Monday, May 28, 2007

Think Pink: Rosé Wine Tasting Aids Breast Cancer Research

It’s not often we get the chance to taste wine and support cancer research at the same time. I’ve lost almost half my family to cancer, Frank’s lost several friends. So when we saw one of Vancouver’s premier restaurants was hosting a four-course, “Think Pink” Rosé wine and food pairing dinner throughout the month of May, there was more than the usual motivation to check it out.

Le Gavroche is located near Stanley Park in a restored, West End heritage home. Owner Manuel Ferreira says the concept for the fundraiser ($5 from every Think Pink dinner is donated to the BC Cancer Foundation in support of breast cancer research and awareness) began when his best friend died of breast cancer. “Most people are aware of issues of breast cancer as it relates to women. But it’s still not well known that one in every hundred men is also afflicted.”

Jurgen Gothe, CBC radio host, wine and food authority, and himself a cancer survivor as well as close friend of Manuel, finally asked the question: why aren’t we going to the people who have been there, the survivors? “Jurgen acknowledges cancer is a private issue,” Manuel says. “But he has told me many times that if people ask, he will go to any length to enhance public awareness.”

The result is the first of what Manuel anticipates will become an annual tradition at Le Gavroche – a pairing of “pink” wines with inspired culinary creations. From an oenophile’s point of view, his decision is not only a bold departure from tradition but a challenge few would be willing to risk. Eliminating both red and white wines effectively removes more than 95% of possible pairings – and virtually all “classic” matches. Add in the unfortunately still lingering public perception of Rosé wines as sweet, cloying, cheap plonk, and it’s astonishing anyone would even attempt it. To pull it off with aplomb is a credit to Manuel’s expertise and tenacity.

We arrived almost a quarter of an hour early with no expectations. I confess, our waiter immediately charmed me when, in response to my question about whether the restaurant was at one time call “Lily le Puce,” replied without hesitation “Well, yes it was – but now I know you’re a little older than the thirty that I thought you were.” Never underestimate the power of flattery.

The regular menu was enticing but we concentrated on the special “Power of Pink” insert – we were, after all, here on a mission of discovery.

Appies was the only course where we made different choices – but hey, appies are meant to be shared in any case. My preference was the fresh Dungeness Crab with grapefruit, watermelon relish, and fennel coulis. Frank picked scallops with carrot ginger flan and truffle vinaigrette. The wine was Chateau Silex Rosé – our waiter was delighted to bring the bottle to our table so we could see for ourselves. Made from Syrah and Grenache with a touch of Cinsault, it was crisp, refreshing, dry, and a comfortable pairing with both dishes. Later, we discovered this Rhone Valley wine is one of four newcomers to the appellation and aptly considered a rising star of amazing value.

For the second course, we chose the Assorted Proscuitto Plate over the Belgium Endive and Stilton with Port dressing. Later we laughed as we admitted to each other that we were both heavily influenced by wanting to try the 2005 Dourthe N1 Rosé it was paired with rather than the Joie Rosé we’ve enjoyed on a number of previous occasions. Made from 100% Cabernet, this wine had the nose of penny candy and strawberries I associate with picnics at the beach in summer. It worked well with the lighter Proscuittos, but we felt it couldn’t quite stand up to the saltier, darker versions. Still, it was once again, a very comfortable match and one it would be hard to find fault with.

It was at this point that I succumbed to my journalistic nature – I needed pen and paper. My request for a copy of the menu and a pen was met with a flicker of almost instantly concealed curiosity. Attempting to be semi-discreet, I jotted a few notes and tucked the paper under the bread basket.

Our main course was wild salmon with cauliflower, asparagus, and pesto vinaigrette. Thankfully, no one seemed to care – or even notice – when I snapped a photograph of the artful presentation. The paired wine was bone dry, had a subtle hint of earthy truffles, and was one of those “Ohhhh, this is so good” matches. It was definitely not the St Hubertus listed on the menu. Frank pegged it as similar to a Chateauneuf-du Pape – meaning it could be a combination of up to 13 different grape varietals. We didn’t bother to speculate on which ones. “Is this really a BC wine?” I asked our waiter the next time he passed by.

“Mais non, it izz Frrrrancais.” Okay, so I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy about his accent. But he soon produced the bottle of Pere Anselme Vin de Pay DOC (we never could find any information on the web about this wine), along with a second glass each, to prove his point that this was, indeed, a French wine. Yes, it is a Chateauneuf-du Pape wine and yes, he would be more than happy to bring us the correct menu insert – he couldn’t imagine how such an error could have occurred. This time, though, he gave my pen a long, pointed stare.

Now I’ll admit that sometimes my attention span could be improved, but when the second pink sheet appeared beside my wine glass I knew I wasn’t suffering a memory lapse. Our first wine had most definitely not been the Yellow Tail Rosé listed – not only did it not taste like it, but we had already seen the bottle. And the reason neither of us had ordered the Duck Breast and Confit with Pear Madeira Sauce for our main course was because the Yellow Tail Shiraz-Grenache it was paired with just didn’t appeal.

Still, as we sipped our final wine of the evening, Moet & Chandon Brut Rosé Champagne (a seductive, yeasty blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) impeccably paired with Lichi Li Crème Brulee, we agreed the evening had been a stellar example of thinking outside the box – or perhaps more appropriately, outside the bottle. The first two pairings were solid, the second two were exceptional – utterly remarkable after having restricted themselves to something less than 5% of the normal wines to chose from.

Although we’re sure we tried the patience and curiosity of the wait staff with our barrage of wine geek questions, note taking, and requests for clarification about the wine listings, they were unfailingly attentive. We’re also well aware we were probably the only patrons that night who were there specifically to sample the diversity Rosé wines have to offer.

The evening’s greatest strength was having an opportunity to compare four vastly different Rosés, its sole weakness was the confusion surrounding what was on the menu as opposed to what was in the glass. Knowing we contributed in some very small way to improving the hope of a cure for cancer was a bonus.

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