The Canadian Culinary Championships 2016
Representing Ottawa: Marc Lepine – Atelier
Pairing: Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula
Representing Calgary: Matthew Batey – The Nash Restaurant & Off Cut Bar
Pairing: Road 13 Vineyards 2011 Sparkling Chenin Blanc, Oliver, BC
Representing British Columbia: Alex Chen – Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, Vancouver BC
Pairing: Foxtrot Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir, Naramata, BC
Culinary Report by James Chatto
Part 1: Wine Pairing Challenge
We did it again! Off to Kelowna for the better part of a week for the tenth running of the Canadian Culinary Championships. The event has grown, to be sure, since the first iteration in Whistler, a decade ago. But it has stayed steadfastly true to the original idea – that it has to be a serious and seriously gruelling competition and as utterly fair as is humanly possible. Past champions have emerged from Winnipeg, Whistler, Calgary, twice from Montreal, from Ottawa, twice from Toronto and most recently from Edmonton. There is nothing else like it in the country. And, like everything to do with Gold Medal Plates, it is a proud celebration of Canadian Excellence.
Part 2: Black Box and Grand Finale
Up with the lark to join the jostling, coffee-fuelled throng of chefs, sous chefs, judges and camera crews in the lobby of the hotel at 7:25. Two coaches took us all down to Okanagan College’s campus and the Culinary Arts building where the chefs would compete in the infamous black box competition. This year, in an effort to encourage imaginative thinking, I boosted the marks awarded for creativity and chose ingredients for the box that weren’t obviously connected but offered – indeed, demanded – thinking outside the box. Together with a very well-endowed communal pantry, these are the seven ingredients each chef found in his box. He had to use all seven in a single dish and make 13 plates of the dish…
Best of Show Wine (National)
Le Vieux Pin 2014 Ava from the Black Sage region of the South Okanagan.
Bachelder 2012 Chardonnay, Wismer Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench appellation of the Niagara Peninsula.
Foxtrot 2012 Pinot Noir, Henricsson Vineyard on the Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley
National Wine Advisor
Well that was a grand finale indeed! It was a true coming together of some of the best wines Canada has to offer – from British Columbia, from Ontario, and from Nova Scotia. Oh Nova Scotia – you shocked Kelowna by having three wines on the floor, and another in the running for Gold Medal Plates Wine of the Year. The medals were not to be but it was a very crisp “coming out” and Canada is taking notice.
So much to report on this year: First, the Wine of the Year, then the Mystery Wine, The Bottleneck Drive wineries that so generously donated so many cases of wines this weekend, and the wines that went to the podium with the champion chefs.
The Wine of the Year: Le Vieux Pin 2014 Ava
This new and distinct honour went to winemaker Severine Pinte of Le Vieux Pin who created the 2014 Ava, a remarkably fresh, complex and unique white southern Rhone Valley-inspired blend of viognier, marsanne and roussanne. In Canada you say? Not so surprising when one understands Severine is herself from the south of France. It was the only wine each of our four judges placed in their top four – with one first place ranking.
Pouring alongside chef Jonathan Thauberger of Regina, Severine was in the audience this night to receive her honour. Along with an original vineyard oil painting, the award includes a week-long stay in a Villa at Borgo San Felice in Tuscany in the spring of 2017.
The first runner up – originally poured in Ottawa – was the profound Bachelder 2012 Wismer Vineyard Chardonnay from the Twenty Mile Bench appellation on the Niagara Peninsula. The second runner up – poured in Vancouver – was the billowing Foxtrot 2012 Pinot Noir Henricsson Vineyard from the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench.
The Wine of the Year award was new this year. Each of the ten “Best of Show Wines” from ten cities in the fall 2015 tour was assembled in Kelowna for a final taste-off. See the complete list of candidates below. I was joined in the judging by three culinary judges who also have deep palates on the wine side: James Chatto of Toronto, Sid Cross of Vancouver and Mary Bailey of Edmonton.
The Mystery Wine: Tawse 2012 Gamay, Niagara
A major highlight of the weekend was the Mystery Wine Competition, wherein the chefs were required to pair a dish with the same “mystery wine” – presented to them blind the night before the competition. They had less than 24 hours to conceive of their dish, shop for ingredients and put it together for 400 guests. And all those guests were drinking that one wine for two hours as they went from station to station.
The Mystery Wine this year threw our Kelowna guests for a loop. I overheard many correctly guessing the grape variety as gamay (the Beaujolais grape), but few picked it as an Ontario version. It was the Tawse Winery 2014 Gamay Noir from the Niagara Peninsula, a slender, fresh, low tannin and complex red that I selected to give the chefs some pairing ‘latitude’. I also chose it knowing guests could enjoy it through the4 Gamay Noir, a slender, fresh, low tannin redety as gamay, but few pi evening.
So many thanks to Daniel Lafleur of Tawse, to winemaker Paul Pender, and to Moray Tawse for so generously making 20 cases of this wine available to this event. Tawse has made a huge impact on the reputation of Ontario wine, winning National Wine Award Winery of the Year in 2010, 2011 and three-peating in 2012.
The Bottleneck Drive Wineries Donations
The Friday and Saturday night VIP Reception and Celebration Wines were generously and enthusiastically donated by the Bottleneck Drive Winery Association that represents 18 wineries in the Summerland sub-region of the Okanagan. The massive donation effort was put together by Christina Ferreira of the BDVA. The wineries came together to present their wines to media and judges at a trade tasting on Friday afternoon. They re-convened Friday evening pouring during the Mystery Wine competition, then again Saturday night before the Grand Finale.
Bottleneck Drive is not a “new” area as such, with Sumac Ridge being the legacy property founded by Harry McWatters (the Honorary Chair of the CCC) in 1979 being one of the first in the Okanagan. But in the intervening years this heartland of fruit production has grown to include 18 wineries. One of the newest iterations is Evolve Winery by Christa-Lee Bond, Harry McWatter’s daughter and current chair of the Bottleneck Drive Association. But I was also delighted to better get to know the wines of Haywire, TH Wines, Sage Hills, Thornhaven and Giant Head.
The Grand Finale Chef Wines
And then there was another whole other level of competition as each chef poured the wine, or beer, that helped him get to the finals in the first place. The chef wines poured during the Saturday night Grand Finale represented all three wine producing provinces. The selection of these wines is left entirely to the discretion the chefs, who must consider their pairing as it figures heavily in the culinary judges decisions.
This night three great wines took to the podium with their chefs. The bronze medal went to Foxtrot 2009 Pinot Noir paired with a dish by Alex Chen of Vancouver. This was the last of a library collection chosen to show the ageing ability of Foxtrot pinot. The silver medal went to Road 13 2011 Sparkling Chenin Blanc selected by Calgary chef Matthew Batey, generously poured from oversized magnums. From old chenin vines unique in Canada, this too was a candidate for the Wine of the Year.
The gold medal however went to Niagara’s Le Clos Jordanne 2012 LCJ Vineyard Chardonnay, paired with the sensational dish by Ottawa’s grand champion Marc Lepine of L’Atelier. I loved how this understated but elegant and firm wine underpinned Marc’s rich and complex gold medal plating.
It was a great weekend in Kelowna, and a huge opportunity for me to refresh on so many wines of the region in my spare time. Many thanks to winemakers Nikki Callaway of Quails Gate, Darryl Brooker of Mission Hill Family Estate, and David Paterson of Tantalus Vineyards for hosting and tasting with me while in Kelowna.
And once again, congratulations to Le Vieux Pin for winning the big prize, and for your historic support of Gold Medal Plates.
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