PERHAPS it should come as no surprise, but some of our best tastes from last week's wine festival amounted to some pretty spectacular food and wine pairings.
It's been a few years since the festival decided to place more emphasis on Vancouver's culinary scene but this year in particular seemed to offer no shortage of well-matched plates.
While winemaker dinners rule early in the week, for many the zenith remains the Vintners Brunch. This year's edition (which I helped judge) was one of the most closely contested, with some really stellar tastes from which to choose.
Once again confirming that B.C. Syrah's star is on the rise, the winning dish by a nose was a truly flavourful lamb hash with quail egg from newly arrived Killjoy Barbers, Yaletown, paired with Road 13's beautifully balanced, peppery and plush Syrah Mouvedre 2011, whose vibrant fruit and focused acidity carried an already flavourful plate to new heights, $35 at the winery.
Close second went to the Salmon House, whose perfectly togarashi-seared sockeye with Thai basil and mango vinaigrette played perfectly with the luscious honeyed and tropical notes of Black Hills Alibi 2011 ($25, sold out). And it was hard not to be impressed by the textural marriage of Kale & Nori's Bittered Sling cured steelhead with the not-exactly-shy Wagner Family Mer Soleil Vineyards Silver 2011, a formidable, unoaked Chardonnay that allowed the fish and its sauce to shine through (BCLS $28.99).
As the festival's global focus, Chardonnay was the star, a fact of which I was reminded several times during the week, starting with a spectacular pairing of Schug Sonoma Coast and Carneros Chardonnays with Dungeness crab, clams, mussels and sunchoke salad, courtesy of Diva at the Met chef Hamid Salimian. The contrasting trio of wines set the tone for the coming week, although it was the barrel-fermented but only partially new-oaked Schug Carneros Chardonnay 2010 that stayed with me as being one of the best food wines I tasted all week ($35-$40).
I'd also be remiss not to mention the Schug Carneros Pinot Noir 09 and the "big brother" 08 Heritage Pinot as great matches with the chef's Yarrow Meadow duck. Not to be outdone, however, the cherry-toned, well-balanced Sonoma Coast Schug Pinot remains a deal (at BCLS $29.99).
I've helped organize the Kitchen Party mingler for some years now. Again, with 22 Chardonnays in the room, loosely matched with some great dishes from six top restos and suppliers invited by chef Dana Reinhardt, no shortage of good tastes here. It would be hard to pick a favourite (and dangerous) so I'm not going to. However, not only are they a lot of fun but these more casual tastings add up to a great way to plan your buying for the year.
Here are three wines that will make you look like a hero at your next dinner party, and will barely put a dent in your wallet.
? Casa Concha Chardonnay 2011
This surprisingly elegant, mineral, apple and citrus-toned drop from Chilean giant Concha y Toro (from cool climate, coastal Limari Valley) over delivers for its $19.99 price (89 pts.).
? Planeta Bianco 2011
We tend to associate Sicily more with red wine but this smart little blend of 75 per cent Grecanico and 25 per cent Chardonnay has already made it onto my "get ready for patio season" list of worthy sippers; no nonsense, stainless-steel fermented with floral and zippy citrus notes in a crisp and lingering palate (BCLS $15.99 87 pts.).
? Viña Las Perdices Extra Brut Rosé
This Argentine Méthode Champenoise yields lively bubbles with bright strawberry and raspberry notes balanced by vibrant acidity and good length with a nice vinous streak (70 per cent Pinot Noir). Hunt it down at private stores for around $20 (89 pts.).