Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Little Sip of Heaven

We were fortunate enough to steal away a few days recently to head to the West Coast for some much-needed downtime.  What's not to like about hitting the island for a little relaxing and catching up with old friends?  I was pleasantly surprised when my friend informed me that we'd be going on a mini wine tour.  I should be up front and admit that I've never been a intense fan of Canadian wine; I suppose I've just always been more enticed by Napa, Italy, and Australia.  I had no idea I was in for such a treat.

We first stopped by the Church & State Winery and began our day with three of their 'best' wines.  We started with a Merlot which was easy-drinking and required only good company to fully enjoy.  Then, we dug into a Meritage blend which was nice on the palate with cassis notes but left something to be desired on the nose.  In fact, I remarked that it crossed the line of being punchy and pungent and skipped right to being pew-y.  But the last, which was most certainly lacking a nice cut of steak or a rich truffle risotto, was their award-winning 2006 Quintessential.  It was a blend of, if I remember correctly, half a dozen different varietals with a fragrant cacao blackberry nose and an even jammier mouthful.  It was lovely and at ~$25 a bottle, it jumped into the "terrific" category.  My only 'complaint', if you can even call it that, was that for the winery's size and beauty of the in-house kitchen, the tasting lacked even a morsel of food to cleanse our palates.  Of course, it can be ordered, but that was nay to be offered either.  It's a shame really; they could easily have convinced us into an appetizer or two.

Our second stop was at a much smaller and more quaint little winery called Muse.  We were welcomed by a friendly old dog and a busy patio that was nestled against the vines themselves.  We enjoyed five wines for $5; three white and two red.  

We began with a crisp and refreshing Pinot Gris that was dangerously delicious and went down like water.  The second was a Gewurztraminer and left a little to be desired, if I'm being honest.  It lacked the heady lychee flavors which would have really propelled it into being a great wine.  The last white we enjoyed, was a Fume Blanc.  I don't often drink whites, particularly this varietal, but it was delicately smoky yet full of light citrus flavors.  I dreamed of washing down some fresh oysters whilst guzzling a glass of it.  Mmmm.  The reds were of our choice, which in effect, allowed us to try 6 different reds, rather than just two.  We blew through a Cab/Merlot blend, a Syrah, a Pinot Noir, and a Malbec to name a few.  The Malbec took us by storm, so much so that we walked out with bottle in hand, smiling at the clever label on the back:  

"The Countess lingered in her flower garden inhaling scents of jasmine, violet and lavender. Nibbling dark chocolate, her imagination wandered as she remembered her wild days; her mad existence. The memory brought deep ruby colour to her cheeks. There was one evening in Buenos Aires – the man, a roaring fire, spit-roasted beef from the sun-drenched grazing plains of Argentina, spicy grilled sausages and blackened fish – the rest was history. She’d chosen freedom. She had fame. She had fortune. And you know what? That was working for her."

And of course, our mini-tour would not have been complete without a stop at the Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse.  They have extremely flexible tastings of one by one, a set of three, or try all eight; all for a very reasonable price.  Their organic heritage apples and diverse barreling techniques make up vastly different ciders that were all intense in flavor, well-balanced, and the perfect thing for a sunny patio and a view overlooking the orchards.

I began with the Wild English which derives its name from the wild yeast fermentation.  A beautiful amber color, it was dry and earthy and a tart way to start things off.  The second cider I couldn't resist was their unique Rumrunner, included Winter Bananas and Winesaps.  The apples are hand-pressed using a traditional rack and cloth press, slowly fermented with Champagne yeast, then aged in rum barrels.  It was full of succulent brown sugar flavors, spicy, and made me just want to say "arrrrr, this be mighty good grog!"  And the last cider I indulged in was the Pomona; inspired by the Roman Goddess of Apples, this still cider is concentrated and silky.  Hand-crafted by freezing then slowly fermenting crabapple juice at cool temperatures, it yields a dessert-style cider with citrus notes.  It truly was reminiscent of ice wine and was a perfect way to end our day tastings.  Sea Cider grows 60 varieties of apples, has an impressive menu to compliment their ciders, and an art gallery that showcases local artists.

There are still many wineries in Victoria alone that we did not pass through, and many more in B.C.; my experience in this one short afternoon proved that there are still many good things yet to be discovered in Canadian wines (and ciders).  

So if you find yourself in wine territory and looking for something to do..... 

find a friend and raise a glass!

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