Vancouver Drinks: L’Abattoir

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I rarely write about the drinking establishments here in Vancouver mainly because it is extremely rare to see a good and reasonable wine list. And despite the rare exception of Salt and Uva (which may go downhill now that somm Sebastien has left), there still isn’t anywhere here where you can buy wines driven by ethics and stringent agricultural and vinification practices. Vancouver is all about trends and most restaurants pour uninteresting wines that follow what they think consumers want to drink.

Further, while there are talented Sommeliers in the province, the liquor board makes it almost impossible for a professional to develop a list based on his or her own discoveries, which is often where drinkers can discover value, quality and excitement. Because the liquor board restricts what restaurants can buy, and charges them full retail, the sommelier’s job in this province has been homogenized and simplified.

This brief note is to commend Jake Skakun over at L’Abattoir (and co-author of Cherries and Clay) for starting to develop a list of wines that focuses on true value and on wines made with true attention to ethical practices in growing and vinifying grapes, despite the extremely tough environment created by BC liquor regulation.

When I dropped by I had a wonderful glass of dry Tokaji from Oremus (Vega Sicilia’s Hungarian winery) and a very nice glass of cool climate New Zealand Syrah from Tinpot Hut with plenty of pepper and herbs and great acidity – two types of wines you rarely see by the glass let alone on a bottle list. Both were reasonably priced by Vancouver standards. Add to this that Jake is constantly developing his list (something that is shockingly rare in Vancouver where too many sommeliers build and never change a list and rarely rotate their wines by the glass), and you have the starting components of an excellent wine experience.

I did not try the food on my visit, but I am looking forward to returning and seeing how Jake’s list stacks up with the food. The wines focus on acidity and freshness and I think they will likely show very well with what the kitchen is offering. L’Abattoir is in Gastown in the old Irish Heather location.

Posted in: Vancouver


  1. Jake
    July 25, 2010

    Thanks for the shout-out Shea – I’m glad you enjoyed the wines and you’ll definitely have to make it in for dinner as the food is incredible.

    I agree that it is a more difficult task to run an interesting wine program in Vancouver than most other major cities in North America, which does come down to price (the cost of wine that the restaurant pays which is essentially what a consumer pays) and accessibility to producers (also influenced by price, as many wines at a by-the-glass price range in the US aren’t feasible to pour in BC). This is why you see so many restaurants pouring the same wines. The restaurant has only been open for just over a week and I’m seeing clearly how challenging the task can be.

    I’d also like to mention that I’ve been pleasantly surprised at our guest’s reception to some of the more obscure wines. I put Dominique Piron’s Moulin-A-Vent on for this weekend and was surprised how many people ordered it… I guess Beaujolais doesn’t have as negative of a public image as I assumed. Also, the Dry Tokaji you mentioned from Oremus has been very popular and I’ve unfortunately nearly sold all that will be available to me. It turns out Vancouver wine drinkers may be more open and experimental than I had figured.

    A couple places I enjoy drinking wine in the city are Boneta, where Neil is passionate about finding and pouring interesting wines, and La Quercia, whose all-Italian list has some gems.

    Thanks again.

  2. Shea
    July 25, 2010

    That’s excellent you are selling these wines so well – it bodes well for the future of your list! Also, I agree with your other choices – La Quercia and Boneta both have excellent lists, though I do wish Boneta had better pricing.

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