Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer is Time to Do the Twist

By Julianna Hayes
July has all but come and gone and the weather remains smoking hot, which demands fresh and racy for me in the wine department.

A summer sipper, in my opinion, starts with a screw-cap, is affordable and is usually white or the palest shade of red.

Light, bright whites or rosés are a no brainer as they are cool and refreshing – ideal during the typical Okanagan summer. And you shouldn’t have to pay a lot for a late afternoon patio quaffer. But why screwcaps, you ask?

They’re convenient, for one – a simple twist and you’re off to the races. Summertime is all about living easy and who needs the extra fuss that goes along with a cork and the contraptions required to remove them?

Secondly, summer wines must be kept cool – not an easy task in 30-plus degree weather. Screwcaps make re-sealing a snap so they can be popped back into the fridge or cooler for continued chilling without worry. The seal is usually pretty tight, so there’s little risk of leakage or getting that nasty cooler water in your bottle. Take it from someone who has had a glass or two of watered-down wine – the cork, just doesn’t cut it.

But most of all, screwcaps are the best at preserving young, fresh wines, so they don’t lose their appealing zip like those under a cork can.

More and more wineries in British Columbia are making high-style wines under the closure that used to be associated with products the calibre of Lonesome Charlie. Still there are sceptics who argue they cheapen the look of wines and lack the romance of a cork and that is preventing a full-on conversion.

Wine Access Magazine recently scolded naysayers and reluctant wine producers in an issue in praise of twist-offs.

“If you are making an aromatic summer sipper or a rosé and it is not under screwcap, you can forget about selling it in any progressive Canadian markets. We don't want any white wine or rosé that is made to be drunk fresh and young to be cork-finished.”


So, get off your high horse, stash the corkscrew for a rainy day and source out some summer sippers under this simple seal. I’ve compiled a list of some of pocket-friendly, quaffable twist offs that will compliment any hot-weather table.

Wine Notes

Arrowleaf 2007 Pinot Gris
Green apple, orange rind, pear, some floral notes, mineral aromas with some fresh apple flavours with citrus, grapefruit and pear on the palate.
Body and Finish: Slightly sweet entry with plenty of zippy character and fresh finish
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B *Cheeky and bright at a cheap and cheerful price
Price: $15
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery 2008 Pinot Grigio
Tropical fruit, peach, mineral, nectarine bouquet followed by a fresh palate full of citrus, peach, mineral.
Body and Finish: Good acidity on the palate and finish
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B *Quaffable, bright patio pal
Price: $15
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDBs, private retailers

Tinhorn Creek 2008 Gewurztraminer
A new classy label greets you on a bottle that has been among the first under twist off in B.C. Aromas of sweet apples, ripe peach, lychee, ginger and rose water which come through on palate.
Body and Finish: A touch sweet but has nice acidity to balance it.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now, well chilled
Score: B+ *A perennial favourite among B.C. Gewurzs and priced right
Price: $16.50
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDBs, private retailers

JoieFarm 2008 Rose
Bright ruby colour, very spicy nose and palate with rose petal, strawberry extract, cranberry, rhubarb and pink grapefruit. Lovely dry food style.
Body and Finish: Bright fruit entry with a zippy palate, and dry finish
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Made in the Old World style roses were meant to be
Price: $18.90
Availability: Private retailers, restaurants

Quails’ Gate 2008 Rose
Think pink with this wine full of strawberry, rhubarb, blood orange, mineral and slight hints of spice.
Body and Finish: Fresh fruit and bracing acidity.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Dry, crisp and dirt cheap – all the things I like in a summer rose
Price: $13
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

Road 13 2008 Old Vines Chenin Blanc
Green apple, mineral, honey, peach aromas and flavours, this variety is overlooked by many but performs exceedingly well here. Loads of character from the older vines.
Body and Finish: A hint of sweetness that is well balanced by loads of fresh acidity.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A *Seafood anyone?
Price: $19
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

St. Hubertus 2008 Pinot Blanc
Pear, peach, green apple with some lemon-lime character. Simple, quaffable patio style
Body and Finish: A touch of sweetness on entry, fresh lemon-lime palate and simple finish
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B- *Priced right for summertime sipping
Price: $14
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Nelly
Echoes of “whoa, Nelly!” are being sung – but aside from the cliché, this is a concentrated rose more reminiscent of a light bodied red. Aromas and flavours of sour cherries, raspberries, watermelon and even a hint of spice and smoke.
Body and Finish: Heavier than your average rose, there’s a hint of sweetness on entry, but finishes quite dry and slightly hot.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: B *For red wine lovers looking for something a little brighter and chillable
Price: $17.50
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, BC LDBS, private retailers

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Of Fire and Wine

By Julianna Hayes
Some friends and I were sitting on my deck when we noticed the orange glow of the Rose Valley fire across the lake in West Kelowna.

Already wired after an afternoon of media drama over the Glenrosa blaze, which broke out earlier that day, this new and unrelated natural disaster developing before us was pretty much impossible to tear our eyes from.

We sat mesmerized by the spreading flames until the wee hours of the morning. Our collective weariness and mental turmoil, combined with the effects of an endless stream of wine, eventually compelled us to contemplate our own actions should we ever be faced by a fate similar to that of the West Kelowna evacuees.

One of my friends asked if my home was threatened by a forest fire and I was forced to flee what I would choose to save from the flames. The situation is unlikely considering I live a block from downtown - any fire would most probably originate in the house itself and there would be no time to consider rescuing any belongings other than live bodies.

Nonetheless, I humoured her and thought carefully about my answer. “My dogs, of course,” I said, “but the rest is just ‘stuff’ and can be replaced.” (Granted, I suspected even then that this was merely bravado bolstered by booze talking.

“What about all your wine?” she persisted. “Wouldn’t you want to take that?”

“Maybe some,” I replied, “but not to save it… to drink it.”

We all chortled over that, but the fact is I was deadly serious. After my recent move, I know I couldn’t face schlepping all those bottles again, even for a fire. But I reasoned that some liquid balm would be required to soothe tattered nerves amidst all hassle, haste and hysteria.

The next day found me in my little cellar turning over the wines, studying the labels and making a perfunctory note of what wines would be scoped up for medicinal purposes and which ones would be sacrificed to the fire gods. It occurred to me that not only would the remaining bottles not survive the embers, but would very likely feed the flames.

I decided that since there was a risk that I might return home to any empty shell following a hurried exit it made no sense to leave the best behind. So the bottles I chose to accompany me on my fantasy evacuation were treasured. They guaranteed that even if I ended up herded like cattle into some public school gymnasium, I’d be enjoying something pretty sweet out my paper cup.

Of course, my disaster plan also meant that should my house be unscathed, I’d have pillaged my collection for nothing, and have only uncelebrated dregs facing me in the aftermath.

I recall reading stories about wine collectors in areas at high-jeopardy of wildfires fitting their homes with flame-resistant storage systems - ideally rooms built out of concrete and ranging in price from $15,000 for a tiny closet to a cool quarter million for a the flood-proof, earthquake-proof, bomb-proof model. My own sad assembly hardly justifies such an expense.

Other at-risk homeowners with less disposable income have opted for the off-site secure storage route, where they stash their precious cargo in a climate-controlled warehouse - a sort of oversized safety deposit box. While this will keep your collection protected from harm, it also bars you from easy access to it. That’s a bonus for those not capable of keeping their mitts off their wine, for me the convenience of having bottles at the ready is half the pleasure of a cellar - kind of like having a wine shop in your home.

Still, practical matters are something local interface residents with a penchant for wine might start wanting to consider, given that we’re experiencing the second major fire season in six years. While many belongings can be packed into a storage van and left indefinitely, wines will perish in 30+ degree heat in rather short order.

And friends you’ve arranged to camp out with might not be enthused if you show up with your kids, dogs and 1,000 bottles at their door - or, at least, not without a corkscrew.

Wine Notes

Blue Mountain Brut (NV)
Talk about value in this crisp, dry bubble. Features delightful effervescence and a clean nose of green apple, lime, mineral and just a touch of yeast. Dances on your tongue deliver tree-free freshness, apple skin, lime zest, mineral and snappy finish. Pair with anything!
Would I Buy It? It’s already a household staple
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A *Awesome value for bubbly fun
Price: $23.90
Availability: Winery, select private retailers

Stoneboat 2008 Pinot Blanc
Peach, pear, honey, spice, apple, mineral and grapefruit aromas. Bright entry of tree fruit and citrus and a bit of creaminess. Nice minerality on the finish. Perfect for a lovely white fish dish.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Underrated varietal that really delivers on quality and price
Price: $17
Availability: Winery, select private retailers

Mt. Boucherie 2006 Summit Reserve Syrah
Nice surprise from this under-the-radar West Kelowna winery. A Syrah that packs a punch with blackberry, black cherry, plum, savoury components of soya, pepper and some vanilla and sweet spice. Luscious fruit on the palate, spice and savoury flavours and a hint of black pepper. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next five years
Score: A- *Everything you seek in a scrumptious Syrah
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, select private retailers

Blasted Church 2007 Merlot
Black cherry, chocolate, pepper, resin, cedar, black olive, earthy and slight Madeira-like notes. The palate is full and round with intense dark fruit flavours, earthy, spicy and Porty. Shows some aged character. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next couple years
Score: B+ *No mediocre Merlot here
Price: $25.90
Availability: Check with winery

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BC Lieutenant Governor's Top 12 Wines

By Julianna Hayes
After eight years as a judge for the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine, I now know one thing for certain - this province makes some awfully good wine.

When it comes to finding ones that have that ‘wow factor,’ each year there are only a select number worthy of one of the LG’s elusive medals. But the bar keeps getting set higher and it becomes tougher to narrow down the lot.

This competition is unique in a number of ways. It celebrates the province’s industry exclusively and is open to every winery in British Columbia, as long as the wines submitted are made with 100 per cent B.C. fruit. No more than 12 medals are awarded each year, which means the winners have to be la crème de la crème among the hundreds of entries. And virtually the same judges are at the table year after year - establishing a consistency in evaluation not often found in competitions.

After eight years, I can say we have gelled as a group and are pretty clear on what we’re looking for. That’s not to say we always agree - not by a long shot. In fact, each of us brings a certain level of expertise, has a certain criteria we adhere to, as well as our own personal preference. In the end, I think the results are well balanced.

When our picks are finally unveiled after a gruelling marathon of tasting, there are always a number of winners that are repeats, which speaks the consistency in the quality and excellence of their products. But there are also usually a few first-timers - some of them surprises and always in a good way, particularly when small, lesser known wineries receive this impressive accolade.

This year’s new winners includes: Howling Bluff of Naramata; Bounty Cellars of Kelowna; Peller Estates of Kelowna and Church and State of Victoria.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s competition:

* JoieFarm of Naramata was a double winner with the 2007 Reserve Chardonnay and 2008 Riesling.
* Seven of the 12 medals went to red wines, including two Pinot Noirs and two Syrahs.
* No sparkling or dessert wines won this year.
* A medal was awarded to a Vancouver Island-based winery for the first time ever - Church & State. However, the wine in question is made from Okanagan-grown grapes.
* Jackson-Triggs and Sumac Ridge - consistent winners over the years - were both shutout this year.
* The winning wines range in price from $16.90 to $40.10.

Here’s the winning list:

Bounty Cellars 2007 Pinot Blanc $16.90
Fabulous value presents itself in this charming PB with peach, pear, pineapple, honey, almond oil and citrus character. Lovely fresh style and zippy finish.

CedarCreek 2006 Platinum Reserve Merlot $40.10
Intense black fruit aromas with coffee bean, vanilla, chocolate and menthol plus some spicy and smoky notes. Quite luscious and round with a weighty mid-palate. Black cherry, blackberry, coffee and cocoa flavours.

Church & State Wines 2006 Syrah $26
Intense magenta colour with spicy, peppery, gamey aromas with brambleberry and very savoury notes. Luscious on the palate with intensity of black fruit flavours, some menthol and savouryness.

Howling Bluff 2006 Pinot Noir $29.60
A wine with wow factor, it features cherry, chocolate, dark vanilla, raspberry and baking spice. Lovely aromas of sweet red fruits, dark petaled florals, cocoa and vanilla. The palate is super silky with moderately soft tannins at the end.

JoieFarm 2007 Reserve Chardonnay $34.90
Buttered toast, pineapple, honey, melon, peach and spice in the bouquet. Soft, round, butter palate with bright golden tropical fruit flavours. Some toastyness on the mid-palate and just enough clean acidity on the finish.

JoieFarm 2008 Riesling $27
Green apple, pink grapefruit, peach, blossoms and honey aromas. Flavours of peaches, apple skin and lime. Bright and fresh with snappy acidity on the finish. Very drinkable style.

Pellar Estates 2007 Private Reserve Pinot Noir $18
Another solid effort from Peller. This is soft round accessible pinot with a strawberry floral undertone flecked with cedar and earth. The flavours mix a hint of cocoa with cedar, strawberry and vanilla all in a warm soft finish. Simple well made pinot.

Road 13 2006 Fifth Element $35.99
Leather, cocoa, smoke, earth aromas with luscious black cherry, plum character. This is a complex, yet elegant Bordeaux-style blend. Features lots of jammy black fruits on the palate with some smoke, dark vanilla and pepper.

Sandhill 2007 Small Lots Syrah $35
A big, bold effort with concentrated black cherry, brambleberry and savoury soya, coffee bean, dillweed accents. A jammy black fruits palate with savoury spice and lifted freshness. Deep, dark and intense.

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Gewurztraminer $18
Pale rose petal aromas with lychee fruit, pink grapefruit, citrus peel. Bright fruit entry with loads of racy acidity on the finish.Stoneboat Vineyards 2007 Pinotage $24.90Intense magenta colour with plum, black cherry, dark vanilla, chocolate, spice, pepper and cedar. Has plenty of ripe luscious fruit on the palate with loads of spice, pepper, chocolate, menthol and earthy character. Firm tannins for structure and longevity.

Wild Goose 2008 Pinot Gris $19
Honey, pear, citrus peel, lemon oil, peach with some floral and mineral notes. Dry but fresh palate. One of the most consistently good PGs in the valley from a producer that knows how to bring the best out of this grape.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of Wine and Dirt

By Julianna Hayes
The next time someone yaps on about how glamorous my job is, I'm going to tell him about the day I spent staring at dirt.

I was on a media tour focusing on the geology of the Oliver/Osoyoos region, where we studied the soil and the lay of the land. Thanks to a rather brisk April wind, I think I tasted about as much dirt as I did wine that day. So if I describe a wine as being “earthy” you can bet I know what I’m talking about.

Truthfully, this is the part of my gig I like best - digging deep, literally, into what makes B.C. wines unique. The varied landscape of the Okanagan, in particular, often means no two wines will be alike, even when made with identical varieties planted on the same plot.

At Oliver’s Covert Farm, for example, we stood on a breathtaking bench where 30 acres of organic grapes are grown for Dunham & Froese Winery. If you were to scratch beneath the surface, you’d find sections of gravel, sand and dense loam, all which lend different characteristics to the fruit that will ultimately end up in the glass.

Across the highway at Quinta Ferreira Winery, the terrain there can only be described as beach-like. Excavation work being done on a building project the day we visited revealed metres deep of soft, astonishingly white sand. And to add to the mix was the discovery of an ancient fossilized tree and a second believed to be still living, according to an archeologist consulted by owner John Ferreira.

Just a stone’s throw away, metaphorically, we scoped out the rocky vineyards of Gehringer Brothers. Proprietor Walter Gehringer described clearing operations that took the better part of a year to complete in order to simply prep his land for planting.

“Some places are like the Great Wall of China,” he quipped.

Some people might file all this dirt in the “who cares?” category. But in my humble opinion anyway, great wines are grown, not made. Understanding the land – the “terroir” – enables me to relate better to what is in my glass. And it also seems to improve the taste of the wines I drink.

Not everyone is as inclined as I am to traipsing through the vineyards, turning over rocks and sifting through the dirt. In fact, most would probably argue that every appellation boasts a unique mix of soil types that sets them apart. And they wouldn’t be wrong.

But aside from what’s underfoot, the Okanagan Valley’s varied elevations and exposures as winds its way around lakes and mountains has also created individual micro-climates. Thus, the same site not only can feature mixed pockets of stones, clay and sand, but could also be several degrees hotter or cooler from one end to the other.

How the plots are managed is another factor. Gehringer prefers a manicured operation. His rows are straight and neatly planted with no weeds between the vineyards. That’s fairly old-school, but Gehringer argued that vegetative growth encourages insect activity and raises humidity levels which can lead to mildew and other diseases.

“We tried using straw but had a problem with mice which ate chewed the vines underneath,” he said. So he sticks to the tried and true formula of weed killer.

Meanwhile, vineyards for Dunham & Froese are less pretty to look at, but the latter system is tantamount to blasphemy at Covert Farms, where organic growing practices forbid the use of weed sprays.

Gene Covert said the family relies on mechanical weeding and some bio-dynamic practices and have no problem with humidity.

“It’s about developing an eco-system that works for you, such as planting wild roses or using ladybugs which do most of our pest control.”

Some growers choose to keep vegetation between vines on the long side, saying that pests, like the dreaded leafhopper, will take the “path of least resistance” and won’t climb or hop on the vines, if they can feed on the weeds below.

Even if you don’t care about any of this – the terroir, vineyard maintenance or blight and disease control - the vineyards in the Okanagan are worth exploring if only for the scenery.

They are easily amongst the most stunning of spaces as they are often set on plateaus, with unparalleled views of lakes and mountains, the grids of green vineyards magnifying every dip and roll. I’ve stood in many vineyards over the years and felt almost dizzy by their topsy-turvy sightlines.

I have yet to snap a photograph that does winery lands justice. It’s one of those “you-just-have-to-be-there” situations.

Poplar Grove 2007 Chardonnay
The price tag belies the elegance and quality of this yummy Chardonnay. French oak lends itself to a toasty nose full of baked apple, butterscotch, white blossoms and orange peel. Tree fruit flavours and citrus with butterscotch
Body and Finish: Lovely butter on the palate without being overdone and a good balance of acidity on the finish.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A – Like finding a designer outfit at a knock-off price
Price: $22
Availability: Winery, private retailers

Dunham & Froese 2007 Merlot
Aromas of blueberry, mocha, plum, licorice, some meaty notes and a touch of pepper. On the palate there are ripe blue fruits, dusty chocolate, white pepper and some smoky flavours
Body and Finish: Ripe entry with some chewy tannins and a bit of a drying finish but no bitterness.
Would I Buy It? Yes, to cellar
Cellaring Potential: Let it age a year or so to soften the tannins
Score: B – Nice solid effort with good varietal character
Price: $22.90
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

B.C. Buy of the Week

Thornhaven 2008 Rose
Sippable style full of fresh wild strawberries, herbaceous and floral notes, sweet cherries and hint of spice. Some citrus on the palate with some residual sugar for easy drinking, but I would like it drier. Add a splash of sparkling soda for patio parties.
Body and Finish: Light- body, crisp palate and clean finish.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink up
Score: B- - Would be a much better buy at $14.90
Price: $16.90
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, private retailers

Import of the Week

Domaine Roc des Anges Segna de Cor 2006 (France)

This blend of Syrah, Mouvedre and Grenache features all those earthy barnyard and savoury aromas that many consumers seek in an Old-World red. Pepper, some dark red fruits and acid on the palate with a touch of smoke.
Body and Finish: Mouthfilling but not overly weighty and some freshness on the finish.
Would I Buy It? For a special occasion
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next several years
Score: A- - If you like savoury over juicy fruit, this will fit the bill.
Price: $35
Availability: Private retailers

Friday, March 13, 2009

By Julianna Hayes
What do you get when you throw two acclaimed chefs into a kitchen and challenge them to create a meal around a selection of wines? You get a cook-off, a heck of a meal and a fair amount of chest pounding.

That scenario played itself out recently at Cabana Grille Restaurant when co-owner/head chef Ned Bell faced off against Mission Hill Family Estate Winery executive chef Michael Allemeier in what could easy be construed as Kelowna’s version of Iron Chef.

The two men are long-time friends and even co-hosted the show Cook Like a Chef on the Food Network. Their kitchen reunion was nothing short of a culinary showdown in front of a formidable crowd of 110 hungry patrons.

The inspiration for the evening was a selection of Mission Hill wines and each chef was challenged to make a dish to pair with each using a specified ingredient. For example, the ingredient in question for the 2007 Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio was shellfish, but beyond that the menu was script free.

Allemeier explained that each chef would give his “interpretation of the wines” in his choice of the final ingredients and their preparation and presentation.

For the shellfish course, Allemeier opted to use B.C. spot prawns and scallops from which he made a ceviche. The cold dish featured basil, yogurt, parsnip, micro greens and tiny “verjus” pearls made from the wine itself.

Bell, meanwhile, served up a roasted Ocean Wise – meaning it comes from sustainable seafood sources – jumbo scallop with organic walnuts, golden raisins soaked in the Pinot Grigio, curried lobster emulsion and eggplant puree.

Both dishes delivered big in the flavour department, but Allemeier was the clear winner when it came to the wine pairing component. The lemony bright citrus and mineral character of the wine mirrored the freshness of the ceviche, which tasted like it was plucked fresh from the sea. Bell’s version, while scrumptious, overpowered the lightness of the wine, which, despite its abundant acidity, failed at cutting through the richness of the colossal scallop and its robust accents. A better match would have been a crisp and aromatic Riesling.

Wine number two was the 2006 Perpetua, a Chardonnay from the winery’s new luxury line of products know as the Legacy Series. The secret ingredient was rabbit and this time it was Bell who served up a cold dish featuring a “finger sandwich” of rabbit brioche, brassica mustard crème fraiche and a galantine of rabbit with hazelnuts. Allemeier opted to make a rabbit Sheppard’s Pie.

In my view, both chefs executed their dishes beautifully, but came up a tad short in the pairing. I thought the elegance and refinement of the Perpetua – a wine to be treasured for its full palate yet delicate balance between fruit and oak – was somehow lost next to these culinary offerings.

The third course featured the another Legacy wine, the 2005 Quatrain – a blend featuring Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – matched with venison. Allemeier elected to run with venison loin served with mushrooms and mint bread pudding. Bell produced braised venison shank on stoneground polenta with roasted carrots and plum.

Both dishes were incredible and picking a winner was a challenge as each had merits. Bell’s option was rich, flavourful and the meat melted in your mouth, mirroring the wine’s velvety texture. But Allemeier triumphed slightly with his rare loin cut and wild mushrooms, which picked up on the wine’s underlying earthiness.

Not to be outdone, Bell conquered in the next round when the men squared off with aged cheese for the 2005 Oculus, a Bordeaux-style blend also from the Legacy series. His dish of blue cheese shortbread and Camembert was simply yummy. Blue and hard cheeses have an underlying saltiness and their proteins cut through young, bold, tannic wines like the Oculus and soften all their hard edges. Bell accomplished this masterfully. Allemeier tackled a soufflé made from Salt Spring Island’s Moonstruck White Grace cheese and hazelnuts on beetroot with a side of cherries soaked in Oculus. In theory, it should have worked, but the dish was a little fussy and was easily manhandled by the big wine.

The last course was dessert featuring some kind of citrus to be paired with the 2007 Reserve Riesling Icewine. Dessert and the sweetest of dessert wines are always uneasy co-pilots. Both chefs got the pairing bang on though by balancing the sugary component of their dishes with healthy hits of citrus that picked up on similar characteristics in the wine without giving diners too much of a good thing.

If I had to pick a winner though, it would be Bell, and this is purely a case of personal preference. I’m not a fan of chai thus Allemeier’s orange and cardamon-scented chocolate chai didn’t appeal to me. I also struggle with foods that have semi-firm textures like tofu and Allemeier had two of those components in his dish – a cold lemon madeleine “cake” that sat in the chai and a lime gelatin “marshmallow.” But others loved the dessert and got a kick out of the presentation.

Bell’s dessert was a simple lemon and white chocolate cream with a honey pistachio baklava that was refreshing, light with a lovely sweet-sour component.

In the end, most people – including myself – thought the battle came to a draw, certainly if you tallied the votes in this could. But I thought people reading this might think that was a cop-out, so I came up with two tie breakers – best overall wine pairing and best overall dish. Here’s how that played out:

Best Wine Pairing Overall - Ned Bell for the aged cheese and Oculus course
He nailed the 2005 Oculus, an earthy, robust, Old-World style blend with his blue cheese shortbreads. The savoury, salty flavours were simply ideal with the wine. If this were a round of golf, this pairing would have represented that pleasing “ping” you hear when you connect with the ball in just the right way.

Best Dish Overall – Michael Allemeier for his rabbit Sheppard’s Pie
I don’t even care for rabbit, but I could not stop eating this dish and that was something I heard from many other diners that evening. While it may not have gone perfectly with the wine for which it was intended, Allemeier rocked the ultimate in comfort foods and brought it up to a whole new level.

So after the bonus round, we still have a draw. Hey, it even happens on Iron Chef from time to time.

Wine Notes

Pentâge 2005 Pentage
Aromas: Leafy tobacco, meaty, compost, mushroom, herbaceous, cherry, coffee bean, pepper
Flavours: Coffee, cedar, pepper, cherry, dusty cocoa, cranberry, tea, mentho
Body and Finish: Dry, earthy palate with moderate tannin and a slightly hot finish
Overall Impression: More Old-World and earthy in style than the fruit bombs we typically see in the Okanagan – not to everyone’s taste
Would I Buy It? For something different.
Cellaring Potential: Hang onto it for a couple years
Score: 89/100
Price: $29
Availability: Winery directly, private retailers

Mission Hill 2007 Five Vineyards Rose
Aromas: Orange blossoms, cranberry, strawberry extract, pomegranite, citrus
Flavours: Pomegranite, strawberry, orange zest, vanilla
Body and Finish: Bright fresh entry, nice acidity at the mid-plate, lots of zip on the finish
Overall Impression: A tasty little rose blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cab Sauv made in a lively, quaffable style.
Would I Buy It? Sure
Cellaring Potential: Drink Now
Score: 89/100
Price: $14.99
Availability: Winery Only

BC Buy of the Week

St Hubertus Estate Chasselas 2007 $15.99
Light bright wine of fresh green apple, a hint of peach, citrus and lemon. Easy sipping wine. Think cheese fondue.

Import of the Week

Sileni Cellar Selection 2007 Pinot Noir (New Zealand) $20.99
Forward bright fruit expression with aromas of fresh ripe Bing cherries, strawberries, and a touch dillweed. A graceful wine with juicy red berry flavours, menthol and mouthwatering acidity. Easy to drink.