Marquis owner and founder John Clerides, Tim Pawsey photo

You have to hand it to John Clerides. He’s always been ahead of the curve.

John’s the man behind Marquis Wine Cellars, which was one of the very first private wine stores anywhere in British Columbia.

We were among the first through the door when he managed to wrangle a license in 1986—the year the government first ‘allowed’ a few folks other than the BC Liquor Distribution Branch to share the onerous social responsibility of selling wine. (This was also before the arrival of BC VQA stores, about which we know John has an opinion, as he does on most things!)

Initially Marquis was permitted to sell only Mission Hill / Mark Anthony products—and even when that restriction was lifted, for many years had to maintain two separate sets of books. Go figure.

We won’t wax on too long here, except to say you should head on over to Marquis Cellars’ site and have a look around at what they do; and especially to check out John’s observations as to just how antiquated and ludicrous are many of the regulations that continue to govern the sale of alcohol in BC (and Canada) in the 21st century.

Last night we attended Marquis Cellars Social Media Friends Tasting, which—thanks to John now being one of Vancouver’s more active SocMed wine types—was well attended.

Besides being able to taste some truly unique (and in some cases older) wines, it was good to be able to put faces to quite a few of the Tweeps we hadn’t yet met.

Some good cheeses for matching, from Benton Brothers

It was a convivial evening, with some great cheeses from Benton Brothers Fine Cheese and excellent canapes from Louis Gervais Fine Foods & Catering.

Marquis prides itself in hunting down more interesting and often hard to find producers from most of the world’s major regions—as evidenced by the 14 wines they chose to pour for this event, which came from just about all over, though with a definite bias to France (7 wines). Fair enough—all came from contrasting regions.

Prices ranged from the very affordable Fumanelli Valpolicella 2008 ($21.90) to the smooth tannin, spicy and orange toned Brovia Ca’Mia Barolo 2001, that topped out the list at $104.90.

Almost all were under $50, with a couple of very worthwhile finds.

We could have found a place in our wine rack for quite a few of these, in particular the mineral and citrus toned Barthod Aligoté 2005 ($$24.90); and the quite honeyed Ojai Solomon Hills Chardonnay 2008 luscious but well structured with good acidity ($38.90).

Pinot Gris as only Alsace can make it

Topping our tasting list was Domaine Barmès-Buecher Pinot Gris Herrenweg 2006—which just goes to prove that no-one makes Pinot Gris quite like Alsace. This wine has definite floral and tropical aromas with a wonderful viscous character that coats the palate beautifully. Tropical, nutty with some mineral hints and a wonderful, lingering close. You could load up some pad thai with spice and it would still hold its own, or try it (as we did) with Colston Bassett Stilton, which it stood up to very well. A real treat. We bought a bottle on the way out. ($32.90).

Reds that caught our fancy included the Roc des Anges Old Vines Grenache Syrah Carignan 2006, that could go a few more years yet ($39.90); and the intensely black fruited but not at all jammy, supple and well balanced Spinifex Bete Noir 2008 (Barossa, $44.90).

Grab one of these for a special occasion pepper steak

Our fave red pick, based on value and quality, was the distinctly grippy, spicy and quite granitic Dominio de Tares Old Vines Mencia 2007, Bierzo (Spain, $29.90)

Bierzo—said to be stunningly scenic and one of the oldest grape growing areas in Europe—is right beside Galicia, (arguably one of the more unique wine regions anywhere; known for Albariño), and also incredibly beautiful.  Not for the faint of heart, we like the intense fruit balanced by the gently rustic, earthy quality of this wine.  We can see why Bierzo is being touted in some quarters as the next Priorat. And we’d be very tempted to have it with a serious pepper steak.  In fact, we probably will …