Is it the Wine or the Experience?

ristorante street view

This is the Ristorante Sant’Anna in Rome.  This was our favorite spot right around the corner from our apartment on Via Santa Anna.  We had many meals there and of course drank wine with those meals.  But I could not tell you what wine we drank, only that the overall experience was so perfect that it stays with me still.

This restaurant is in a very narrow alleyway.  We always sat outside and enjoyed the sensation as cars and scooters rushing by us within a few feet of our table.  We always felt welcomed there after a day of sightseeing.  It was shady and cool and the food and the wine always tasted delicious.

Yet I am not sure if I even remember the dishes we had let alone the wine.  I am sure I mostly ordered the house wine which was probably sangiovese if it was red and perhaps trebbiano if it was white.  In the “foodie” world and culture we live in it seems we must photograph and record or otherwise document everything we put in our mouth.  To me there is no better way to kill my enjoyment than to have to record what I am eating.

Of course the world of wine is interesting.  Analyzing wine is what I do for a living and I also enjoy teaching and talking about it.  Yet at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is the pleasure we take from a delicious meal served in an alleyway in the heart of one of the most amazing cities in the world.  I hope I never get to busy recording to stop enjoying. And I hope my customers remember their experience at Zambri’s in the same way.

My House Wine

Gruner VeltlinerMy customers at Zambri’s often ask me what is my favorite wine and what is my personal house wine.  There are often two different answers to these questions.  Due to the ridiculously high rate of taxation on alcohol in British Columbia I can not always drink my favourite wine on a daily basis.  Wine costs in this province are often too high for this.  But this Gruner Veltliner , (Count Karolyi), that I am drinking right now is truly both.  At $9.49 a bottle (before tax), it is really great value.  Yet it is a well made medium bodied white which works really well with the spicier food that I like to eat.  Tonight I am going to have it with Chicken Everest, a roast chicken served in a ginger, garlic, garam masala marinade.

szekszardiThis red wine by Szekszardi would also work with this dish.  Medium bodied with good acidity and not tannic so you can pair it with spicy foods and with chicken or even fish.  I had it last night with some farmers cheese and concord grapes and although you would think it might be too light for this pairing the bright acidity really held its own with the cheese.  The grape in this wine is Kekfrankos which is a typical red grape from Hungary.  I have written before about the incredible value in Hungarian Wines and this is a great example.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire still rules in my house!


Both these wines are available at Fort and Foul Bay Liquor Store.

Summertime and Prosecco

Fourteen years ago we at Zambri’s helped to put Prosecco on the map in Victoria.  At that time there was only one dusty bottle sitting on the shelves at the local liquor store.  We started offering a five course tasting menu every Saturday night and we included a glass of Prosecco.  Many people had never even heard of this light sparkling wine from the north of Italy.  It became an instant hit to the point that the Manager of the local liquor store demanded to know what we were doing over at Zambri’s because he had never seen somany customers asking for Prosecco.  Now you can easily find ten different types of Prosecco on the shelves.

Riondo Prosecco-500x500Prosecco is actually the name of the wine and it’s legal designation.  So, just like Champagne, no one can call a wine Prosecco unless it is made in a specific way in a specific region called the Veneto in the North East of Italy.It differs from Champagne in that it is made in the Charmat or Tank method where the secondary fermentation (where the bubbles come from) happens in a tank rather than in the bottle itself.  This makes the wine somewhat lighter both in body and taste but also on the pocketbook.

My favorite Prosecco this summer is the Riondo Prosecco which is currently on sale at many government liquor stores for just $11.99 before tax. It is great just by itself and we had it for lunch with a fresh tomato and bocconcini salad. Light and crisp and slightly off dry, a perfect summer sipper.

Which Wine to Chose


I spent the last two weeks tasting probably 80 bottles of Italian Wine. I attended a Tre Bichierri tasting in Vancouver where only the very elite of Italian wines were presented.  In addition I attended several focused tastings and dinners as so many amazing Italian winemakers were in town for this event. Now I know some of you think of this as your dream job.  But really any of you who do this for a living know that it really is exhausting work.  For one thing, it is not like you are sitting down having dinner and a glass of wine with your friends.  You are often in a very large and noisy room full of people who want to sell you something. Tasting and spitting, tasting and spitting, and trying to separate one wine from the other, thinking of food pairings and price and how this could work in your restaurant.

Wine tasting

Yet of course there are those magical moments, often really seconds when a wine really reaches out and grabs you. Here are my best three picks of the last week.

I had the great honor to attend a dinner hosted by Dream Wines at Cinara Restaurant in Vancouver.  The guest of honor was Sylvia Franco from Nino Franco Winery in the Veneto and the food was to be paired only with Prosecco.  I love Prosecco and I was excited to see how an entire seven course meal could be paired with this Italian sparkling wine. Some of the pairings were a bit risky but the one that was truly outstanding was the Brut Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superiore paired with Spot Prawns topped with herb bread crumbs.  Nino Franco Brut

I always tell my staff that a truly good wine pairing is when the combination of the food and the wine elevates them both to greater heights.  This truly happened here.  This is not their most expensive prosecco but it’s deceptive softness with a backbone of bracing acidity was a perfect foil for the richness of the prawns and the crunch of the crust.  Fantastic!

My next pick would have to be the Aglianico del Vulture Il Repertorio, 2012 from Cantine del Notaio. It was one of the wines I tasted at the Tre Bichierri tasting itself and I always say if I have a taste memory of any wine after such a big tasting it must be something special.  This wine stuck with me even though it is not even in the British Columbia market as yet so there is no possibility of it being sold at Zambri’s.  This wine is from Basilicata which is a lesser known region of Italy.  The grape is Aglianico and I was curious to taste this expression of it called Aglianico del Vulture.  It completely impressed me with it’s meaty characteristics well balanced with  fruit and acidity.  One of the best examples of this grape I have tasted.Il Reperterio

Finally, back home in Victoria I had the opportunity to taste a spectacular example of a traditional Chianti Classico Reserva, the Il Grigio from San Felice Winery in Tuscany.  Some Chianti to me smells just like Cabernet Sauvignon as this grape is often added.  This Il Grigio is 100% Sangiovese and I immediately recognized the herbaceous bouquet as being from a wine made in a more traditional style. A Chianti Classico made in a traditional style is the best food wine in the world. It has good weight without being overwhelming and is well balanced with enough tannic structure and acidity to work well with many different dishes. An exceptional way to end my week.

Il Grigio

Seriously Good Sangiovese

Di-Majo-Norante-Sangiovese........._thumbThis is my favourite Sangiovese right now.  It is produced by Di Majo Norante which is a winery in Molise in the Center South of Italy.  Those of you who have read this blog before know that I have mentioned several of their other wines.  Wines from this region are of high quality and fairly inexpensive in the British Columbia market. So no wonder I love them.

Sangiovese is the most commonly planted red grape varietal in Italy.  There is great variation in climate from North to South Italy so most grapes only do well in certain regions.  Sangiovese is a more adaptable variety and so can thrive in different climates.  It is most commonly known as the grape of Tuscany being predominant in Chianti and many Super Tuscans.

Molise is quite a bit farther south and here the wine takes on a lushness not typical in an entry level wine from Tuscany.  On Tuesday at Zambris where I work as a Sommelier we are featuring this and four other wines from Molise and the neighboring region of Abruzzo.  Our guest for this evening will be Carmen d’ Onofrio Jr. who owns Stile wine company that imports this and many other fantastic Italian Wines.


Carmen’s father came from Molise and his mother came from Abruzzo.  They immigrated to Canada as many other southern Italians did to find a better life.  Stile wines was one of the first wine agencies in British Columbia to recognize the quality and value of wines from the south of Italy.  In fact the two wineries represented at our dinner, Di Majo Norante and Cantina Tollo from Abruzzo were the first two wineries represented by Stile.  And they are still represented twenty four years later!

You can buy this Sangiovese at many of the Government Liquor Stores in Victoria.  I buy mine at Fort and Foul Bay.  It sells for $13,99 before tax.

A Day in Wine Country

2014_06_UNSWORTH_RESTAURANT-7475-345x290This is where I had lunch yesterday.  If you didn’t know better you would think you were in Napa Valley.  It is not just the vista of the vineyard, but it is the rural feeling all around you combined with the sophistication of world class food and amazing wine.  This is the restaurant at Unsworth Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

Those of you who follow this blog may have detected a certain bias that I have for Old World Wines.  This is true because for me, Italian wines provide the best value and also are the best wines for the food at Zambris, a classically inspired Italian restaurant in Victoria B.C. where I am the Sommelier. I have to admit a prejudice for wines that are produced from vineyards that may have been in operation for over six hundred years.  Both the conditions and the culture seem to dictate a better class of wine.


Last summer my boss, who oddly enough is French, (from France!), came back from a visit to Unsworth vineyards raving about their Rose. Now given that he and I share the same bias for European wines this made me really sit up and take notice.  I was looking for a Rose since I was unable to find an Italian Rose I liked.  He felt that the Unsworth Rose was very close to those he loves from France.  This was recommendation enough for me to bring it on my list for the summer..

2014_Rose-510x600I do really like this Rose.  But yesterday at lunch in the vineyard where it is made, paired with some really exquisite small plates, I absolutely loved it!.  We are all creatures of our senses.  And I don’t just mean our palates.  Sitting at their restaurant, looking out over their vineyard, hearing the chickens that were scattered through the yard and smelling the fresh clean air of the Cowichan Valley gave an added dimension to my food and wine experience.

This wine will be back on my list this summer so of course I want you to come to Zambri’s and drink it.  But if you are in the Cowichan Valley don’t miss a chance to experience this and their other beautiful wines in the fantastic restaurant at Unsworth Vineyards. Oh yes, I believe you can purchase the wine at Cook St. Wines but if you go on their website they will let you know where else it is available on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland.  A great value at under $20.00 a bottle.

Elio Altare Dolcetto – Struggle in a Glass

Last week Zambris hosted a wine dinner featuring a Dolcetto from Elio Altare in Piemonte.


This grape, (Dolcetto), has long been one of my favourites and one that is often ignored as people tend to think of the more famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Piemonte. Yet nothing can compare to the elegance and balance of a good quality Dolcetto.  And while most Barolo and Barbaresco wines need to age, this 2012 Dolcetto is drinking beautifully right now. Although it is not a weighty wine our Chef, Peter Zambri, served it with two kinds of lamb, one in a very rich sauce and it stood up to these extracted flavours beautifully.

Elio Altare

At 29.99 per bottle it is not the least expensive wine I have recommended here.  What this price represents, though, is a historic struggle, family feud and years of experimentation in modern winemaking techniques in a region very steeped in tradition.  As a young man, Elio Altare travelled to Burgundy to investigate winemaking techniques there.  He was so impressed that he came back and immediately began to implement them, literally taking a chainsaw to the Botte used in fermenting Barolo.  He felt these older large barrels were not the best vessel for this purpose and wanted to replace them with smaller, newer, french oak barrels. This outraged his father who disowned him. Yet Altare went on the lead a modernist revolution in the region, implementing new techniques and buying back his family lands bit by bit.

What the fuss was all about is very well portrayed in a new documentary just released called The Barolo Boys.

The Altare wines represent all those years of experimentation and struggle.  Nowadays most producers use a blend of modern and traditional techniques.  But without the  sacrifice of winemakers like Altare, fantastic wines like the Dolcetto would not exist.  When we question the price of a wine, or any unique product for that matter, we always need to think of the years of hard work that go into that product, often requiring a vast outlay of resources with little or no immediate compensation.

The only downside of this wine is that as far as I can tell it is not available on the shelves anywhere locally.  You can order it by the case from any liquor store and the code is 771139. It’s worth it!


Gruner Veltliner -Old World Charm in a Bottle

I love good quality white wine.  This week I came across one of my favorite grapes in a discounted wine at Fort and Foul Bay Liquor Store in Victoria.  The wine is called Singing Gruner Veltliner, (price reduced to 17.00).

SingingThis wine is medium to full bodied with a very nice long zippy finish. Gruner Veltliner is the most famous grape of Austria. This one is made by Laurenz Moser and his daughter Sophie, hence the label.  They call it Singing because of that nice finish that seems to sing in your mouth. I love this photo of the two of them in their vineyard.

LaurenzV and SophieWhat really struck me about this wine is its kind of laid back informality in the label and the name.  The first time I was truly introduced to the beautiful Gruner Veltliner grape it was in quite a different format.  One that to me signified the difference between the old world style of doing business and how business is usually conducted on the west coast of Canada.

A gentleman, (there is really no other word for him), came into Zambri’s to sell me wine.  This is not an unusual occurrence as I am the Sommelier there.  What was unusual was his appearance.  He was short of stature yet very formally dressed in a suit including shirt, vest and coat. He was Austrian with a pronounced accent.  Although he did not wear a Tyrolean hat, one would not have looked out of place on him,

Tyrolean Hat

He introduced himself very formally and politely asked if he could pour me a taste of his wine.  The day was very hot and during the course of the tasting he began to perspire slightly.  He then asked my permission for him to remove his jacket. Asked my permission!

Even though I usually only carry Italian wines I did bring his beautiful wines on my list for a time.  The wines were outstanding but what really struck me were his manners.  Old world style that shines through in wine that is naturally beautiful without showiness.  Wine that doesn’t leap out of the glass at you but rather allows you to savor it slowly.  Wine that improves and changes over time as you get to know it. Much like how relationships should progress. In business and elsewhere.

Picpoul de Pinet -the best value around in a French Wine

Terre de Neptune Picpoul de Pinet Languedoc France 2011

As I was scanning the shelves at Cascadia Liquor Store in Victoria B.C., my eye was caught by this wine.  My wife loves French Wines and I am always on the lookout for good value wines.  At $16.00 including tax this seemed like a very good price.  Not only that, but this wine is in their Best Buys section where you can get 5% off if you buy a case. (This is the Cascadia store in Uptown Mall, I am not sure if the same applies at all the stores.)

The wine is called Terre de Neptune and the grape in it is Pipoul.  It is from the Languedoc region in the south of France. and the AOC is called Picpoul de Pinet. We tried this wine as an aperitif and with our first course which was frutti di mare featuring clams, mussels, shrimp and octopus with farro grain which was an antipasti that I had taken home from Zambris, ( the restaurant where I work as a Sommelier). It was perfect!.  When steely cold right out of the fridge it was very refreshing but as it began to warm up it became more velvety and aromatic.  I think it could work really well with spicy food as well.Pic poulI realized as I picked this wine up, that the reason it caught my eye is because Picpoul was one of the grapes I was tested on when I took my Sommelier exam many years ago.  I have a funny feeling that I actually remember this name because I failed to get it right on the exam.  As a relatively obscure grape it just did not stay in my memory.  Now why do we more often remember our mistakes than our successes?  I couldn’t tell you the name of the grapes that I did remember.  Well, that is another blog.

Run out and Buy this Wine

ramitello-di-majo-norante-2011-209469-label-1415129659Last week I described an incredible value wine from Di Majo Norante in Molise called Contado Aglianico.  This wine costs 24.99 but is well worth it as it is a Tre Bichierri wine which is the highest Italian Wine Award.  Much to my surprise I stumbled across another wine from the same producer which had dropped in price from 21.99 to 13.99! It is called Ramitello and it is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico.  I have had this wine on my list before and felt it was incredible value.  lt is rich and spicy with just enough structure to make it interesting. While it is not the blockbuster wine that the Contado is, it is a great wine to drink everyday with dinner. You can bet I am! Just one cautionary note.  This is the price I paid at Fort St. LDB in Victoria.  It is still listed as 21.99 on the website so this price is likely temporary.

Di Majo Norante