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B.C. reds: plenty of aging potential

LAST week's big winner at B.C. Wine Institute's Chef Meets Grape Small Plates Challenge was O'Doul's exec.

LAST week's big winner at B.C. Wine Institute's Chef Meets Grape Small Plates Challenge was O'Doul's exec. chef Chris Whittaker, who wowed the judges with his Pinot Noir-cured Pink salmon, matched with Garry Oaks silky smooth Salt Spring Island Pinot Noir 2009 VQA.

The other guy pretty happy with the win was Lynn Valley fisherman Rick Burns, who caught the salmon on his Pacific Provider.

Aside from the proof that frozen-at-sea seafood can stand on its own with the best, here's further evidence of how B.C. Pinot can be well matched with salmon. That said, you don't want to opt for a wine that's too heavy: Garry Oaks Pinot is medium-bodied with just the right balance of fruit and juicy acidity, and easy tannins that didn't fight with the fish. The chef's use of chanterelles and bacon made for a complete and perfect pairing that picked up on the earthy notes in the wine.

Earlier in the day we tasted through some back vintages of leading Okanagan wineries, to get an idea as to how the wines are aging. A few standouts from a strong field included a still very vibrant and grippy Poplar Grove 2003 Merlot; Mission Hill's well integrated 2004 Oculus (grab the '07 if you can); and CedarCreek 2004 Platinum Reserve Pinot Noir still bursting with bright red fruit and acidity. No question: properly cellared Okanagan reds have plenty of potential to develop over the years.

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Is there an Amarone in your future? There could be. Somehow, even the name itself conjures up a seductive persona that seems truly fitting for such a celebrated wine. Last call for what promises to be one of the season's highlights: Amarone Amore, a five-course gala dinner paired with wines from Italy's Amarone Families, Oct. 6 in the dazzling Rosewood Hotel Georgia.

Wine guru-about-town Kurtis Kolt, charged with matching up the 12 wines, rightly notes "While Amarone wines are incredible to ponder on their own, it is when they are enjoyed with food that one can really appreciate their nuances, depth and versatility."

If you're even remotely an Amarone lover, with names such as Allegrini, Masi, Speri, Tenuta Sant' Antonio and Tommasi in the line-up this one's a spectacular deal. Tix $250 or ($2,250 for a table of ten) include a reception, all the wines, food, tax and tip, as well as a chance to meet the very people behind wineries, and bid on the silent auction of signed large format bottles. Proceeds benefit the Vancouver Playhouse. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 604-629-2103 or email info@ playhousewinefest.com.

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Belly's Best

It's interesting how quickly the shift in the weather can switch our minds to red wine. Here's a trio of worthy B.C. reds that could have you running for your cassoulet recipe.

- Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc '09 VQA. B.C. Cab Franc's star is rising, thanks to wines such as this, the best yet from Tinhorn's Sandra Oldfield. Look for dark cherry, blackfruit and soft earthy notes wrapped in good structure with easy tannins. A serious deal at $19.90.

- Stag's Hollow Noir Simply Noir 2010 VQA. Easy drinking, spicy, juicy, medium bodied blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Pinot Noir, with a touch of oak and approachable tannins. Think pasta or pork chops; $19.99.

- The View Red Shoe Red 2009 VQA. A fun label and guess what? It's actually Pinotage, blended with Merlot to flesh out the palate for an affordable, fruity, plummy drop. Perfect with grilled meats or cheese; $14.50.

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