Saturday, December 18, 2010

Neighbourhood Christmas Dine Around

Local media is always telling us about some major publication that names Vancouver as one of the most livable cities in the world - as if we need the affirmation of something that we all already know. One of the strongest arguments that Boo and I have in making such a sweeping assertion is not the water and mountains but our incredible neighbours.

We live in a trio of duplexes that were built at the same time and, accordingly, a new little neighbourhood cadre of sorts sprang up at that time. That was a full eight years ago now and we've seen a few changes in faces and addresses, but the neighbours have always stayed a great crew. To the extent that some still hang around after they've moved on and others in neighbouring houses (not one of our duplexes) do what's necessary to join the gang.

You know you've made it into our crowd when you get invited to participate in the annual Christmas Dine Around. Back in the "early days," we started an annual tradition that's carried on for eight years now. During the holiday season, we have a "dine around" where we spend between 30 minutes and an hour (when we can keep to schedule) in each of the homes. Everyone serves up nibblies and cocktails and we all get to snoop and see what changes or renovations have occurred since last year.

Scheduling has always proved to be a bit of a task with multiple families to coordinate in December. We've normally gone with the first Sunday in December since the silly season isn't usually in full swing by then. The event is so established now, however, that the gang proposed a Saturday night - and the one just a week before Christmas. It was put out there that, if the Dine Around is a highlight of the year's social scene, it deserves a prime night - and that having it on a Saturday would let us drink longer into the early hours.

That last little bit about drinking "into the early hours" can prove to be a bit hazardous to the morning after. With seven households all serving up a variety of foods AND DRINKS, it's a wise man that watches that he doesn't mix too many martinis with wines with scotches that are followed up by specialty beer chasers. One thing the evening allows me is a chance to add more than a couple bottles to The List. I always enjoy seeing what wines other people choose to serve. Due to the sheer volume (and my desire to function the next morning), I didn't try all the wines but I did get to the five that follow.

670. 2008 Gray Monk Pinot Blanc (VQA Okanagan Valley)

A nice little way to start off the evening with Marquis and Red's oyster bar. Not being one of the original six couples, I get the feeling that they think they're still auditioning for the crew because they always have an incredible spread. I know it's just because they love cooking and entertaining, but it might be worth it to keep up the whole "auditioning" ruse.

I don't have much time to go into the wines themselves on a post like this, but I'll have to come back to Gray Monk because there are a number of interesting stories to tell about this pioneer of BC wineries. It's one of the Northernmost wineries in the province, located just above the 50th Parallel. The grapes for this Pinot Blanc are grown in both the North and South Okanagan. It was a fine match for the oysters and a fine start to the evening.

671. 2007 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso (IGT Rosso del Veronese - Italy)

Finding out what Arty400 and Baby Mama serve up is fun because he regularly meets up with and gets wine tips from Barbara Phillips, one of Canada's few accredited Wine Masters. They didn't let us down. I'm a little surprised that this Ripasso hasn't been added to The List already since I'm always on the lookout for a fine Ripasso. It was tough not to over-indulge in the assorted gourmet pizzas and wine abounding, but it was only the second stop.

672. 2008 Quinta de Aveleda Vinho Verde (D.O.C. Vinho Verde - Portugal)

It was just as tough not to stick to the Buffalo Grass Vodka that was being sipped on at Haggis and Cupcake's place. They were last year's newest additions to the neighbourhood and we still included them this year despite their threat to serve an actual haggis last year. A sip of the vodka was interesting but I had to give the Vinho Verde its due since it allows me to add a couple new varietals to my Wine Century Club application. The winery's website says that the Vinho Verde is a blend of the "most notorious varietals of the region." "Notorious," I like that. 90% of the blend is made of Loueiro (60%) and Trajadura (30%) with the balance being Alvarinho. Adding two new varietals is a bit like being given a little Christmas present.

Not only do we get to sample such goodies as oysters on the half shell, fish tacos, pizza and stews, but we get to check out the year's renovations and seasonal decorations. Danchuk outdid himself with his collection of hanging neon balls. You'd swear the guy did decoration for a living or something.

Our biggest "discovery" for this year though was the fact that we decided to open the neighbourhood parameters even wider and "audition" the new boys across the lane. Mr. Principal and Nature Boy seem to have what it takes to keep us amused and most of us had never been in their house yet. So, it was a good chance to enjoy their company and see their house.

673. 2008 Little Yering Pinot Noir (South-East Australia)

The Pinot was the red that the boys opened to serve with their seafood curry. I didn't mind seeing the bottle at all as it brought back memories of Boo's and my visit to the Yering Station winery when we last visited Merlot Boy in Melbourne. Although the winery is in the "cool" climated Yarra Valley (doesn't that show how relative "cool" is as a descriptor) and the wine is designated as such on the label, this vintage saw 14% of the grapes sourced from the Adelaide Hills to flesh out the profile. A simple, light bodied wine, it's a far cry from the bigger fruit bomb Pinots that sometime show up from Oz, I think I might stick to Yering Station's more premium label or stay with BC or Kiwi Pinots though.

The boys had the Canucks playing big and projected at their place; so, that alone likely gets them back next year in my book.

674. N.V. Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port (Portugal)

Boo and I drew one of the dessert stops this year. In my book, that calls for my old fave, a bread pudding that's been adapted from a New Orleans School of Cooking recipe. And just to show how well-behaved I was being on the booze front, we offered a red, a white, homemade eggnog and Port, but I only opted for the Port - even with another two bottles crying out to be added to The List.

I guess the redeeming points of that control were no hangover and another two grapes varietals to be added to the Wine Century Club - on top of the two from the Vinho Verde. Since the Graham's even calls this Port "Six Grapes," I should be able to add all six to my application list. Four of them - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Tinta Barroca - have already been counted, that leaves Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cao. A little unplanned Christmas present to myself.

I don't want to go on about the bread pudding but I did have two people ask for the recipe.

We had a final stop with Rock God and Shameless Hussy, but you can't visit them and go with wine. It was a little late for a martini, but I just asked the Hussy to up the juice level in one of her trademark cocktails for me. We didn't quite last through cigars and Scotch, but the Saturday staging did allow a lot more leisure in moving from home to home.

And what more could you ask for? It doesn't get much better than this. Vancouver MUST be the best place in the world to live - or is that East Vancouver?

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