Friday, March 25, 2011

Venturi-Schulze Tantalizes Crossfit Zone - The Art of the Marilyn Story!

Crossfit 102

Saturday, March 19, 2011
7:00 p.m.

The Crossfit Zone ( community is just that. A group of great people, who love pushing themselves to that threshold athletically in the gym and aiming always for the best, but who outside of the gym enjoy wonderful camaraderie, fun and good times as well. I wrote a little while ago about Wine 101, hosted at the home of two of the members which ran through seven of the main grape varietals and gave everyone a chance to experience a little of the wine world.

This time, I was privileged enough to host the group. I decided that we instead of tasting across varietals from different countries and vineyards, that we would highlight one winery/vineyard, and thus one winemaker, and would experience different wines from the same vineyard. Who we would highlight was really quite an easy decision. One of the oldest wineries on Vancouver Island, is the family run Venturi-Schulze ( Marilyn Venturi (nee: Schulze) and Giordano Venturi along with Marilyn’s daughter Michelle Schulze, have created a labour of love in the Cowichan Valley. They have exacting standards, grow their grapes without chemicals and do much of the work around the vineyard themselves. They are famous not only for their wonderful wines, but they craft amazing balsamic vinegar, with starter that Giordano brought from his hometown of Modena, Italy in 1970.

Marilyn is the consummate storyteller, and we were so lucky that she was our guide through the wines of the winery for the evening. We started with the Brut Naturel KS Cuvée 2008 (available at Spinnakers Liquor Store in James Bay or direct from winery $35). Marilyn had ensured that she brought proper sparkling wine glasses from home, and explained to us why once we all had a glass in our hands. The wine formed a layer of bubbles at the top of the liquid in the glass. Upon first sip, the bubbles were responsible for a smooth and creamy sensation on the palette. It was like drinking a rich drink, with tiny bubbles that tickled you. Certainly having had a few sparkling wines in my time, this tasted like a very expensive French champagne, and really I am not a huge sparkling fan. It was not sweet and not dry, it was ‘just right’ as the Three Bears would say. Marilyn did explain that the old wives tale that sparkling wine goes to your head faster than non sparkling is actually true. The carbon dioxide causes some sphincter to stay open and for the wine to flow into the stomach faster and thus into the bloodstream faster. Regardless, it was yummy, and my feeling was, let this get to my bloodstream as fast as it wants, it tastes wonderful! Venturi-Schulze does not use any sulphites in their sparkling or any additional sugars. The wine actually ferments in the bottle until ready for drinking. With this wine, we had some pork and beef sliders with Italian seasonings, a garlic aioli, avocado and tomato. It was the haute cuisine, Crossfit version of a burger and beer!!

So onto wine #2. Ah yes, the 2009 Indigo( Spinnakers Liquor Store James Bay or from the winery $27). This was a special wine for the evening. Why, you might ask? Well we had no oysters…the aphrodisiac of choice on the west coast, so instead we had Marilyn bring the Venturi-Schulze version, this wine. Marilyn explained to us all that with some men, and women, this wine brought out the “tiger”, but not for everyone. It seemed that after tasting this one everyone remained around the group, but no accounting for what may have gone on later in the night! This wine had some definite fruit at the front, described by a few people as mandarin oranges. It was not overly sweet, but had enough fruit in it to just make you sing Yummy! It was definitely a favourite in the crowd, hopefully for all the right reasons!!. With this wine we had lasagna cupcakes. Marilyn had indicated before the tasting that the Indigo would be great with Bechamel sauce. The lasagna cupcake was an attempt to infuse that sort of flavour to be paired with the wine. It was layers of wonton wrappers that substituted for the pasta, with marinara and mozzarella, provolone and parmesan cheese, with some spinach too. The final layer was a piping of ricotta and cream cheese with some nutmeg stirred in to give that béchamel type taste. The wine and the cupcake worked well together and really brought the floral qualities of the wine out.

The stories behind the wines from Venturi-Schulze are a wonderful part of trying their wines. Having Marilyn tell the stories makes them all that much more compelling. Even the names of the wines, often random in their nature, are interesting. The third wine was the Felino, which is named for a small town near where Giardano Venturi, the winemaker, grew up. The wine itself is a bright and crisp white. The Pinot Gris in it lend some wonderful fruit overtones. The orange citrus is a wonderful flavour, while the acidity of the grapes blended well with the barbecued ribs that I served with this wine. The ribs disappeared in no time, just like the wine, which was obviously a fan favourite. The ribs had been cooked for a few hours in Phillips Slipstream ale with a little maple syrup and a whole lot of spices. Their slight sweetness and spice blended well with the wine.

Pinot Noirs, as highlighted in Sideways, the movie, have earned a cult following. Generally, my experience is that either people really love them or they just do not care for them all that much. When presented with the Venturi-Schulze version, really, it is hard not to love it. Their pinot noir has the earthiness typical of many pinots, but the fruit forwardness of the wine tantalizes the tongue immediately and the smooth tannins make it a wine that slides down the gullet very easily. Giardano has done a masterful job of taking what was a difficult year of grapes in 2007 and crafting what is an amazing bottle of wine.  The common comment as the wine was poured was: “Oh I can smell the farm”! To me the sign of  a great pinot noir is the farm – you can smell it and then the fruit just takes you away. That is exactly how I felt with this one. It was cherries and blackberries on the tongue, and then melted away beautifully with smooth tannins and a full bodied finish. Obviously well crafted and engineered by the winemaker. With no malolactic fermentation, this really is a wine to behold. I only wish I could get a chance to try the reserve version as well, which sounds absolutely divine. With this pinot, I served some braised beef in Indian spices on a fresh mini-naan bread with a cilantro pesto yogurt sauce. The spices worked well with the smoothness of the grapes and really brought out the sugars and the fruit. Would definitely pair these together again.

The final wine of the night was the absolute best story. The Brandenburg Number 3 has recently been voted best local after dinner drink by Monday Magazine. Marilyn gave us the entire story behind it, and really given the current movie climate out there it was so a propos. A story of Giardano and his shyness and stuttering, and his amazing afternoon as a youngster sipping the fermented juice destined to make Balsamic vinegar in Modena. He, similarly decided to craft Brandenburg Number 3 in the same way, and he has done so SO successfully. A wonderful nectar full of sugars, yet dry in some senses, that just rolls of the tongue and tantalizes every taste bud.
It was like having a caramel treat, when your mother is not looking. Just that yummy and that decadent, but so accessible. I paired two very diametrically opposed dishes with this wine to showcase its diversity. We had both a chicken curry with Basmati rice simmered for a few hours, with some fresh cilantro and caramelized ginger as well as an orange, fennel, almond biscotti handcrafted in my oven, and providing just that hint of dessert that accents a wine like this o well. Really the wine tastes all that more amazing after you hear Marilyn tell the whole story of its origin, but really, just get a bottle and find that special someone and sit down, and drink the whole thing….it is divine!

That was it for the wine, but Marilyn is so generous that she brought some verjus as well as the infamous Balsamic vinegar for all to taste as well. She crafted , well actually her daughter Michelle Crafted a sorbet from the verjus, which is the not so sweet raw juice of harvested grapes. Wonderful to cook with, and as Marilyn mentioned to de-glaze a pan with, when cooking, well ANYTHING! Even raw, the verjus had a wonderful grape flavour and just that sourness that makes eating a pickle so wonderful. 

The balsamic, made from starter that Giardano brought from Modena in 1970 was amazing. It had a subtle sweetness to it, that would lend it to be distributed wonderfully over some fresh tomatoes with fresh cracked pepper, just as well as it would be over some great real vanilla ice cream. It would be the highlight in either instance. This vinegar is true and wonderful. The true foodie will appreciate just how wonderful it is and how it can accent so much that you create in the kitchen.

So, in the end, what an amazing evening. We had story upon story from Marilyn, wonderful wine, some great food to go along and of course the camaraderie of the Crossfit group. Even Marilyn commented afterwards about the wild Crossfit group, and the nurturing atmosphere created. If you get a chance make an appointment and get up to Venturi-Schulze Vineyard. These guys know what they are doing, do it with love, do it with care and do it because they know what they are doing – absolutely stellar!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just Shiraz you say.....Pity!!

When friends invite you over for a blind shiraz tasting there is only one thing to do, go with wings on! So it went for a BLIND shiraz tasting. It was well-organized and formally conducted. Here were the rules of the game. Everyone had to arrive with a light appetizer and a bottle of shiraz. There were no rules for the shiraz, could be at any price point and could be from any country. The key was, of course, that the shiraz deemed as the best would win a prize. That being said, the one liked least would get a booby prize too!

Each shiraz was secretly brought into the house, absconded and taken to a secret location where it was dressed with a jacket preventing anyone from knowing which wine was which! Once all the wines had arrived, between fabulous cheese plates from , who else the Cheese Chicks at Charellis, the tasting began. Each Shiraz was poured and individually we each rated the shiraz with a number between 0-100 and by making some additional notes.

The shiraz grape can be huge and fruit forward, especially when it comes to the Australian kind, but we had shirazes from France, Argentina, Italy, South Africa and Australia. The complexity of the wines varied as did the heaviness.

In the end, the amazing happened. Every single person chose the same wine as their favourite. From a group of 10 people, this is relatively uncommon. The Shiraz most preferred by the group was the 2008 Nederburg Shiraz. For a wine selling in the Fort and Foul Bay Liquor store for $12.99 that is a big comment. It beat out other shirazes from Australia in the $30-40 range.

The next best wines were all very close in the end. One of the top contenders was The D'Arenberg Wild Pixie 2008 which is a shiraz with a little Rousanne grape mixed in. It sells for $29.99 at the Fort and Foul Bay Liquor store. The wine that seemed to be lieast liked was from an Italian Vineyard and was called the Cusumano. It sells for $17.99 at the Fort and Foul Bay Liquor Store!

Nevertheless, the fun of the blind tasting and then discovering the wines was fabulous! The cheese was wonderful, and the company was even more terrific. Another excellent wine night!