I recently attended a Vineland Estates Dinner Series, a collaboration between Mark Bata, partner of BonVida Wine Imports, Darren MacLean, the owner and chef of downtownfood, and Allan Schmidt, the president of Vineland Estates Winery. Also in attendance was one of the proprietors of Muse Restaurant, Stephen Deere.
I arrived unfashionably on time. Bata greeted me with a glass of bubbly and introduced me to Schmidt. Guests sipped on the sparkling wine while the downtownfood crew brought out delectable tasters: duck and cheese canapes; ahi tuna, and prawn and scallop ceviche. Though small in size, each appetizer was huge in flavour. The dressing on the ceviche was light and tangy. The duck and cheese combination was warm and rich. The prawns and scallops were so fresh, it far excelled the seafood I recently consumed in Vancouver.
The size of our group was perfect – it was intimate enough for each guest to interact with Schmidt and to listen to his descriptions of the wines. As Schmidt sat in the center of the table, each of the guests were able to ask him questions throughout the evening. I thought Schmidt was easy to talk with and succinct in speech.
It was interesting to see the difference between how the big guns and I drink wine. Whenever I took a sip, I could feel my face breaking into a huge grin. In Bata, Deere and Schmidt’s case, a little wine was poured into their glass. They would each swirl the wine with authority, sharply inhale, and then thoughtfully sip. Bata et al. looked focused, serious, and deep in thought. Kids, let this be a lesson to you. Too much education takes the fun out of drinking.
The first course was the Crispy Eggplant and Goat Cheese Tempura, paired with Vineland Sauvignon Blanc (2009). I really enjoyed the pickled eggplant and edaname reduction decorated on the plate. The goat cheese was a hot pocket of pleasure, it just melted in your mouth.
Schmidt informed us this was a fruit forward sauvignon blanc. He described the wine as fresh with lots of acidity. I thought the sauvignon blanc was lovely and light. Schmidt noted that the goat cheese and the vinegar from the pickled eggplant was a classic pairing. The acidity of the wine cuts into the richness of the pungent goat cheese and acts as a palate cleanser to clear the mouth. Bata informed the group that he had brought the wines to MacLean one afternoon. In turn, MacLean tasted each wine and then paired it with a dish.
The 2nd course was the Salad of Compressed Pears and House Cured Bacon, paired with Vineland Chardonnay (2011). I couldn’t get enough of the bacon – it was sweet, with a warm, crunchy fat. Our server Mathieu informed us the bacon is made in house, hung for seven days, smoked for seven hours, and cured for seven days.
Schmidt informed us this crisp chardonnay goes well with Asian food. As it is an unoaked wine, produced in stainless steel tanks, there is no heavy after taste. Furthermore, as the wine contained 15% of pinot blanc, it added some fruitiness. Schmidt mentioned that you don’t like ordinarily like chardonnay, this is the wine for you. He noted that the wine paired well with the blue cheese and the sweetness of the pears in the salad.
The 3rd Course was Crispy Tuna Nigiri with a new release, Vineland Riesling. Schmidt also brought a surprise treat for our group, a 10 year old Reserve Riseling. The reserved riseling reminded me of sherry. Pink in colour, this semi-dry wine was unique in taste. Schmidt informed us that riseling is different when it ages, as it turns a dark colour due to oxygen and it develops a nose. In comparison, the new release riseling was lighter and sparkled on your tongue. The ahi tuna was cool on the tongue, layered with a hint of freshly grated wasabi, a pop of tobiko, and crunchy from the house made rice crisp and garlic chip.
The 4th Course was a Smoked Mushroom Consomme with Vineland Cabernet Franc. MacLean figured out how to elevate mushroom soup to a whole new level. This dish was absolutely amazing. We each receive a bowl full of goodies – lacto fermented shitake, assorted raw mushrooms and a fiddlehead. A 140C cooked egg is gently hand cracked next to the vegetables. Steaming consomme is poured into the bowl. Finally, you take a spoon and swirl the egg to create a creamy, aromatic, perfectly balanced soup. The entire table sat silent as we inhaled the fragrance of the smoky consomme. The delicate flavours of each ingredient just exploded in unison. I didn’t leave a drop of liquid in my bowl. Schmidt noted this was a perfect pairing – the soup matched the wine so well that you don’t taste the wine separately as it blends together with the food.
The 5th course was Sous Vide Wagyu with Chimmichurri Butter, paired with Vineland Cabernet Merlot. Schmidt noted that with beef, you need a bigger wine. The cabernet merlot was a blend of 70% cabernet and 30% merlot. The Wagyu beef was topped with a prawn that arrived alive at downtownfood that afternoon. The prawn was so good it brought out the Chinese in me. I sucked every last bit out of the shell. I loved the green sauce on the Wagyu beef, it tasted like parsley. As for the beef itself, it was cooked rare, well-marbled and succulent. With the except of an empty shell, there was nothing on plate when it was removed.
The 6th course was a lemon tart paired with Vidal Ice Wine (2010). The tart was the perfect balance of lemon and sweetness, the custard itself was creamy and light. The sugary crust was still warm. The cassis gelato was smooth, tart and refreshing.
The 7th course was a Salted Caramel Beignet. The beignet was warm and not too sweet. I was so full, but after a bite, I couldn’t put it down. With the warm caramel drenching the beignet, it was the perfect balance of fat and sugar. Schmidt paired the dessert with liquid gold – ice wine.
The staff was professional and courteous throughout the night. Mathieu in particular was on fire, keeping an eye on every minute detail of the dinner. I remember Mathieu from my last visit at downtownfood, when he walked my friend and I outside and flagged us a cab to ensure we arrived home safely.
Tickets to this event were only $100 dollars. If I went on my own at any restaurant, it would have easily cost more than $200. Each guest received 8 generous pours of sparkling, red, white and dessert wines. The menu included extravagant nibbles, 7 courses, and some of the best seafood and beef I have to eaten to date. The icing on the cake was Bata’s parting gift – a wicked discount on the wines sampled that night. When I saw the price list I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’m going to follow Bata around to future BonVida Wine collaborations just to score the discount. You can take a girl out of grad school, but you can’t take grad school out of the girl.
Vineland Estates Winery
Vineland Wines are currently sold at Calgary liquor stores: Highlander Wine and Spirits; ZYN; Willowpark Wine and Spirits; and Britannia Wine Merchants.