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Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival: The F-Word Wine Seminar

The setting for the seminar on fortified winesThe program notes for the seminar tell me that the F-Word in the context of this wine seminar stands for "fabulous and flexible flavours of fortified wines" - and the wines, with the food pairings, delivered on this promise.

Growing up in Cape Town in the seventies, I was accustomed to sherry being the usual offering as a pre-dinner apéritif, and port being offered with dessert and cheeses.

Perhaps because I enjoy the richness and complexity of sherry and port so much, the wild and wonderful concoctions dreamed up by our talented mixologists have not displaced my preference for sherry as an apéritif. 

Other than having a vague concept that sherry was named for Jerez in the sherry producing southern region of Spain and port  for Oporto in the Duoro valley in Portugal, and that I enjoy drinking both types of wine, my knowledge about the subject of fortified wine was very limited. So when studying the 2011 Vancouver Wine Festival brochure this seminar immediately caught my eye and I called early to make sure I could get a ticket.

It was obviously a popular topic. There must have been at least 60 people attending.

sipping the Nutty Solera Oloroso reception wine On entering the meeting room we were given a glass of the reception wine, Nutty Solera Oloroso. And there right away from my first lesson - two new terms for me. Solera and Oloroso.

I thought to myself I have to find the time to take the next two levels of  the WSET course - somehow for each new session I have been out of town and would have missed at least a third of the classes. But now that my dance cruises are of necessity on hold for a while ...

At each place setting there were an additional 5 wines  already poured. I thought I had better go very easy on the sipping if I wanted my notes to be remotely coherent but the wines were so great that I found it difficult to stick to my resolution. My notes gradually got less and less legible. If any errors crept into my jottings, then please feel free to comment and correct me. So here goes:

My advance reading had refreshed the basic information I had about the topic. Fortified wines are wines to which a distilled beverage, usually brandy, is added to increase the alcohol content. Their origin is said to date back to the 16th century when wines shipped by sea, went off and became undrinkable. The addition of extra alcohol as a preservative prevented this.  Later as consumers developed a taste for the different flavours of these fortified wines, certain regions in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal developed their unique styles; the names of these wines were later protected by Appellation of Controlled Origin status - so that only products from those regions can bear that appellation. Hence Sherry for Jerez, the main town in the sherry producing region of Spain, Port from the Oporto in the Douro region of Portugal, Marsala from the area around the town of Marsala in Sicily, Madeira from the Madeira islands of Portugal. Vermouth is a fortified wine flavoured with aromatic herbs and spices, and ranging in style from dry, as used in martinis,  to very sweet. The name derives from the German "vermut" for wormwood - a bitter herb used in some vermouths and absinthe.  Not included today as beyond the scope of  this seminar.

When everyone was seated the session got under way. Moderator DJ Kearney, Vancouver based wine educator and chef kicked off the session by introducing the panel of Winery Principals and Chefs.

DJ Kearney moderates the seminarthe panel of winery principals and chefsIn order from left to right they were Felipe Gonzales-Gordon; Christiano van Zeller; Chef Blair Rasmussen, Executive Chef of the Vancouver Convention Centre; Pierre Adrien Fleurant; David Guimaraens; Chef Dino Renaerts Owner/Executive Chef  of Fraiche;  Miquel Roquette;  Chef Julian Bond, Executive Chef /Program Director Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts; Chef Tony Lawrence President /Owner A Chef for You -Philadelphia.

Felipe talked first about the reception wine, the Nutty Solera Oloroso, and then Christiano talked about the Manzanilla Pasade Pastrana.  Here's what I took from their presentations on sherry.

Manzanilla Westcoast QuartetThere are two main styles of sherry, Fino  or Oloroso. Fino style is pale, very dry and should be served chilled. It is a delicate or fragile wine that should be finished within a week of opening. Manzanilla is a Fino style sherry.

They talked about the solera system for ageing fortified wines. It consists of stacked casks  of wines with the oldest vintage on the bottom and newer vintages stacked sequentially for many layers.  By tapping a fraction from the bottom cask, and then replenishing it from the next level, and so on, they can blend different vintages to achieve a consistency in the quality of the sherry.

I  enjoyed the  Nutty Solera Oloroso from  Gonzalez  Byass. The Manzanilla Pasade Pastrana was far too dry for me.  So I just had a sip and  turned my attention to Chef Kearney's food offering which she called  a Westcoast Manzanilla Quartet.

The quartet - which should really have been called a quintet, consisted of  Manchego cheese, a sheep's milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain, crunch Kettle Potato Chips, Maldon salted almonds, chorizo from Oyama Sausage Company at Granville Island and a large olive which I donated to my friend sitting next to me. I don't know how I can enjoy olive oil and tapenade but just can't eat whole olives.  Strange.

Chef Blair Rasmussen's seared foie gras and chocolate/pepper moleNext Pierre talked about the M. Chapoutier Banyuls 2008 - a fortified wine from the Catalan Pyrenees in the Roussillon county of France. I was especially interested in his talk as I had spent a wonderful week in the Languedoc Rousillon area in 2006 doing a course on Food and Travel Writing with Angela Murrills.  At the time I was writing for another website and when my account of London and the Languedoc was migrated over to ReviewFromTheHouse, I lost most of the images of the glorious markets and scenery.

With the Banyuls, Chef Rasmussen served us seared foie gras, with a Grand Cru Chocolate and Esplette Pepper mole.

I absolutely love foie gras - check out the foie gras platter from Paradou in New York - and I wished there was a subtle way to pretend I did not get a plate , but alas the servers were too on the ball.

We had a little lecture on mole which I thought was just another name for sauce in Spanish. Chef Rasmussen told us that moles date back to pre-Mayan times. For this mole chocolate was blended with onion, ginger, Moroccan spices and espelette pepper. He used Grand Cru chocolate from the Valrhona in the Rhone Valley of France.

Their Grand Cru brand is made from chocolate beans from the same geographical area -in this case Honduras. They also make Vintage chocolates in which case the beans come from a single harvest year. Fascinating.

Chef Dino Rennaerts blue cheese, prosciutto and fig flanThe fourth offering was the Fonseca Guimaraens 10 year Tawny Port. David talked about Vintage or ruby port versus tawny or nutty port which is blended from different vintages by the winemaker.

Chef Dino Rennaerts gave us a blue cheese, prosciutto and fig flan. The dried figs were reconstituted with red wine and port and reduced to a thick gastrique. Spanish and local blue cheese were mixed and served with the prosciutto.

By this time the combination of intense flavours, and many sips of fortified wine were  making my writing progressively less and less legible. But I continued to scribble my notes in the hope that as I would be totally sober when I read them, they would be decipherable.

Chef Julian Bond's frozen cherry & dried plum lolly with 70% Cocoa "Pop rocks'Up next was Miguel  with Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port 2008. The Quinta (estate) is in the heart of the Douro on the North bank of the Doure River. They make 85% red wine and 15% port. The oldest vintage dates to 1887.

He commented that 2007 was an outstanding year for Vintage Port - 2008 an average year.  I really liked this port so I can't imagine how much better the 2007 would be.

Chef Julian Bond served up frozen cherry & dried plum lolly with 70% Cocoa 'Pop rocks'.  I think that he said that the sour cherry was made into a fruit leather and star anise and cinnamon added to the dried sugar - but I was too busy actually admiring the pictures and enjoying the taste to grasp exactly  what he said. Oh those illegible notes.

cherry and rhubarb bread puddingNext up was Julie with a Fine Old Muscat from Buller Wines in Victoria, Australia. Dessert Wines and Ice wines being my collector's passion, I had more than a few sips.

To accompany the Muscat , Chef Tony Lawrence created a cherry and rhubarb bread pudding with twin sauces of an English Stilton Vanilla Milk Shake Coulis and a Toffee Raisin Citrus Gastrique.  It was finished with fresh mint and candied almonds.  Bread pudding is not a favorite dessert of mine but this was tart and tasty. However I spent nearly as much time trying to decide which of the two sauces I preferred  as sipping the Muscat.

All in all this was an excellent seminar. I learned a lot despite the sipping. Next day I would be going to the Flavours of the Festival brunch (see Part I and Part II) and I looked forward to more great pairings of food and wine.