Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dine Out For Life

For years now, Boo and I have participated in Dining Out For Life. After 17 years, it's now BC's biggest restaurant fundraising event and it has actually spread out continent-wide. The Vancouver and Lower Mainland Region currently has close to 250 participating restaurants - large and small - and all of them donate 25% of all food sales on this special day to two of Boo's and my favourite charities - A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life - to assist their efforts to provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. Over $3 million has been donated throughout these years.

This year, I decided to try and ramp up our participation a notch. Scott and Stephanie Jaeger of The Pear Tree Restaurant offered to work in tandem with me and gave me the opportunity to take all the reservations and fill the restaurant with friends, family and colleagues. This was an especially generous offer by Scott and Stephanie because The Pear Tree isn't the largest of restaurants and it had just been named as having both the Best Food and Best Service in Zagat's Vancouver Restaurants Survey. That was just one of a number of culinary awards that the restaurant has reeled in. Accordingly, reservations can be hard to come by.

I'm thrilled to say that the evening was a grand success. There was a great turnout - particularly since no less than a dozen of my closest drinking buddies (who regularly grace this blog) were all out of town for one reason or another. Luckily, as regular readers might have assessed, I've got lots of drinking pals and the likes of Vixen, Miss Jaq, The Boss and Tyrant were all great sports and made the trek to help out.

I ended up spending much of the evening liaising between tables and touting the charities, but all that work called for some liquid sustenance and, thankfully, we managed to pick a couple of bottles from the comprehensive wine list.

1091. 2009 Descendientes de J. Palacios - Petalos (D.O. Beirzo - Spain)

I recall seeing Petalos previously but it must have been prior to starting this blog because I didn't find it on The List yet - or maybe I just saw it at a tasting event somewhere along the line and didn't finish off a bottle. In any event, Stephanie recommended it as a nice place to start the evening as it was light enough to sip on before we really got into dinner.

Made from the Mencia varietal, it's not a wine or grape that many people will have come across before. Mostly found in the Bierzo region in North-Western Spain, it's only recently that the region's winemakers have started modernizing their production standards and making a wine that was poised to turn some heads outside local borders. As Toronto wine writer, Beppi Crosariol, recently wrote in the Globe and Mail newspaper - the Mencia varietal "justifiably languished in obscurity" for centuries.

Crosariol went on to sing Palacios' praises and write that "Spanish wine cognoscenti are wise to it, extolling its bright fruit, food-friendly acidity and pretty, herbal-floral overtones. Imagine a cross between delicate Pinot Noir, crisp Cabernet Franc and savoury cool-climate Syrah from France's Rhône Valley and you get a vague and enticing picture. Ancient, uncommon and complex, yet light on its feet, it's a wine geek's wine."

I won't try to expand on his wordsmithing; it's probably enough to say that Palacios is likely the best known producer in the region and has played as big a role and any winery in making a name for the Mencia grape.

I think it's pretty fair to say that Stephanie was correct in her assessment of the wine being a good place to start. It was easy enough to drink on its own and it matched up nicely with Scott's excellent dishes once they started arriving at our table. Between the four of us, our dinners included an assortment of Dungeness Crab and Sungold Tomato Broth, Spot Prawn Cappuccino, Carmelized Scallops with Smoked Bacon Risotto, Pork Belly with Spot Prawn Cassoulet and Braised Short Rib with Celeriac Puree and Couscous.

It makes might mouth water just typing out the courses.

1092. 2006 Barossa Valley Estate - Ebenezer Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Once again, I figured it can't hurt to give a nod to one of the wineries that we hope to visit during our vacation. I've met BVE's winemaker of many years, Stuart Bourne, on a number of occasions when he's passed through Vancouver to promote his wines - and to drink a bit of our local beer and wine. Wouldn't you know that, as soon as we're going to have a chance to try and hook up with him on his own stomping grounds, he's left BVE and gone to take up the chief winemaker's position at another of Barossa's big guns - Château Tanunda.

Around our place, we tend to focus on BVE's E&E Black Pepper Shiraz and Sparkling E&E - not that their hefty price tags permit us to "focus" on them very often. I think this might be the first bottle of Ebenezer that we've opened. This is BVE's second tier label and it might have to compete with E&E for all the press, but it's definitely still got a big personality of its own - just like its winemaker, Stuey B. - and the $40 it hits you back seems a bit more reasonable.

I noted that our table certainly enjoyed it. I went to chat up a few of the other tables for a bit and, much to my dismay, I returned to an empty bottle. Guess I'll just have to come with another occasion to celebrate when the new vintage hits our market.

I'll use this forum to send out another big thanks to everyone who attended the evening. I hope that everyone enjoyed themselves as much as we did. The overall numbers were a ways off from being tallied and/or announced but I know that A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life will be grateful for all the donations and will put those funds to great use.

I'd be remiss in not publicly thanking Tyrant for his donation of a bottle of 1977 Dow's Vintage Port and The Guru for giving us a couple of older BC wines. All tolled, our little silent auction raised an additional $500 for the charities - with the Port alone bringing in $200. Obviously, Scott and Stephanie deserve big kudos for helping create such a special evening for everyone that attended.

Here's hoping that this becomes a bit of an annual affair. Maybe I'll see you there.

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