Canadian Culinary Championships 2017 Results
- Representing Calgary
- Jinhee Lee – Foreign Concept
- Paired with: Bartier Bros. 2014 Gewürztraminer, Okanagan Valley, BC
Best of Show
Sea Star 2015 Blanc de Noir Rose, BC
- Representing Ottawa
- Joe Thottungal – Coconut Lagoon
- Paired with: Huff Estates Winery 2015 Riesling Off Dry Prince Edward County, ON
Best of Show
Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut, NS
- Representing Edmonton
- Eric Hanson – Prairie Noodle Shop
- Paired with: Gruner from Culmina Family Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley, BC
Best of Show
Orofino 2014 Scout Vineyard Riesling, BC
by James Chatto by National Culinary Advisor
To Kelowna for the Canadian Culinary Championships, always a highlight of the gastronomic year, the lake and the mountains looking splendid with a dusting of snow under a clear blue sky, the sun not quite taking the edge off the bitter and unseasonal cold. The judges arrived on Wednesday and began the adventure in the most delightful way with a very fine dinner at Quails’ Gate winery, hosted by Laura Kittmer and the British Columbia Wine Institute. It was a fine opportunity for the judges to get together and calibrate our palates with chef Roger Sleiman’s precise and delicious food (the char-grilled shoulder of lamb, rare but oh-so-tender, was my highlight) and with some first-class wines from Howling Bluff, Haywire, Culmina, Jackson-Triggs and Quails’ Gate itself, each one introduced by its winemaker.
by David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor
Pacific Coast Gems Steal the Spotlight on Canadian Wine’s Grandest Night
The Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna has become one the grandest nights of the year for Canadian wine. Ten great wines that won Best of Show in their respective cities were assembled for the GMP Wine of the Year showdown. The chefs also brought the wines that helped them win in their respective cities. BC wineries donate hundreds of bottles to the VIP Receptions. And finally there was the Mystery Wine, that became the focus of two hours of intense speculation and playful conjecture.
At the CCC 2017, over 40 wineries were represented, and about 60 different wines were poured over three nights of events. And as it turned out two little gems from Canada’s far left coast took the spotlight.
The Gold Medal Plates Wine of Year
Last autumn I assembled a panel of professional tasters in each of ten cities to declare a Best of Show winner from all the wines, beer and spirts poured by the chefs and at the Celebrations. The winner from each city was brought to Kelowna. There were ten wines from three provinces, and I sat down with three esteemed palates to pick a winner. On the line, a week stay for three couples in a villa at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany
The panel included Harry McWatters, an Okanagan legend who is making his 50th vintage this year. I was also joined by Rhys Pender, one of Canada’s very few Masters of Wine and a veteran judge for the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. And the panel was rounded out by Vancouver’s Sid Cross, one of the most travelled and experienced palates on the planet.
And, poured both in Victoria and again in Kelowna with BC chef Jesse McCleary, the winner is Sea Star 2015 Blanc de Noir Rose. The judges were totally impressed with the purity, balance and liveliness of this tender pink wine, made from organically grown pinot noir from tiny Pender Island. The price is about $20, but forget about acquiring a bottle. It sold out long ago.
The first runner-up – poured in Ottawa – was Benjamin Bridge 2009 Brut, a phenomenal traditional method sparkler from the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia. This winery is rapidly gaining international credibility.
The second runner up – poured in Regina – was Orofino 2014 Scout Vineyard Riesling, a gorgeous riesling from the Similkameen Valley
The Mystery Wine
The opening phase of the Chef’s competition is the Mystery Wine Competition, wherein the chefs are given an unlabelled bottle of wine and asked to create a dish around it. They are given a budget of $500 and have 24 hours to shop for ingredients and prepare a dish for 400 guests.
My job is to select a wine – from somewhere in Canada – that gives the chefs some latitude to be creative, that will please the guests while sipping over two hours, and will also provide some fun and challenge as it is poured blind.
This year’s Mystery Wine also hailed from the west coast – a fine, balanced and nuanced 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve from Unsworth Vineyard in the Cowichan Valley of Vancouver Island. Incredibly, Unsworth donated over 90 magnums (1.5 Litre bottles) to the event. The winery and its restaurant have been gaining many fans on “The Island” but with small production Unsworth is not well known on the mainland.
I tasted all the pairings and my clear winner for best match – because it was the only dish that elevated the wine – came from overall winner, and Popular Choice winner, Jinhee Lee of Foreign Concept in Calgary.
The Grand Finale Wines
On the night of the Grand Finale each competing chef poured a wine from a winery that has helped them win in their home cities. When I looked at the selection I was amazed by how many of the wines were white wines – seven out of eleven. And they came from several regions including Quebec and Ontario, plus a spirit/cocktail from Nova Scotia. Three chefs chose riesling, which is clearly a prominent grape nationwide.
The wine chosen by Gold Medal Chef Jinhee Lee of Calgary was the bright, spicy Bartier Brothers 2015 Gewurztraminer from the Okanagan Valley. It was an ideal match to her colourful, subtle yet very complex “Cha Ca La Vong” a turmeric fish mosaic with dill.
Silver medal chef Joe Thottungal of Ottawa went to his backyard wine region, Prince Edward County, and poured a bright, crisp off dry riesling from Huff Estates. It was the ideal foil to the chefs’ complex and intensely flavored curried halibut and mushroom dish.
Bronze medal chef Eric Hanson of Edmonton’s Prairie Noodle Shop went with the exotic intense Culmina 2015 Unicus Gruner Veltliner from the Okanagan matched to his spot prawn with plum preparations.
Other wines that appeared in the Grande Finale Competition included: Quails’Gate 2015 Riesling (BC), Cave Spring 2014 The Adam Step Riesling (ON), Arrowleaf 2015 Gewurztraminer (BC), Sea Star 2015 Blanc de Noir Rose (BC), l’Orpailleur 2014 Cuvee Natashquan (QC), See Ya Later Ranch 2015 Pinot Noir Unleashed (BC), Dirty Laundry 2014 Kay Syrah (BC) and Ironworks Gin (NS)
The VIP and Celebration Wines
The Kelowna wine community stepped up big time to support all the other events around the three days of activities. During the Thursday night reception to introduce the chefs and judges four wineries from East Kelowna poured their wares – Calona/Sandhill, Tantalus, Summerhill and The View. Each winery was paired with a dish prepared by local chefs including student chefs at Okanagan College.
During the Friday night Mystery Wine event the wineries of the Scenic Sip Wine Association representing wineries north of Kelowna and in Lake Country poured during the VIP Reception, with stations open throughout the event. I visited some of these wineries earlier in the week and was very impressed by the bright riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot noir being produced in the region.
Here are the wineries that poured: Ancient Hill Winery, Arrowleaf Cellars, ExNihilo, Gray Monk Estate, 50th Parallel, Intrigue Wines, Blind Tiger Vineyards and O’Rourke Family Vineyards. Of special note, the CCC was the public debut of O’Rourke and The Chase, two new wineries under the same ownership that are set to open in Lake Country. The O’Rourke project involves over 100 acres of new plantings, and an impressive tunnelling of over 200 metres that will eventual cellar premium pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.
On Saturday night during the VIP Reception, it was the turn of the West Side Wine Trail to pour for over 500 guests. The wineries included Beaumont Family Vines, Indigenous World Winery, Kalala Organic Winery, Little Straw Vineyards, Mt. Boucherie Winery, Off the Grid Organic Winery, Quails’ Gate Winery, Rollingdale Winery and Volcanic Hills Estate Winery. I was able to taste from each of these wineries at a Media Event on the Friday, and I was surprised by organic focus of several of the smaller wineries.
Salina Curtis and Lindsay Kelms of Quails’ Gate were instrumental in bringing The West Side Trail wineries together. Among them, a special thanks to Quails’ Gate for hosting the culinary judges dinner on Wednesday night, and for their enduring support over the years.
The Big White Kitchen Party
And finally, I want to thank Nighthawk Vineyards for being the exclusive donor of wines to the fabulous Big White Last Supper that was held on the Wednesday night. This event is held at White Spirit Lodge at Big White, a fabulous out-sized log home with a gargantuan kitchen. This night it was the scene of a 15-course extravaganza by two-time CCC Champion Marc Lepine of l’Atelier in Ottawa. Nighthawk – owned by Daniel and Christy Bibby is a new, winery nestled in a vale high above Okanagan Falls in the central Okanagan. It is producing brilliant gewurztraminer, chardonnay and pinot from its own vineyards, plus a fine syrah sourced further south.
And that, as they say is a wrap. It was a whirlwind – or make that a wine-wind – over four days of Celebration. I am so impressed by the enthusiasm and grateful for the generosity of Canada’s wineries in their on-going support of this event.