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Martin’s Lane x ALAÏA

Tonight I was invited to attend a Club Versante members only event, and jumped at the chance. This was a one-day only wine tasting hosted by Martin’s Lane Winery in Kelowna, in collaboration with the chefs of Bruno, the luxury hotel property’s fine dining restaurant featuring Westcoast fare. The event was held at ALAÏA , the property’s caviar lounge, on the cusp of it being opened to the public for future such events. However, today we would get to celebrate the exclusivity of being one of the first non-members to step foot in the space and enjoy its collection of caviar across 5 courses, with 5 Martin’s Lane wine pairings.

Located on the 22nd floor, like the rest of the Hotel Versante the lounge space was contemporary with artistic flare. A roaring fireplace, designer rugs that matched the patterned ceiling, and a black and white striped bar. Guests were seated in their groups on sofas and couches, to sip and graze over coffee and side tables.

The event was meant to bring attention to the artisan winery specializing in small batch Pinot Noir, whilst dabbling in a Riesling or two. The goal was to have guests “Discover the beauty of the heartbreak grape on February 17th in an intimate series of tastings led by Martin’s Lane Winemaker, Shane Munn. Specialty bites adorned with caviar will be paired with every expertly bottled wine”, (as per the event advertisement).

Event attendees were able to meet all 4 employees of Martin’s Lane as they mixed and mingled the room, sharing anecdotes on the unique property. Visits to Martin’s Lane in Kelowna are by appointment only. Once on the property, visitors can take in their collection of art and sample some of their small batch wines, knowing that their exclusivity has only added to their demand. The only way to acquire a bottle of their wine is by being a member, and currently their wine club has a wait list.

Our night began with their only white, named after 1 of the 4 vineyards Martin’s Lane owns and sources their grapes from. This is the 2018 Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling. This accounts for only 5% of the wine that they produce and features a blend of different Riesling grapes. From it we discerned flavours from the adjacent Okanagan orchards, fruits like sweet peaches and crisp apples. Its refreshing nature matched extremely well with our first pairing, setting the stage for all the well thought out pairings to follow.

Our first course gave us an opportunity to meet our chef as he introduced each course and explained how they were designed to honour the artistry of the wine, speaking to the science and architecture behind it.

Titled “The Lavish Ocean” this was a single, perfectly seared Pacific scallop atop of king shrimp tartare and a green pea and dill Veloute; topped with superior caviar. I have never been more impressed by a single bite. Presented it a bowl that was art itself, this was a buttery, supple scallop, well-seasoned and well balanced by the greens of the dish. Neither of which overshadowed the plushy-soft pellets of caviar, and their subtle briny nature that highlighted the fishiness of the dish.

Our second course introduced us to Martin Lane’s Pinot Noir, once again the one and only red they produce, collecting their crop from across their vineyards, with vines as old as 1976 and as young as 2014.

Their 2019 Naramata Ranch Vineyard Zenith is the smallest batch of pinot noir that they have made to date. We learned that the flavour of pinot noir grapes comes from the temperatures that the vineyards are exposed to, and if the weather doesn’t cooperate the crop does not get harvested. The first of our 3 red was the youngest, juicy and bright with berry. It was a smooth and easy accompaniment for our much bolder and richer dish below.

This course was titled “Aspects of the Vineyard”. Served in clear plastic boxes, it looked like a cross section of the Martin’s Lane Vineyard with edible soil and dried vegetation. Foraged mushrooms, confit duck and foie gras rillette, and umami miso pumpernickel “soil”. I liked the look of it, but the presentation using the clear box, did feel a little lack lustre when compared to the sculpted and weighted bowl before. As of the dish itself, this was another memorable dish I will not soon be forgetting, as I scrapped the plastic clean of its rich meaty paste. The mouse was so savory as the foundation of the dish, each element surrounding it helped to build it up, adding on depth and texture. I found the crunchy pumpernickel grounds especially clever, and helpful in adding in texture. While the wine pairing did well to cut into the salt and fat of the confit and foie gras mousse.

During our third course the significance of the ear on the signature Martin’s Lane bottles were explained. The owner of the winery is good friends with famous Canadian novelist, designer, and visual artist, Douglas Coupland. Coupland was commissioned to come up with a bottle design that would exemplify the winery and he did that being inspired by the connection between Van Gogh and Pinot Noir. Both the Renaissance artist with his red hair and the grape are rarities, accounting for only 2% of anomalies. Thus, in homage, a 4D ear is affixed to each Martin’s Lane bottles as a nod to the artist who famously cut off his own ear to bestow it onto a woman he loved. These bottles and the wine within are the winery’s love letter to those who too appreciate a big and bold red.

Furthermore, each colour represents a different winery from which the grapes were harvested. Four our next pairing we would drink from the sparkly yellow eared bottle, which is their 2019 Fritzi’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, in their 1.5L magnum format. This vintage features grapes from their oldest wine and is cited as Canada’s most expensive Pinot Noir at $150 a bottle. It is said to be comparable with a good Pinot Noir from anywhere in the world. This had a lot more tannis when compared to our first red of the night. It also had a lot more bite to it, which was interesting as reds so far were from the same year, but the location of the vineyard made all the difference.

To echo the presence of quality vines in this wine, a few of them were used to smoke our next course, titled “Memories by the Lake”. Grilled dry aged steelhead, birch cured wild berries, koji butter sauce and cristal caviar. The fish was incredibly tender, it flaked and melted under the pressure of your fork. Its subtle flavour was given brightness and life from the sweet and simultaneously tart cranberry accompaniment, and salt from the fish eggs. This was a very lovely and refined dish.

Our next wine was a special one. It has long since been sold out and we were tasting from the winery’s reserves. The 2016 Dehart Vineyard Pinot Noir, library release. Martin’s Lane stores such bottles of wine that are known to age well and will release them in the future, on special occasions, such as today. Three years older than our last two and more refined because of it. Despite being made with grapes from yet another one of their vineyards, and one that had a warmer season despite being a naturally colder, you can tell that this bottle has matured incredibly well. It longs to be breathed in and drank deep. Consistently aged in concrete it tasted clean with a beautiful complexity of notes and an oaky finish.

Its dish pairing was the “Scorched Earth”, a smoked charcoal grilled iberico secreto with hazelnut mole and picked vine leaves. Maybe it was because the red was hard to lick off your lips, but I found the meat course lacking. It did not stand up the same against the others, as I found the meat tough and on the leaner side, and the flavour falling flat. I would have liked a handsome chunk of pork belly instead, or some jus to help at character and kick.

For our dessert course we started with Martins Lane’s first attempt at making ice wine. The 2014 Naramata Ranch Vineyards Riesling Ice wine, chilled perfectly. They do not often take the time to make an ice wine, as it can be a fickle process, only when the year is an exceptional one do they consider this. Their artistry demands the perfect conditions, where the earlier they are able to pick the grapes, the better the results of the wine. In this case the harvest was done on the 29th of November. At 8 years old this is still considered a young vintage. Fruity and sweet, the ice wine was able to stand alone, and together with our third course, they both sang.

I was incredibly excited to see this. As a fan of blue cheese, I felt it was about time that someone did a solid attempt at a blue cheese cheesecake. This is Versante’s “Architectural “Sweets””, a blue cheese cheesecake cube with a dark spiced citrus glaze and “fractured tuilles”. As a fan of savoury over sweet, this was everything for me. The dessert is one you take in small morsels and savour. It starts out sweet and the flavour of the blue cheese washes your entire palate at the end. Truly well conceived. I hope they make it available somewhere on one of their regular menus, because it is too good to never be able to have this again. A wonderfully sharp and salty to pairing to the sweet honey notes of the ice wine.

This was definitely a night of great mouth memories to remember, and an occasion worthy of having it as my very first ALAÏA caviar lounge experience. At this point I do not expect less from Richmond’s luxury hotel property, Versante. A well hosted and ran event and a great way to get to know the make of wine more intimately. I have never been more impressed by a more perfectly prepared and paired meal.

Versante Hotel
8499 Bridgeport Rd, Richmond, BC V6X 1R7, Canada
+1 604-242-2750

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