Thursday, November 03, 2011

Travels with Chili: Magical Moment

This road trip through Canada's Okanagan could easily be titled the Magical Mystery Tour if some pesky little English boppers hadn't already coined the term. After all, we were traveling through country we'd never seen before and knew little about, following (most times, anyway) a path laid out for us by someone I'd only met once before. It could have been disastrous, full of blah people, blah food and even blah-er wines. But, like the previous couple of days, it was turning into a voyage of discovery (yes, I know, that's taken, too) with fascinating people, great food and terrific, quaffable wines around every corner.

Tinhorn Creek Winery.

The next stop on the itinerary was at Tinhorn Creek winery, founded by Kenn Oldfield and his wife, winemaker Sandra Oldfield. Planting their first grapes in 1994 and implementing sustainable practices, they've become the first Canadian winery to become completely carbon neutral.

While that's commendable all by itself, their wines, mostly pinot gris, merlot, cab franc and gevurtz, are what's really impressive. And we loved their rosé, which was a private project of Sandra's. Told that a rosé wasn't a good fit with the rest of their list, she made some in secret, even keeping it away from her assistant winemakers, stashing the barrel in the back of the winery. When it was ready, she poured a glass and took it to her husband. He tried it, asking whose it was. "Yours," she answered. And a sellout success was born. Gotta love a gal like that!

The inimitable Mr. McAuliffe.

Our dinner that night was at their restaurant, Miradoro, a joint project of Tinhorn Creek and Vancouver restaurateur Manuel Ferreira, owner of one of my fave restos in that city, Le Gavroche. Jutting out of the steep hillside next to the winery, its wraparound deck soars out over the valley with a commanding view of the entire Golden Mile Bench. Our winery guide, Lindsey White, turned us over to General Manager and Sommelier Justin McAuliffe, who showed us to our corner table on the very edge of the deck (top photo).

Now, Dave and I are both a tad acrophobic, but that view was so spectacular that we completely forgot our fears. Justin's first question was "how deep" we wanted to go in the menu, and I tried to say we'd been eating non-stop for days and that three shared courses would be more than plenty. I could tell from his reaction that this wasn't the right answer, and when the first course arrived I knew we were in deep trouble.

Zucchini fritters, crab salad, cherry tomatoes.

It started off innocently enough, actually, with a rosé from 8th Generation Vineyard in Summerland, a winery up north near Kelowna. The fresh, cool, lightly pink wine perfectly counterpointed the warm late summer evening, but then Justin brought out two little glass orbs filled with a milky golden liquid. A fresh corn purée topped with the tiniest of pickled chanterelles, it was the taste of summer condensed into a couple of spoonfuls. To finish off the course he poured some of Tinhorn's rosé, a heartier version due to being made from 100% cab franc, yet still completely lovely. That's when he mentioned that the BC police are notoriously hard-nosed about drinking and driving. Why would he bring that up? Hm.

A glass of Tinhorn's Two Bench White kicked off a platter of zucchini fritters garnished with tiny sprays of unopened fennel blossoms (minty and surprising), a Dungeness crab salad and halved cherry tomatoes with a peach vinaigrette and pickled onion slivers. Such flavor! Then what I thought must be the entrée (I said three courses, right?), a chanterelle risotto with local grilled summer squash and small Walla Walla onions from Covert Farm with an elegant smear of eggplant purée, came with a glass of Tinhorn's pinot. Sigh…so good!

Chanterelle risotto, summer squash.

We just about to gather up our things and head back to the hotel when who should materialize but Justin, with a pitcher of their '00 Cab Franc and a plate of tenderly braised lamb neck, about which I'd heard but had never tasted, surrounded by little lamb meatballs on a caponata of eggplant, tomato and hazelnuts, sautéed kale with lemon zest, roasted cauliflower and pea shoots.

Okanagan beef.

At this point we'd lost count of the courses in the wonderful onslaught of great wines and beautifully made food. As we enjoyed the last of that crazy good cab franc, our interlocutor, Justin, poured splashes of a delicious '08 Tinhorn Merlot to accompany the Okanagan beef, the cousins of which, he'd pointed out, were grazing just across the valley. The thinly sliced beef was set on olive oil crushed potatoes garnished with pea shoots and pickled onions, all set on a smear of harissa, all of which was amazing.

The blessed cheese plate.

Dessert finally arrived, thank the gods, a cheese course of local aged pecorino and a Poplar Grove Blue, served with candied salted hazelnuts, poached plums and a spring of mint, all drizzled with local honey, along with a stack of housemade sesame crackers. Then, just to really mess with our heads, Justin brought out a cup of chocolate budino with orange cream of which I could only manage a small spoonful. (Was that a glint of devilish glee in his eye?)

When we got back to the room, I sent him the following e-mail:

“We made it back to the hotel safely after a couple of high-speed chases with the BC police, but they were no match for our Mini. Thought you'd like to know.

“Tonight, as I hope we made abundantly clear, was truly an amazing night. The view, the wines, the food, the service were all spectacular, right up there with the best we've ever had. Thanks for making it a truly memorable evening.”

Details: Tinhorn Creek Winery and Miradoro, 32830 Tinhorn Creek Rd., Oliver, BC. 250-498-3743.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road Trip, Okangan's Lake Country, Perched In Penticton, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.


Sandra Oldfield said...

So glad you enjoyed yourself. Your write up and pictures are really special! Cheers and have great travels! --Sandra Oldfield

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Sandra, and thanks for making such great wine! It was a great trip, and we can't wait to get back.

Rebecca said...

wow - what a journey!! you're not joking…magical mystery tour (of food, friends, wine, and land) just about sums it all up. Thanks for sharing, Kathleen - next up is to get *myself* there! =)

Kathleen Bauer said...

It's so close, and yet so few Americans know about it. You oughta go!