Vancouver International Wine Festival 2013: Bella Napa Dinner at Cioppino’s

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Dining at one of Vancouver’s leading Italian restaurants for a cross section tasting of several high profile Napa Valley producers proved an unusual study of contrasting flavours. Italian food generally does not lend itself well to New World wines, especially those made in a highly modern, fruit driven, drink now style. The lack of acid in these wines can prove a problem when paired with high acid and earthy ingredients. Thus chef Pino had a challenging task tailoring his food for the line of Napa Bordeaux blends we were to taste.

A Master At Work

The skill, consistency and attention to detail that makes Cioppino’s one of the top restaurants in the city was on full display. Each course was expertly plated and showcased impressive technique, use of texture, and the intensity of flavour that Chef Pino is known for. Several courses particularly stood out, including a house cured salmon, Sicilian style escargot served with pain perdu, a pheasant black truffle ravioli and a face melting maple and soy braised pork capicollo. The only disappointment was a duo of tenderloin and shortrib, which surprisingly lacked flavour.

The Pairings

As mentioned, pairing California wine with Italian food is difficult. That fact proved itself at this dinner, with a number of strange pairings.

The unfortunate decision to serve the very tasty Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc 2011 with the house cured salmon resulted in a somewhat metallic flavour. However, when paired with the Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste Rosé 2011, the wine and salmon showed very well. I was quite impressed with this rosé (as I was with Blackbird generally), which was full bodied and complex but also dry and elegant for a higher alcohol rosé.

I found the Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010 to be a very mediocre, one-dimensional wine that did not live up to the genius of Pino’s escargot and pain perdu, which (in Italian style) was dry and earthy rather than rich as Pino removes all the guts before serving. Italian wine would have served perfectly here.

The Twomey Cellars Napa Valley Merlot 2008 (made by Silver Oak – though focused on Merlot, aged in French Oak and made in a much ‘Frencher’ style) showed quite well. It was silky and expansive in the mid-palate but also elegant. It is not a supremely complex wine, but it is balanced and fresh and highly enjoyable. It worked well with the Pheasant and Black Truffle Raviolo.

The real star of the evening both in terms of pairing and wine was the choice to put the Blackbird Vineyards Illustration 2009 (their premium $170 Bordeaux blend) with the braised Pork Capicollo. The wine’s elegance and plush, sweet fruit loved the extracted umami soy flavours with the hint of maple sweetness from the braise. The Illustration is a big wine, with big fruit, but it is in check and superbly structured. The oak treatment is exceptional as well and I think that with age this will become a real standout wine. For a producer that is only 10 years old I was extremely impressed. This wine is unusually driven by merlot (81%) and cab franc (16%), rounded out by cab sauv (3%).

The duo of Heitz Trailside Vineyards Cab Sauv  2007 and Silver Oak Cab Sauv 2008 both exhibited flaws in the initial bottles, making me wonder about bottle variation. After new bottles were opened, I found the Heitz to be focused on rich black fruit. However, it showed signs of mercaptan taint (rubbery aromas) and ultimately was a mediocre Cabernet without much interest. The Silver Oak did not fair much better. It was very closed and tasted of dilly American oak, with heavy wood tannin.

The final dessert course committed the cardinal sin of dry red wine with sugar, which is unfortunate because the dessert was quite interesting and well executed. The Paraduxx Z Blend 2009 would have paired better with the braise most likely, but ultimately it was a solid very fruity wine with rich texture and some clear oak elements.


In conclusion, Cioppino’s still proves to be one of Vancouver’s top spots to enjoy food and wine and Chef Pino and his team operate at a level well above most others in the city. The event was very well organized and enjoyable. The standout and exciting discovery for me was Blackbird, whose wines I knew about but had never tasted. These guys are doing some exciting stuff in Napa for those who like modern wines with elegance, structure and finesse. Duckhorn’s wines also showed quite well and the dinner reminded me how enjoyable their Sauvignon Blanc is – and as such, it is highly recommended for those seeking a richer style of white for the spring and summer. I was disappointed by Heitz, especially given the greatness of their older vintages, but I feel the sample was unrepresentative of what the winery is doing and I would not like to pass broad judgments based on two wines. Silver Oak was, well, as expected.


  1. Brian
    March 4, 2013

    I agree the Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc was a tasty wine, but it wasn’t all that varietally typical. Very low acidity for SB, I can see it would be very tough to pair with Italian food. I went to a couple of Californian events – the oysters at George Ultra paired quite well with the plethora of Chardonnay available.

  2. Shea
    March 4, 2013

    Yes indeed, very low acid wine.

  3. Chris
    March 7, 2013

    The Duckhorn Sauv is 25% Semillion making it a fatter style than what most Sauvignon Blanc people are drinking especially from New Zealand. This style is very reminiscent to a white Bordeaux. Glad you enjoyed Blackbird Shea!

  4. Shea
    March 7, 2013

    Thanks Chris. The Semillon works pretty well in the blend for sure.

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