GIFT GUIDE Wine pros pick their presents
t can be tricky when it comes to giving gifts to the wine enthusiasts in our lives. From sweatshirts shouting “Mama needs some wine” to Golden Girls wine charms (yes, they’re a thing!), wine seems to be one of those categories where any related gifts are destined for regifting, the back of a cupboard, or the recycling bin.
To assemble a quality handful of worthy items for this gift-guide edition of the Straight, I called up a few wineindustry pros to get their takes on what they’d like to find under the tree.
Van Doren Chan is resident sommelier and consultant at That’s Life Gourmet, a national wine-import company specializing in sake and premium bottlings from all around Europe. Beyond that, she is the co-owner of Ugly Dumpling on Commercial Drive. The newish buzzy eatery has an ever-changing menu featuring innovative takes on Asian street food, plus a well-considered list of sherry, sake, craft beer, and wine, natch.
She likes the idea of a glass sangria jug with ice-tube insert, an array of which can be found on Amazon. Not only do they work well in eliminating worry about melting ice diluting the fruity concoction, but in a pinch, the vessel can double as a wine decanter!
Over in Gastown, Siôn Iorwerth is the guy behind Juice Bar at the Birds and the Beets. It was originally a weekly Wednesday-evening pop-up wine bar featuring natural wines and a rotating roster of guest chefs offering a compact menu of snacks. Now it has evolved into a four-day weekly residency, running Wednesdays through Saturdays from 6 p.m. onward.
Iorwerth went a bit of a studious route, choosing British wine writer Jamie Goode’s book Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine.
“It’s a comprehensive book on the topic and would be invaluable to anyone getting into wine,” he told me. “It really helps you understand and put into words what you’re tasting but also makes it clear not all flaws are necessarily bad things.”
Kitsilano Wine Cellar’s general manager and wine buyer, Taylor Douglas, also opted for reading material, recommending a subscription to the U.k.–based Noble Rot magazine. Published three times per year, the coffee-table worthy journal features a mix of wine and food writing. As its website states, it “has seen chefs Pierre Koffmann, Fergus Henderson and Yotam Ottolenghi rubbing shoulders with Keira Knightley, Caitlin Moran, Brian Eno and Francis Ford Coppola, blurring the boundaries between gastronomy and the creative arts”.
Lesia Knowlton is the portfolio and marketing manager at Trialto, a western Canadian wine-importing company bringing us wines from global legends such as Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata and Felton Road from New Zealand. “Great food and wine pairings offer hedonistic pleasure for me; there’s nothing better to experience than a curated meal with wine that balances the flavours and profile of the dish,” she shares. “When I think of giving a gift to a fellow wine lover, I think of enjoying the experience and engaging in that exact pleasure: wellprepared food and wonderful wine creating harmony.”
She pointed out a couple of upcoming food-and-wine experiences at the Dirty Apron Cooking School. B.C. Dine & Vine: Wine and Food Pairings From Our Own Backyard ($170) is happening January 27, while Perfect Pairings: World Food and Wine Pairing ($170) goes down on February 24.
Finally, I looked toward the Okanagan Valley for our last recommendation, this one coming from Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars proprietor Christie Mavety.
“I really like the idea of gifting an experience,” she told me when reached by phone. “Experience Wine Tours do an incredible job guiding people around wine country; they’re very knowledgeable and put extra effort into curating a good mix of visits for their customers.”
Indeed, let’s not forget the Okanagan Valley is open for business throughout the winter! I called up Matt Wentzell, the proprietor of Experience Wine Tours, who said that Naramata tours continue to be popular during the winter season, and there’s always exciting stuff going on around Kelowna, too.
“We’ll head to Mission Hill Family Estate and do an in-depth tasting of some of their reserve or more premium wines,” he said. “We’ll do blind tastings at Sandhill, lunch at Quails’ Gate, maybe a couple other stops, and even cap things off at Vice & Virtue Brewing Co. The best part about touring in the winter, though, is we avoid the lineups synonymous with summer.”
Head to experiencewinetours.ca/ to sort out your options.
And, hey: for anyone who may have yours truly on their Christmas list, I’d heartily welcome any of the above!
FINDING BIG COUNTRY
A documentary by Kathleen S. Jayme. Rating unavailable
dBryant Reeves, a size-large, gingerhaired basketballer called “Big Country” by everyone during his collegiate rise and meteoric stint in the NBA soon after. One can safely say that Gans is one heckuva “country” town.
To people in this country, Reeves is famous—to the extent he’s remembered at all—for playing the whole six seasons that the Vancouver Grizzlies team was based here, before it abruptly moved to Memphis in 2001. (B-ball fans may be surprised to find that the loss-heavy team’s last game was a 95-81 win against the Golden State Warriors.)
Due to back pain and other injuries, Big Country didn’t even make it into the first season in Tennessee. Reportedly, he had to be taken off the Memphis court on two stretchers carried by eight teammates. His career in sports was over at the age of 28. But what’s he been doing since?
“For a seven-foot guy,” one of his colleagues from that time tells the camera here, “he’s done a pretty good job of hiding.” For Vancouver filmmaker Kathleen Jayme, finding Reeves was a long-time obsession, since he came to represent her childhood fascination with the game as well as her own short time as a serious player—in college, she washed out due to lack of height, not talent.
This lively, well-paced film is only 40 minutes long, so it’s not ruining too much suspense to say she was successful in finding him, and in documenting her journey along the way. The filmmaker and her subject are highly likable characters on-screen, and the movie, which won a major audience award at the last VIFF, serves as a kind of dual biography. Reeves comes across as a humble man, seemingly resigned to his brief time in the fluorescent sun. One must wonder, however, why Jayme wasn’t more interested in tackling some of the basic contradictions on offer. For example, how many ex-athletes who “really don’t miss the game”, as he claims, have their own pro-size basketball gym with a gigantic R circled at centre court?