Fresh Tap kegs: pouring into popularity

Fresh Tap kegs: pouring into popularity

As you may have noticed by now, Dine Out Vancouver is in full swing. The feeding frenzy that first took flight over a decade ago has grown somewhat, from a cluster of well-priced prix fixe menus to a region-wide food and beverage celebration that boasts foodie events and fancy hotel prices, as well as a huge list of restaurant participants.

One story that won’t go away, it seems, is also a big part of the event. This is the first year that wines on tap have a presence—and they’re a boon to restaurateur and consumer alike.

The irony, however, is that, in its wisdom, the BC Wine Authority still hasn’t come to terms with the reality that wine on tap is not only here to stay, it’s now very much part of our culinary culture—and growing at a rapid pace.

Tap & Barrel sommelier Dave Stansfield in the climate controlled nerve centre below the restaurant, Tim Pawsey photo

Tap & Barrel sommelier Dave Stansfield in the climate controlled nerve centre below the restaurant, Tim Pawsey photo

All of which means that, technically, any wine that comes out of a tap isn’t considered VQA—and in theory shouldn’t be part of Dine Out Vancouver Festival. Although that isn’t a deterrent at places such as Tap and Barrel, where sommelier David Stansfield describes his clutch of wines for Dine Out as “VQA-ish.”

We’re still not really sure why the BC Wine Authority hasn’t gotten around to updating its last edict on “Packaging requirements for BC VQA wines”, dated July 21, 2011, which talks only in terms of “bottles”, “cork”, “screw cap” and “crown cap” and makes no mention of “kegs” or other vessels.

You might wonder, as we do, how a wine that was classed as VQA can go into a container, be properly transferred into kegs and connected to a tap can come out as non VQA. It’s a puzzling question, indeed.

Not that we would ever suggest there might be politics involved. But you have to wonder just why the issue of placing wine in containers other than bottles (under properly monitored conditions) is such an issue.

Insiders say there are concerns as to how long a wine can remain in a non-glass container without spoiling, although most agree that, properly handled and stored, keg wine can remain in its original condition for at least six months. Talk to anyone who’s jumped on the wine on tap wagon and they’ll tell you a 19.5 litre keg is gone in six weeks let alone six months—or even six days. And, even more ironic, it all still tastes fresher than a bottle that’s been open for two days.

In then end, though, the VQA / Wine on tap discussion may prove a moot point.

Our hunch is that there are much bigger forces at play here. We’re guessing the way wine on tap is unfolding—and catching fire—has a lot of Canada’s Major Winery license holders very worried indeed. And that it has a whole lot more to do with wines that aren’t VQA than with those that are.

Remember that cute little phrase the majors came up with a few years back, “Cellared in Canada”? Make no mistake about its intention: to confuse the consumer into thinking that what they’re drinking is Canadian wine—when (most of it) isn’t.

Roaring Twenties: Imported and bottled in Canada—the label says it all.

Roaring Twenties: Imported and bottled in Canada—and the label says it all.

Right now almost all of the wines on tap around Vancouver are limited quantities (of usually VQA wines) from smaller to mid-sized Okanagan producers. However, last year Vancouver Urban Winery (the most successful keg wine processor in Canada so far) launched what may well turn out to be the elephant in the Cellared in Canada cellar: a fun, youthful brand of well-made—and clearly labelled—imported wines of origin (a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a Mendoza Malbec) transferred and bottled in screw cap from imported 20,000 litre containers.

  • Roaring Twenties Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (88 pts) sports juicy fruit with citrus and tropical notes and a hint of herbaceousness with not a lot of acidity. It’s easy drinking, varietally correct and well priced. $14.99 at Vancouver Urban Winery, and upwards at private wine stores.
  • Roaring Twenties Malbec 2011 (87 pts) has a fruit forward style, soft on the palate with plush, ripe red and black berry notes and a touch of spice. Also $14.99 and up at PWS.

As of now, you won’t find these wines on tap. Vancouver Urban Winery says it has no (current) plans to develop that market, as it chooses to focus on Canadian wines.

Stay tuned for (a whole lot) more on this story …


(This post—at least most of it—first ran in last weekend’s North Shore News)