense interest in anything edible even at a young age, Dad had endowed me with special trips to home kitchens, snack joints and this hold-in-the-wall tea shop his friend Uncle Wong owned. As much as I enjoyed family playtime, the recollection of those tea shop visits were endeared moments that belonged to just Dad and I.  The tea sets, tea stories and the many shades of gold and green colour teas in those tiny tea cups casted the fondest childhood memories.

The tea shop, whose name I never registered, located in Kowloon-jai, the ghetto adults warned their kids about. It housed many strange shops, legal or not, and was the source of many nightmares and crime stories. To be able to go inside was an adventure; to walk through the winding alleys, my little hand in Dad’s big, warm palm, was simply fascinating.

The 5’ by 8’ tea shop, dark and shabby and looked every bit like a closed-in patio, occupied the front portion of a ground-floor suite in an old building. We had to step over a narrow ditch running along the alley-side in order to get in.

The soft-spoken Uncle Wong, upon seeing us, would grin and stand up from a bamboo stool, and fetched another stool for Dad to sit on. Since there’s no more space to put in another stool, and no more stool in fact, I stood and observed. As a kid growing up watching my father perfecting the pleasure of drinking tea; and later on as a teenager learning how to brew and sip different kinds of tea, there was this one tea shop occasion that planted my love of Pu Erh Tea, which I treasure dearly to this day.

While chitchatting with Dad, Uncle Wong started to maneuver around while busy with his two hands. Like magic, he pulled up a beautiful old wooden tray in which a 4” dark colour tea cake in a piece of thick yellow silk wrap, a set of Zhi-za teapot including a bowl and six cups laid. Reflecting a nostalgic glow under the 20 watt light bulb, the brownish-purple tea set was as delicate and adorable as a set of fancy toy we could never afford. Uncle picked up the tea cake and with the help of a teeny wooden hammer, broke off a corner and dropped it into the teapot.

Somehow in the tight corner to the left of the narrow counter, a small kettle started to breathe out hot air. He turned off the single kerosene stove, removed the kettle and poured hot water into the teapot which was then emptied onto the cups. After rinsing and warming up the cups with the tea, he dumped every drop from the cups into the bowl.  He filled the pot with hot water once again and then picked up the teapot and distributed into each cup ¾ full of the greenish-brown tea. Without waiting for the invitation, Dad picked up one cup, drank it empty; and the second cup, then the third. “Ahh…” he signed, putting the empty cup back onto the tray. Sitting next to him, Uncle Wong did the very same thing. This they repeated five or six times. The colour of the tea was getting darker and darker but gradually lightened up.   藍標宋~1 

“Wow, such good tea!” They said in unity.

“You still have a few left?” Dad asked, pointing to the cake.

“May be four or five,” Uncle answered. “I left one for you!”

“Thank you!” Dad said with a smile, and to my surprise, handed the cup of tea, now almost dark as ink, to me. “Take a sip!” he told me. And I eagerly obliged.

“What is this?” I took a small sip and started feeling the indescribable sensation that attacked my tongue and side. red label puerh photo[1]

“You find it bitter?” Dad asked.

“Just a bit, but it’s now getting sweeter!” I took another sip, and another.

“This is one of the best old Pu-er tea cakes Uncle keeps.”

“How old?”

“Oh, may be 50 year-old. That’s why it’s so smooth and delicate. It’s very good for you!” said Uncle Wong, as he brought the cake closer to my nose, he added, “Smells very good too!” Absolutely unprepared, I smelled nothing, but the tea certainly was flavourful.

“It’s OK.” Said Dad gently, turning to Wong, he continued, “this should help settle my upset stomach, too much oily stuff in the last couple days!.”

“You bet!” Wong replied, filling the cups with another round of hot tea.

Their conversation with the 9-year old on that day may be short but the arc-shape, firm Pu-er teacake and the dark-brown cups of tea stirred up my interest in Chinese tea to no end. The more I learn about Chinese Tea culture, the stronger my love of tea.

Years later in Vancouver, I met up with Eliza Lam of Aroma Tea House on Granville (at W. 65th) who shared her immense tea knowledge with readers of a magazine I was editing for. I had the pleasure of meeting her Dad Mr. Lam, a tea master who owned one of the major tea shops in Hong Kong over a pot of Jasmine blossom tea he picked out and brewed for me. We talked about all aspects of tea culture and the different kinds of Chinese Tea, from white tea to herbal tea; for drinking pleasure and for healthy life style; from tea sets to tea ceremonies. With a display of different shapes and sizes of Pu-er teacakes, he explained to me the history and folklores behind Pu-er tea and the significance of the teacakes. The tea dialogue with Mr. Lam that afternoon opened another door that led me into the ancient tea wonderland. Thanks to Mr. Lam and Eliza, the taste of every cup of tea, expecially Pu-erh has never been the same!          

Mr. Lam brewing tea (HK)

 Special notes on Pu-erh tea cakes: Eliza told me real Pu-erh tea cakes of 50 years or older are now rare commodities. Anyone who has such tea cakes lying around in the storage room or hidden in trunks but has no desire of ever drinking them, dig them out and send them to Aroma Tea House for verification and if the price is right, sell them! Drop by Aroma Tea House or call Eliza at 604-266-7738 to find out details.

Bravos

To Joe Fortes for giving back this Thanksgiving

The Executive Chef, Wayne Sych and Sous Chef, Ryan Green along with some staff volunteered their time cooking and serving  100-150 people a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to the Dudes’ Club at Vancouver Native Health Society on Thursday, October 10th.Joe Forte giving back #1

The Vancouver Native Health Society Men’s Group, The Dudes’ (Downtown Urban Knights Defending Equality and Solidarity) Club began in August 2010 as a response to the overwhelming demand from community members for better health services for men.  There are many services for women and children in the Downtown Eastside, as well as patients with HIV or Hepatitis C, but very few, if any for men on the basis of gender alone.  In fact, men’s health is still an emerging field of medicine that gets scarce attention.

To Prestons for ‘ Taste of Canada’  Comfort Food Menu

The official ‘Taste of Canada’ menu at Preston (CoastCoalHarbor) is an scrumptious way to salute and embrace some of the signature fares of other Provinces. Peace River Bison Carpaccio and Pierogies with crème fraiche of the Prairies; poutine and Montreal smoked meat of La Belle Province; lobster rolls and seafood chowder represent the Maritimes. Even the ‘Westcoast’ menu pays tribute to the beloved bannocks and the Island’s famous Nanaimo Bar. Great comfort food for the right season and reason!Taste of Canada - Maritime

To the new inductees of BC Restaurant Hall of Fame

The 9th Annual Awards saw some of my dear friends in the F&B industry going up the stage to collect one of the most prestigious awards in the province’s culinary world. 

To Julian Bond, a master chef of all trades; has put his distinctive marks in different corner stones of BC’s gourmet arena. One of the big-named chefs who introduced me to the fascinating arena of fine dining when Vancouver was about to make a huge splash in becoming N. America’s top cities to wine and dine, the very humble Julian who is every bit as passionate as day one when it comes to cooking, teaching and creating magic still impresses foodies like me!      

To Christine Coletta whom I’ve known since the mid-80’s when she started kicking up some serious ideas of making the then young and struggling BC wine industry work! This “Friend of the Industry who has provided exceptional support to the restaurant industry” should, if you ask me, be given a special ‘wine merit’ award!

To Joy Metcalfe whom I adored as a CKNW listener when I first entered the field and lucky enough to befriend when I become a media myself. Always warm and kind, Joy never ceases to show her genuine concern and support to everyone she meets! She is the most respected media personality who truly belongs to the community and any industry!   Joy Metcalfe - hall of famerTo Paul Smolen, the silent ‘giant’ who started his restaurateur life almost 4 decades ago, gives so much to the community but never claims credit in his work. Paul’s Hart House Restaurant also makes DeerLakePark a much more delicious place to relax and share a good time with friends and families.

Salutes also to the other inductees Ernst Dorfler, Caren McSherry, John Neate Jr., Wally Shaw, Sean Heather and Jeff Donnelly, for all your hard works and contributions to the restaurant industry and communities!

To the award-winning BC wines and wineries

Nk’Mip Cellars: One Gold winner (Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine 2012), three Silvers (Qwam Qwmt Pinot Noir 2010, the Winemaker’s Merlot 2010, and the Winemaker’s Riesling 2011), and nine wines named as Winners (Qwam Qwmt Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2011, Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2010, Qwam Qwmt Meritage 2009, Qwam Qwmt Merlot 2009, Qwam Qwmt Syrah 2010, Winemaker’s Pinot Blanc 2012, Winemaker’s Pinot Blanc 2011, and the Winemaker’s Riesling 2012) in the 2013 InterVin International Wine Awards and named as one of the competition’s Wineries of the Year for 2013. The results put Nk’Mip in the Top 10 overall for this year’s competition.

The Steller’s Jay 2008 Vintage Brut has been announced as a Gold Winner The popular B.C. sparkler. The 2008 Steller’s Jay Brut was one of only two Gold Medal winners in the category of nearly 50 entries, and the only traditional method sparkling bubble to strike gold at the prestigious 2013 InterVin International Wine Awards. 

Mission Hill Family Estate took on the best in the world and won top honours as ‘World’s Best Pinot Noir’ in the under 15 category at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London, England.  More than 14,000 wines from 61 regions around the world were entered in the competition in 2013. Mission Hill 2011 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir won a coveted International Trophy – the competition’s top award, the first time a single wine variety (red or white) from any region in the world has won both a Regional Trophy for ‘Best Wine’ and an International Trophy for ‘World’s Best Wine’ at the Decanter Awards.

Joie Farm won 3 golds – 2011 “En Famille” Reserve Chardonnay” at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards. The 2011 “En Famille” Reserve Gewurztraminer won the “Best in Class Gold Medal” at the 2013 Los Angeles International Wine Competition; and the PTG garnered another Gold Medal at the 2013 Riverside International Wine Competition.Mission Hill World's best Pinot Noir

Joie 2011 En Famille C + PN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To BC Liquor Stores’s ‘Best of BC’ release

Every year, BC Liquor Stores carefully selects a small collection of BC wines which are in limited supply and high demand. In the interest of fairness to all of their customers, the whole selection is released at once, and this year’s release takes place on Saturday, October 12, 2013 in SignatureBC Liquor Stores across BC. It’s ‘first-come, first served’, so BC wine fans are encouraged to hurry down and snap up the very best that our province has to offer.

The ‘Best of BC’ release and province-wide BC VQA in-store wine tastings. Enjoy a glass of your backyard bounty this month! For details, log onto www.winebc.com

Big River Brew Pub

front door  Brew Pub tower

Words: Henry Yuen (Chinese postings: http://taiyangbao.ca/food/259235/?variant=zh-hans )

Is it true that Vancouver doesn’t seem to have a vibrant beer culture? Not too long ago, selections were slim; big breweries were market dominators.  After much hair-pulling and tug-a-war challenges that took the micro-breweries a long time to be recognized, it gradually got the nod of the liquor distribution to cooperate new regulations. Like any new rules and regulations that hit the news desk, the development did make some head ways amongst corporate markets and public consumers, glad to say that most of them embraced the twist and the beer arena is noticeably much more attractive ever since.

Nowadays, no matter if they are trying to copy the blueprint of Portland or any other popular craft beer cities; or creating own waves, the brew masters are more adventurous. The microbrew culture has gained momentum and growing exponentially. There are an influx of  restaurants, lounges, pubs and clubs with extensive draught beer selections and serving different concoctions crafted by talented local brew masters. The good news is the public likes   it a lot! In fact, BC’s craft beer events and beer-pairing dinners are well attended. I have tasted beers with interesting flavours of bacon flavour, cucumber, chocolate and even cognac; quite often paired remarkably well with food.

What is the next step in the beer-crafting era? What other ingredients can be added? How far can it go? I supposed there is no right or wrong as long as the beers are sold and drinkers like them. However, there is certainly nothing more exciting than to drink a pint of draught ale or larger crafted not just with traditional ingredients but with care, attention and creative spirit!

A recent visit to Big River Brewery, the first and still the only brewery in Richmond, confirms the traditional way of brewing still appeals widely but the fun culture of craft beers is an important part of the game. Basically, good quality ingredients such as barley, hops, yeast and water is what you need. A tour of their facility right next to the brew pub reveals the importance of using good quality ingredients but it is the secret formula applied and the experience of the brew master that craft attractive and enticing beers.  Even with the same basic ingredients, the brew master’s unique craftsmanship and attention to details each step of the way renders different flavours, colours and weight.brew tanks

According to Big River’s brew master Michael Stewart, the simplest description without going through the technicality of the process seems easy to grasp. By comparing crafting beer to brewing coffee where water is process through those ingredients, he describes the basic steps and make-up of beer. But of course, the flavour, colour and taste of the beer to a certain extend is derived from how much the grain is roasted and the different hops and yeast used, and these are the decision of the brew master.

At Big River Brewery, a beer tasting session is not just possible but essential. You can take a look at their Daily Tap Sheet and order a flight of different sample sizes of draught beers all at once to compare the variances. From refreshing fruity aroma to smoky flavour; light to dark colour; clear to creamy; and to those when adding a wedge of lemon makes all the difference, along with the conversation from the bartender or the manager who love to explain and describe the contents of each glass, the experience is both educational and enjoyable!Craft Beer Tasting at River Brew PubThanks to the brewing facility which is a visual affirmation of their ‘craft beer’ distinction and the adjacent ‘Zone Bowl’ bowling alley where the young, the old, teams and families have a good time, BigRiver’s lounge and dining room is spacious and cozy.  Under the sun, the urban-style patio is another spectacular invitation. The interior setting and the craft beer program of Big River Brew Pub is a great alternative to some darkly-lit, shack-like neighbourhood pubs. A charming place to challenge or enhance your ‘beer’ palate while getting some insight into what beer crafting is all about!

Sure numerous beer drinkers still like a pint of traditional ale or larger, no more, no less. However, there are these brew masters who are passionate and creative; they not only try to stand out amongst the crowd in the energized beer platform, they also work hard to prove to themselves they can craft beers to the same level as wine-making. These folks have definitely contributed to the flipping to the new chapter in the beer industry!

Big River Brew Pub #180-14200 Entertainment Blvd. Richmond. 604-271-2739  http://www.zbowl.com          

Joie and her “Gold”

Joie 2011 En Famille C + PN

Words: Henry Yuen (Chinese postings: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans)

What are the impacts of winning awards time after time, especially at International competitions, to a winery?

The consequential effects are inevitably plenty and very positive; and most of the time, followed by direct and indirect financial gains!

Since the award itself is the essential and most convincing testament to the quality and drinkability of the awarded wine, the wine’s market ranking would naturally shoot up! The raised reputation potentially allows the wine to sell itself.  The wine, being in the much more recognized and desired position, can now command a higher price point. Quite likely, more wines bearing the same brand name will be sold.  It is the best window of opportunity to use the award as a marketing and promotional tool; not just on the award wine but the winery as well. Who does not fancy an award-achieving wine story? 

Winning an award is with no doubt a morale and motivational booster to the staff; an affirmation that the winery is heading in the right direction. Most of all, it’s the ultimate endorsement of the winemaker’s skill and the related viticulture practices of the winery.

Joie En Famille Gurwurtz 1This holds true for the wines from Joie Farm who has been constantly seen at the podium receiving awards. Their new tier of wines from 2011 is so impressive to the point that a Gold Medal is handed to them at the recent 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards; the wine – 2011 “En Famille” Reserve Chardonnay has been swept off the shelves. And it didn’t stop there! The 2011 “En Famille” Reserve Gewurztraminer also won the “Best in Class Gold Medal” at the 2013 Los Angeles International Wine Competition; and the PTG garnered another Gold Medal at the 2013 Riverside International Wine Competition. The triple ‘Gold’ is the best statement to the world and Joie so deserves them, even their entry level Gamay and Pinot Noir won various wine awards! Bear in mind that these are competition awards that speak solid volume instead of those merely recognition awards handed out by various wine related organizations.

The “En Famille” series, crafted with exceptional care by winemaker Heidi Noble, spent 10 months in barrel and a full year in bottle before release. According to her, “these small lots, low yield wines are a true expression of the Okanagan Valley’s finest with meticulous canopy work and stringent green thinning to produce grapes that render full phelonic ripeness and complex flavours; even though 2011 was a short growing season.” The judges all agreed!

Here are the gold grabbers:

Reserve Chardonnay: Before telling you the grapes were handled and selected handled with extreme care, it’s good to know wines made with grapes from these two sites (Okanagan Falls & Naramata) are no strangers to winning awards. Inspired by Heidi’s love of French wines, this beautifully-balanced Chardonnay lingers in your palate with meandering fruit notes of longan, dried honey dates and sugar apple. Pair it with Sauté prawns and scallops in a birds nest, Deep-fried spicy tofu or Pan-fried lightly-breaded pork chop with sauté onion.

Reserve Gewurztraminer: Floral and aromatic, this Gewurztraminer is laced with hints of star fruit and honeyed almond. The note of candied ginger that follows brings out the mild spicy layer. Pair this with Curry coconut pork or chicken, Seafood Laksa or even Satay.

PTG “Passe-Tout-Grains”: With equal share of Pinot Noir and Gamay harmonized together, this wine speaks great volume. The vitalizing red berry fruits mingle nicely with the underlining earthy and herbal hints. The slight spicy and smoky tones make this wine a good fit for dried-meat platters and barbequed fares. 

The Joie 2011 series of En Famille wines has just been released this September.  They are worth a trip to the liquor store. If you are a frequent shopper and happen to come across them, pick up one or more bottles. They will surely impress your wine cellar and your dinner guests.

This the season for apple picking and pumpkin hauling

Entrance

Words and Pix: Stephanie Yuen

Chinese post: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/stephanieyuen/?variant=zh-hans

 If summer belongs to beaches and barbeques, autumn surely relates to farms and pumpkins!

“Take a closer look to this season’s festivals and feasts, aren’t they all about the fruits and vegetables our farmer-friends harvest around this time? What about those apples and pumpkins?” This was what my mom, a nature lover, used to say.petting zoo

Perhaps they are the reasons why kids love to go visit the farms, even in the rain. All they need to do is put rain gears on, and out to the farms they go, to pick the corns and pumpkins and sing along on hayrides. Oh, but adults, my mom for one, would find themselves having as much fun too! Their facial expressions, once surrounded by golden shades of yellows and browns, shining gourds, big and round pumpkins and hanging apples, are blissful!Pumpkins of all colour ans sizes

Now that my mom is no longer with us, so this time, it’s my sister and I who went to Fraser Valley to a magical place called Taves Family Farms in Abbotsford to re-live those carefree moments. With the help of a Google map, the 40-minute drive on Hwy#1 was very a pleasant prelude to what we’re about to encounter, probably because city slicers like us do treasure any excuses to leave work! This time more so since some U-pick actions at this popular family fun centre along with a corn maze, a bee hive, a jumping pillow, a petting zoo, pony rides and hayrides were waiting for us! 

The first pair to greet us were kind of sloppy and daring, but as friendly as expected. Even to young kids, as long as they keep their hands to themselves. The two big and tall llamas in their own gated home were surely handsome and cool, not bad at all for a couple hairy gate keepers!IMG_4582

 We picked up a site map at the entrance and were reminded to read the U-pick Policy at the back. Glad we did! Though we picked blueberries, picked hazelnuts and strawberries, but this was the first picking apples, any tips and guidance would help!

We have been eyeing the bins of pumpkins since we drove in. They were lining up along the driving path, at the entrance and further down the lane to the pumpkin patch. If you think pumpkin is pumpkin, think again! Those golden orange ones of all sizes and various round shapes are just the beginning.  There are bright red ones great for cooking, smaller yellow ones for baking and even white ones. What about Full Moon, Harvest Moon, Cinderella, Sugar, even Ghost for names? The task here – choosing which ones to haul home!

giant ghost pumpkiinscinderella pumpkins

After saying hello to the baby animals in the petting zoo and bumping our way through the corn maze, we decided to take a break and went into the shack where the bee hive and the apple cider machine located.  Farm fresh apple cider and garnished hot dog never taster any better!apple u-pickingAnd off to apple u-picking we went! The orchard, adorned by lines of apple trees where Alkmene, Honey Crisp and Fuji apples hung like Christmas lights, was extremely engaging. My sister started picking the first big apple she came across but did not take long to realize that many more were down the lane. My intention to pick my favourite kind – Fuji – was demolished instantly.  Let me assure you, any ripe and flawless apples you could pick from the tree with your own hands will be the best! Country store

With a bagful of apples and a drum-like red pumpkin in our hands, and big grins on our faces, we headed back to our car fully exercised and elated! Next time, we’re going to bring the whole family!

Taves Family Farms

333 Gladwin Road, Abbotsford. 604-853-3108   www.theapplebarn.ca