Picking Grapes is a Scout series that asks wine professionals to map out their complex relationships with British Columbian wines by citing the ignition point of their interest and some of their favourite wineries.
Today we hear from Certified Sommelier and Wine Director at Elisa, Franco Michienzi. In his current role, Michienzi’s love of wine from around the world is on display via the Yaletown restaurant’s cellar bottle collection, which numbers in the high thousands. For this interview, though, he hones in on the local stuff that gets him excited…
What was the BC wine that you first fell in love with? Do you remember where you were? What were the circumstances?
Wow – it was way back in the early 2000’s when I was working at Araxi in Whistler. I was really into tasting classic wines from around the world. The Sommelier at that time was Chris Van Nus and he saw that I was super keen, so he let me taste as many as possible. He passed me a glass of wine and said, “Taste this.” I was really impressed. I had no idea where it was from…Turned out that it was one of the earliest vintages of Burrowing Owl Merlot. I thought to myself, ‘This is from BC?’
Which local winery are you most looking forward to visiting, and why?
I am not sure I can pick just one. Quails’ Gate are such great hosts, and their Founder Series range of wines is incredible. I would also like to visit with Shane at Martin’s Lane – his terroir-driven line up of wines are outstanding. A quick visit to Mt. Boucherie would also be something I would love to do. The change in winemaker and philosophy have, in my mind, changed them for the better. Their Modest series and Original Vines wines are delicious. I would also like to visit with Tyson from Fox and Archer. His wines are elegant, unpretentious and easy to drink.
Supporting small, BC businesses has become especially important these days. We know it’s difficult to narrow it down, but if you had to choose just three local wineries that you think are especially deserving of our attention, who would you choose?
Just three? You are really putting me on the spot… This is hard. Alright, in no particular order: Fox and Archer, Kitsch, and Anthony Buchanan… and Lightning Rock and Synchromesh. (Sorry, could not pick three.)
Have the last few years reshaped your approach to buying, serving, and enjoying wine in any way? If so, how?
I think my philosophy has shifted a little in the last few years but I don’t think my approach to service has changed. We always want the wine service to be relaxed but precise. When Elisa first opened, I wanted the list to have classic wines, hard to source wines, and a few recognizable labels which would create a conversation with the guests. I have adjusted my wine list and added more mainstream and recognizable wines. You should always drink what you like and not what I want you to drink.
What sort of changes, if any, do you think that the local wine industry – from wine lovers and servers, to the producers and distributors – might see in the future?
BC has such diverse growing regions and within those they have distinctive terroir. I know this has already started, but I think that micro-AVA’s will continue to become more and more prominent. I also believe, because of climate change, that wine growing areas will start to shift farther north or to Vancouver Island. The vineyards that remain might have to adapt and start to grow grapes more suited to the increase in temperature. There has also been an incredible increase in wine knowledge, not only in the public, but within the hospitality industry. I really hope this trend continues.
What is the one versatile BC wine you recommend for pairing this summer?
I would recommend the Painted Rock Cabernet Franc. It has a really ripe brambly fruit character with an incredibly balanced finish, and a welcome hint of the classic Cabernet Franc greenness. It pairs with several dishes on our menu – from the bison tartare, classic tartare, braised short rib and, my favourite, the Holstein ribeye.
If you could work in just one local winery for just one harvest, which would it be and why?
I would work at Unsworth Winery on Vancouver Island in an instant. Dan Wright’s laid-back attitude and winemaking philosophy really resonate with me. He lets the grapes speak for themselves and his minimalist intervention really hits home.
Can you recommend one local, emblematic-of-BC red wine for someone who didn’t even know that wine was made here? Why did you choose it?
I would open a bottle of Daydreamer ‘Amelia’. Marcus Ansem’s Syrah blend really highlights what a wine can taste like if the grapes are allowed to ripen and are treated with respect. The savouriness and meatiness of the Syrah is balanced with a small percentage of Viognier. The ripe dark fruit character really shines. This wine is surprisingly and enjoyably bright and fresh.
What about a white?
I would pour the Meyer Family Micro Cuvee Chardonnay. I feel that this wine exemplifies wines of BC. It has a beautiful ripe fruit character that is balanced with new and old oak. The minerality shines through every vintage and the finish goes on forever.
And finally, a rose?
This is a tough one. There are several BC roses that really stand out. I think I would serve the ‘Lucy’s Block’ from Quails’ Gate. The ripe red cherry character from the Pinot Noir is pure and delicious. The zing of freshness from the small amount of Pinot Meunier adds another layer of complexity, and the summer fruit character makes me want another glass.
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