Earlier this week in downtown Vancouver a number of local chefs were chosen to put B.C.'s finest foot forward at an Olympic reception atop Vancouver Art Gallery. None disappointed.
Looking out over a jam-packed Robson Square, chefs Ned Bell from Kelowna's Cabana Bar and Grille, John Bishop of Bishop's, Robert Clark and Quang Dang from C Restaurant, Brian Misko of House of Q Competitive BBQ Team, Pino and Cristiano Posteraro of Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill, Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo's Restaurant and Vikram Vij from Vij's Restaurant did what they do best, wowing the crowds with their inventive use of local products.
By now, even visitors with little or no interest in food and wine will have noted the exceptional quality of both at almost all levels in Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler. I've noticed that the wines are sometimes less than what they could be at these events, as if organizers seem more ruthless about which chefs are chosen versus which wines are used. We have no such problem highlighting our best wines in this column today.
If you are visiting Whistler or British Columbia for the first time and you haven't tried any of the locally grown and produced wine yet, let us help you out.
You'll find most of what we are recommending in local wine shops and many more on restaurant wine lists. Just as the wines of southern France, central Spain or northern Italy taste so good in their unique setting beside the classic dishes of the region, B.C. wine alongside West Coast cuisine is a combination that will shock even the toughest critics.
What follows is an insider's look at the very best of British Columbia that includes some of our top producers and many of their best labels. You should consider clipping this article (or printing it out if you are online) and keep it with you throughout the Games for reference.
First things first - we are not homers. Most everyone respects our local wines but they usually only make up a portion of the list because we expect them to compete against the rest of the world (and many of them do) in the same manner our athletes will throughout the Games.
In fact, I suggest you order your favourite wine be it French, Spanish, Italian, Argentine or Australian. Pick what you like, then get the sommelier to pair it up against a B.C. bottle of wine and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
With all the rain, snow and sleet blanketing the venues you could be forgiven for not knowing we have a wine industry. In fact we have been growing some form of grapes for over a century now in the Okanagan, but the real change began in the 1990s and the most significant efforts are less than a decade old.
The desert-like Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are the primary source of fruit and are about a four-hour drive, due east, over the Coast Mountains. By the summer of 2010, nearly 500 independent growers will be farming grapes and some 175 wineries will be making wine in B.C., including several on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and, closer to Vancouver, in the Fraser Valley.
Our Italian visitors will be interested to know pinot gris leads all white plantings in the Okanagan, followed by chardonnay, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc and riesling. Our best chardonnays with unobtrusive oak are a cross between France's Chablis and Meursault - the perfect match to local halibut and free run chicken.
In terms of style, our aromatic white blends are more than up to global standards and the best of our aromatic varietals fit in well with our blend of seafood, lighter West Coast dishes and pan-Asian menus. Imagine a crab and spicy black bean sauce dish or a fabulous Indian curry heating up your palate and then washing it all down with a juicy, aromatic, slightly sweet ehrenfelser, riesling or multi-varietal aromatic blend.
Among the red plantings, merlot tops the list followed by pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc. That said, our future is likely to be syrah and merlot followed by blended reds with some space for pinot noir grown on cooler sites.
Our best syrah is alarmingly good, and given we've only been producing it for less than a decade makes you wonder how good this peppery, dense red will be 20 years from now.
Merlot doesn't get the press it should because there is so much dross made in the world but B.C.'s cool climate and special soils converge to make this variety work in most instances. It is not Bordeaux but we take our cues from the elegant French version and give them a West Coast accessibility.
Here's a short list of winery names to look for followed by some personal label picks. Put them up against the world and see for yourself why British Columbia is considered one of the small but emerging elite wine regions.
Blasted Church : Chardonnay Musqué, Hatfield's Fuse
Black Hills : Alibi
Blue Mountain : Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Reserve
Burrowing Owl : Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay
CedarCreek : Ehrenfelser, Chardonnay, Meritage, Pinot Noir
Church & State : Syrah, Chardonnay
Inniskillin Okanagan : Discovery Series Chenin Blanc
Jackson Triggs Okanagan : Sun Rock Shiraz
Meyer Family : Reserve Chardonnay
Mission Hill : Perpetua Chardonnay, Compendium, SLC Syrah, SLC Riesling Icewine
Nk'Mip : Pinot Noir, Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay
Osoyoos Larose : Osoyoos Larose
Painted Rock : Red Icon
Pentâge : Viognier, Syrah
Quails' Gate : Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc
Road 13 : Roussanne Marsanne Blend, Chenin Blanc
Sandhill : Pinot Gris King Family Vineyard 2008
Summerhill: Organic Gewurztraminer
Sumac Ridge : Steller's Jay
Tantalus : Riesling
Tinhorn Creek : Oldfield Collection Syrah, 2Bench Oldfield Collection (White Blend)
Thornhaven : Pinot Noir,
Wild Goose : Riesling, Gewurztraminer.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com.