Ask Sid: Steen or Stein?

February 7th, 2018
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steen stein wine south africa chenin blanc

Question: Are the wine terms steen and stein interchangeable?

Answer: You must be from South Africa. No not the same. Steen is the local word there for the grape variety Chenin Blanc. Stein describes a semisweet white wine usually a blend of different grapes but often does contain some steen grapes.

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Chef Alex Chen of Boulevard in Vancouver Wins Canadian Culinary Championships Gold with Impressive Dishes!

February 5th, 2018

Chef Alex Chen of Boulevard in Vancouver Wins Canadian Culinary Championships Gold with Impressive Dishes!

Eleven top chefs in Canada having won during 2017 their Gold Medal Plates regional city cook-offs came together last week in Kelowna for The Canadian Culinary Championships. A very skilled line-up but after three extremely demanding tests the judges (your scribe is one of them) decided the Olympic gold should go to Vancouver Chef Alex Chen of Boulevard, silver to Montreal’s Eric Gonzalez from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and bronze to Barry Mooney from Gio in Halifax.

The difficult first leg called for matching a Mystery Wine (turned out to be 2016 Fort Berens Pinot Gris from Lillooet BC) with a dish for 400 guests using a maximum $500 plus a lot of skill and resourcefulness. Chef Chen showed well early with an exquisite terrine composed of a trio of Albacore tuna, Side Stripe Shrimp & Scallop in a dashi sunchoke broth. However his preparation was not without incident as an assigned apprentice dropped a finished tray of 24 just before service calling for some last minute scurrying. Unflappable Alex Chen rose to the occasion without panic showing wonderful leadership for his amazing team that included talented Chef Roger Ma Chef de Cuisine of Boulevard.

The Black Box second leg calls for great creativity in preparing one dish for the judges in one hour using all 7 ingredients: Fresh BC Rabbit (from Fraser Valley Rabbitry sourced by Two Rivers Specialty Meats), Beausoleil Oysters from New Brunswick, BC Kohlrabi, Saskatchewan Feta Cheese, BC Pink Apples, Summerhill Zweigelt Icewine Grapes, and Manitoba Milled Flaxseed. The chefs struggled with the best cooking method to use for the rabbit in such a short time period. Serving small cut pieces tended to be dry and overcooked. Only Chef Chen risked successfully doing a slow roast of the whole loin in a potato crust with a vibrant grape gastrique, the breaded oyster plus a wonderful refreshing crisp thinly julienned slaw (by hot newcomer Hawksworth Scholarship Young Apprentice 2017 winner Connor Sperling) of apple, feta, and kohlrabi. Another brilliant move.

The Grand Finale brought forth a cornucopia of diverse culinary delights each a star in its own right paired with a chosen wine, beer, or sake. Shining brightly was Alex Chen’s Wild BC Shellfish Parfait with Northern Divine Caviar plus Bull Kelp “Brioche”. Three star Michelin quality with such attention to detail. Delicious! As an avid supporter of the Oceanwise sustainable seafood program you have to be delighted to see not only a listing of the 5 species used in this outstanding memorable dish (Dungeness Crab, Horse Clam, Organic ocean Side Stripe Shrimp, Geoduck Clam, and Sea Urchin) but also the area of catch and even the named source of the boat and captain. So well done!  What a dish.

Congrats to all 11 chefs and their brigades for participating in this excellent competition showing their hard work and admirable culinary skills. Appreciated.

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Ask Sid: Wine to match with a curried soup?

January 31st, 2018
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what wine goes with curry soup

Question: What wine would you recommend with curried broccoli and turkey soup?

Answer: Perhaps a refreshing beer? Depends a bit on how hot your curry is. The usual choice would be a gewürztraminer with that uniquely aromatic spicy character . However that variety tends to polarize between those that love it and those that hate it. Many white wines with good acidity or even a balanced rose should match well. “Fire” Chef Francis Mallmann chooses a wine that contrasts with the dish and probably would use a red. No single correct answer. Try a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Have you considered a sherry? Remember that Andre Simon in his Partners Guide suggests pairing mulligatawny (a traditional Indian curry soup) with Verdelho from Madeira. Good idea. Lots of interesting choices. Experiment.

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1998 Right Bank Bordeaux at 20 Years

January 29th, 2018

1998 Bordeaux Right Bank vineyards

2018 is here bringing the opportunity to organize horizontal wine tastings at 10 year benchmark intervals for vintages 2008 (try classic Chablis), 1998 (Bordeaux), 1988 (improving old style red Burgundy), and 1978 (40 year old treasures). Started out this month trying 20 year Right Bank Bordeaux 1998 a year of overall varying quality but favouring the ripening of cabernet franc & merlot especially in the Graves, Pomerol and St. Emilion regions. The rains during most of the first half of October hindered the phenolic ripeness and intensity of some wines from the Left Bank (which your scribe will report on after a forthcoming Spring tasting) but the Right Bank on release was universally recommended. Here is a brief report card on the 9 wines:

First Flight: Lafleur-Gazin, Magdelaine, & Grand Pontet. Colours are still young and deep led by M but GP is more aged murky looking with a mature browning rim. L-G high merlot plums show plus some typical Pomerol iron notes but finishing with drier simpler vegetal flavours. GP is full rich but ready and not aging as slowly as other two so drink it up now. Star of flight is definitely Jean-Pierre Moueix’s Magdelaine (last vintage was 2011 & now part of their Chateau Belair-Monange) on Cotes limestone soil resulting in complex fruit with extra dimensions of anise, cinnamon, and licorice. Excellent match with the prosciutto wrapping on the roasted quail course. Good start.

Second Flight: Trotanoy, Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse & Mystery wine (1998 Chateau Haut-Brion). T is a big jump up in class! So big concentrated yet velvety textures with superb length singing Pomerol. Excellent reminding of the 1964 from old vines before vineyard replanting. BDL quite brown on the edge and way too earthy and unclean. Strange. Bad bottle? Not near the sensational 1990 100 pointer we reported on earlier here. Disappoints. Mystery wine is dark deep and rich but has stunning power combined with elegance. Some ripe mocha notes. Guesses of another 1998 of highest quality perhaps a First Growth – Cheval Blanc cab franc & merlot? We didn’t nail it but H-B in Pessac-Leognan really fits with Robert Parker’s description for this wine of “liquid nobility”. Two really outstanding wines in this flight showing off the excellent quality of 1998 at the very top level. Truffles seem to always show the wines to advantage!

Third Flight: Pavie-Macquin, La Gaffeliere, & Canon La Gaffeliere. P-M way the darkest look here. Young with good structure and impressive extracted Right Bank fruit but still quite primary. LG palest colour especially the rim with quite a lot of herbaceous pyrazine styling obvious on the nose. Stylish elegant ever improving in the glass especially tasted with the 56 day dry aged steak. CLG mid range look with a maturing rim but solid balanced lovely very St Emilion terroir from this often undervalued property. Nice flight but lacking somewhat in overall complexity.

Have you tried the 1998 vintage from some wine region recently? Are you organizing in 2018 an interesting horizontal of older wines from the same vintage?



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10 interesting facts about the wines from Russia

January 28th, 2018

Russian wine facts
By Joseph Temple

Much like the country itself, Russian wine has endured a roller coaster ride of change and transformation.  From utilizing French methods at the start of the twentieth century to a system of collectivization and central planning by the 1950s, the result has been a sweet and lackluster reputation across the world.  And while nearly on the verge of extinction during the Gorbachev era, it appears that Russia’s wine industry has finally turned the corner in the 21st century.  While known more for its vodka, vintners in the northern Caucuses have been able to grow native grapes such as Rkatsiteli, Krasnostop, Saperavi , and more popular French varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  Let’s have a look at a wine industry unparalleled in terms of adaptation.

Russia wine history
1. Although viticulture in Russia predates Ancient Greece, the modern industry was spearheaded by Tsar Alexander II who invited French winemakers to help modernize domestic production. blank

Russian revolution and world war i impact on wine
Due to the impact of both the First World War and the Russian Revolution, wine production was dealt a crippling blow across Russia. blank

Russian wine during Stalin
3. During the Stalin era, grape sugar and ethyl alcohol were added to high yield and frost resistant varietals in order to make them passable, giving Russia a long lasting reputation for cheap and poor tasting sweet wines. blank

wine production during Mikhail Gorbachev
4. Due to the anti-alcohol policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, total vineyard area dropped significantly as many of the best vineyards were destroyed.


Russian wine geography
5. Most of Russia is too cold to ripen grapes except in the northern Caucuses. blank

Moldova wine history
6. With a continental climate and icy winters, vineyards in these areas need to be protected from the intense cold.  According to Jancis Robinson, growers have experimented with varieties that incorporate cold-resistant genes from Mongolian vines. blank

Russian wine regions

7. The five main wine growing areas are Rostov, Krasnodar, Stavropol, Checheno-Ingush, and Dagestan – all between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. blank

Russia wine consumption per capita

8. In 2010, per capita wine consumption in Russia was 7 liters.  In comparison, France and Italy’s were 42.51 and 33.3 respectively.

Queen Elizabeth II Moldovan wine

9. However, its sizable population makes it one of the top ten wine consuming nations in the world, producing approximately 310 million liters of wine annually while importing an additional 560 million liters. blank

Russian wine expansion
10. After annexing the Crimea in 2014, an additional 25,000 ha was added to Russia’s total vineyard area.  Later that year, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to increase total vineyard area to 140,000 ha by 2020. blank


Blinnikov, Mikhail S. A Geography of Russia and Its Neighbors. New York: Guilford Press, 2011.
Harding, Julia. The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Nee, Patrick W. How to Get Rich Doing Business in Russia. Oxford: The Internationalist, 2014.
Robinson, Jancis. (2009, October 24). Russian wine gets real. Retrieved from

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