The Hired Belly has attended more than few winemaker dinners. But some remain etched in my memory. The very first was when Howard Soon (now Peller Estates’ chief winemaker, then Calona Vineyards’) dropped by the original Raintree, in Vancouver, to pour his wines. (To this day, Howard, who never met a mic he didn’t like, remains one of BC’s most entertaining wine industry speakers and educators.)
For most of us uneducated urban bumpkins at the time, it was a novel experience: to have the guy who actually oversaw the picking of the grapes and made the wine to come and pour it for us. Since then a steady schedule of dinners has helped lay the foundation for BC’s blossoming wine culture.
Clos at Tavola
This week I was sitting at a communal table in the West End’s cosy and welcoming Tavola, a guest of Spencer Massie, partner in Similkameen’s Clos du Soleil.
What struck me was how winemaker dinners have evolved over the years—and how both Massie and the folks at Tavola happily embraced those changes. In fact, they called it, more appropriately, a “cellar tasting”.
The speeches—the practice of introducing every dish—were ditched. Instead, we had a brief welcome as the first flight was poured and the shared plates began to arrive.
Massie decided not to interrupt the conviviality and instead visited each of the the four large tables in turn. It all worked very well.
I liked the idea of pouring two flights of three wines each (mini-verticals of essentially the same wine through different vintages, in each case 07, 08 and 11). The dishes (all a salute to Tavola’s much loved predecessor, Tapastree) came in well orchestrated succession. Everyone had a chance to try and decide for themselves what they felt worked best.
Clos du Similkameen
Those flights revealed an impressive consistency. Clos du Soleil is a Similkameen bellweather that, as it matures, underscores the potential of the Okanagan’s all too easily overlooked neighbour. The wines are made by Ann Sperling in a style that plants itself firmly between old and new world camps; and is also immensely food friendly, as this evening proved.
I was impressed with the way even the older whites are standing up, although I leaned in favour of both the 2008s (Capella and Signature Red Blend). The Clos du Soleil Capella 2011, which we picked as Best White Wine at last year’s Okanagan BC Wine Awards judging, continues to evolve and impress.
Three shoo-in pairings of the evening were classics: the wicked, honey and nectarine toned Saturn 2013 dessert wine—think ‘Sauternes’ and you’ll get the picture, says Massie—with foie gras and rhubarb; Clos du Soleil Capella 2008 with seafood salad of scallop and prawn; and the deeply red berried, cassis toned, plummy but structured Clos du Soleil 2008 Signature (91 pts.) with chicken livers, and the beef tenderloin. Also well worth tracking down, the Clos du Soleil 2011 Signature (90 pts) from the winery, $39.95.
Clos du Soleil Meets its Marc
Still one more highlight came with the unveiling of Marc du Soleil. This “co-pro” between Clos du Soleil and Vancouver’s Long Table Distillery, yields a very clean, subtly caramel and smooth tasting (43% alcohol ) distilled spirit made from Merlot must that’s an indication of great things to come. Long Table’s Charles Tremewen says it’s precisely the kind of local collaboration to which he aspires.
Check in at the distillery next week if your’e interested. And only at the distillery—because the winery’s not allowed to sell it. I mean, why would you even think that? Especially in BC…
We’ll have more on Clos de Soleil in coming weeks.
(This material appears as a column in this weekend’s North Shore News)