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Divine times 

The SuperCity’s wine palate is finally starting to catch up with its exploding culinary scene. No longer confined to “house red” and “house white,” wine menus are expanding, wine bars are opening and local wineries are beginning to get the respect they deserve.

Education has been the key to unlocking our new grape love. A few years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a sommelier in a restaurant no matter how fine the dining, and the consumer selected bottles based on what looked familiar. Now, many restaurants have certified sommeliers to aid diners in making wine-food pairings. Plus, there are more wines by the glass and smaller “flights” to allow a sample without committing to a whole bottle.

Evidence of the rising popularity of wine is the turnout at the inaugural dinner (held November 17) of the new Halifax Food and Wine Club, formed by Valley Wine Tours, which celebrates local wineries by offering sommelier-guided tours of the wineries in the Annapolis Valley. Monthly dinners will be held in the Chef’s Room (formerly Alfredo’s, now the private banquet hall serviced by the Five Fishermen), and feature wines from different regions of the world, with expert guest speakers, and a matching menu.

If you’re thinking wine clubs are for the stodgy upper crust, think again. Wine’s appreciation by a younger market is evident in our host for the evening. Sean Buckland (Five Fishermen sommelier, co-owner Valley Wine Tours with fellow sommelier Mark DeWolf) is no preachy blowhard. The youthful Buckland looks like he’d be just as comfortable at a kegger as at a wine dinner; his enthusiasm for his craft is infectious and his sense of humour quickly removes any air of pretension.

We start with a few words from guests Bruce Ewert (a BC winemaker who’s relocated to our Gaspereau Valley) and Hans Christian Jost of Jost Vineyards; both men are interesting and their grape love overflows into the audience.

Ewert and Jost introduce the six wines, three red and three white, laid out before us. Nova Scotia’s Grand Pre, Sainte-Famille and the complex (and my favourite) white Jost Eagle Tree Muscat. Ewert made one of the reds, the Hawthorne Mountain Pinot Noir.

It certainly brings a new dimension to wine when you hear the winemaker discuss how his wine came to be. A brief discussion of each follows, and all seem well received by the group.

Given the venue and the size of the group (50 or so), I didn’t have high expectations for the food. Three courses later, I’ve been happily dispelled of the notion. The appetizer is a pair of king-sized prawns, in delicate tempura batter atop steamed bok choy, then a kiwi-strawberry sorbet palate cleanser, followed by the main course of either salmon or duck. The salmon fillets are huge, as are the duck breasts. Both are served atop vegetable puree and phyllo pastry wrapped around wild mushrooms and manchego cheese. Dessert, a Honeycrisp apple tart and pecan ice cream. The food is outstanding. And the wine continues to flow freely during dinner, finishing up with an incredible Jost Ortega ice wine.

At $95 per person (including tax and gratuity), the Halifax Food and Wine Club has provided patrons every bit their money’s worth. If you’re a wine lover on a smaller budget, or just want to see what’s going on in the wine world, you can still be a member of the club—it’s free, and there’s no obligation to attend dinners.

Halifax Food & Wine ClubValley Wine Tours 404-9463 info@valleywinetours.ca

Find Liz Feltham online at www.foodcritic.ca

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