Five Spectacular Wines on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

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Occasionally, but preciously, life aligns. Alignment cannot be defined, only felt. It’s a simple, symbiotic relationship with others and the world around us. And its truths speak through silence.

Tofino and the Pacific Rim National Park, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, abutting the vast Pacific Ocean, is a place of alignment. It is chaotic and beautiful, rough hewn yet precise in its expression. It is also one of the most remarkable places on earth.


So removed from city life, the rhythms of the Clayoquot Sound are both dangerous and life bearing, consistent in movement and volatile in power. It is the perfect place to remove oneself from what came before, and emerge tabula rasa. Its truth lies in transition.

To celebrate transition I carried with me five wines my wife and I had collected on our travels. Each had a personal story to tell. Each was also remarkable in its own right.


Fernando de Castilla Antique Amontillado n/v: Patience and Tradition


In 2009 we travelled to Spain and spent a few days in Jerez. The town is antithesis to story book Spain: derelict buildings, uninspired architecture, boring. Nevertheless my wife endured three days of intensive Bodega visits to leading Sherry producers. The visits gave me an in-depth picture of Sherry and a taste of wines that would not have been possible otherwise (see the original series of articles here). Fernando de Castilla was our mutual favourite. The bodega is one of the few remaining small producers and is an hommage to traditional sherry making. They reject the VOS/VORS system as overly subjective and failing to identify truly great soleras, and make sherries in a highly traditional style that has mostly been replaced by the dominant styles of the biggest sherry corporations. They are marvelous wines amongst the very best not only in Jerez but in the whole of Spain.

Sitting in my cellar since its purchase in 2009, this Amontillado is incredibly refined and delicate. The nose offers fig and almond, light toffee, and coffee. Fino characteristics remain on the finish, which makes sense since Amontillado is aged Fino. The wine is very long, and quite dry. It is one of the best wines I’ve had.

Purchased at the Bodega for about 25 Euros.

Bodegas Alion 2003: Future Unknown


With wine we usually fetishize place – terroir. However, sometimes it is not a place, but time that is more significant. I met my wife in 2003 – a year of much change and, unbeknownst to me, significant shifts in my future trajectory.

Alion has always been a wine that I’ve enjoyed but never elevated to spectacular. Clearly my problem was drinking it too young. This 2003 was a gorgeous, round, plush wine still full of life but also well developed dense, umami secondary flavours. The mix of blackberry, dark black cherry, iron, animal, and mineral was ideally integrated and completely delicious. The wine was also texturally soft and supple, long and developed.

Excellent to Excellent+
$80 at BCLDB for the current vintage

Ernest Burn Goldert Clos St. Imer Muscat Vendanges Tardives 2005: Garden Ideal


Spending time in Alsace in 2011 is one of my favourite wine memories. My wife and I drove from Frankfurt (where we landed) to Alsace and were presented with lush fields of grape vines, quaint Franco-Germanic towns and brilliant food. The wines weren’t bad either :). Alsace has always been one of my favourite regions, but this choice was my wife’s who purchased it from the Domain during our visit. Burn is lesser known in North America, but in France is highly respected, particularly for Muscat from the Clos St. Imer vineyard (a monopole) in the Goldert Grand Cru. We were only able to keep this wine pristine with the help of a generous wine merchant in Lyon who stored our wine in his cellar while we traversed Provence and its intense heat.

This 2005 has aged very well and is a perfect example of how sweetness remains confounding in Alsace. Though a Vendanges Tardives, today this wine drinks almost like a fully dry Muscat. The extract levels are impressive. The wine is luscious and filled with orchard fruits like apricot and peach, with particularly interesting pith flavours. Finessed and integrated, this is the best Muscat has to offer. I would add that the wine is very Germanic in style, with structure and acid balance not unlike a top auslese Mosel Riesling

17 Euro at the winery

Jacques Selosse Initial n/v Champagne: Perfection


Selosse holds a special place in my heart. It is both my and my wife’s favourite Champagne. We first indulged in it with a bottle of Substance in a trip to Oregon where I proposed. The bubbles surely helped. While incredibly difficult to find and extremely expensive, these wines are inimitable in both memory and objective quality. Selosse is highly experimental, and a risk taker (e.g. he uses only indigenous yeasts for both primary and secondary fermentation). He also essentially invented the concept of ‘grower’ Champagne. Barrel fermentation is fundamental to his style. I’ve read and heard the decriers, those who complain about the price, and of inconsistency. I disagree. Selosse’s Champagnes are remarkable expressions that have no parallel.

As for the Initial, it is a blanc de blancs blended from three villages: Avize, Cramant and Oger. The wine is extremely aromatic with unparalleled blanc de blancs intensity of lemon, lime and biscuit. The wine is very persistent on the palate. It is also impeccably structured, far outclassing any other blanc de blancs I’ve had except Salon. There is an incredible amount of extract and power to this wine while it paradoxically also maintains delicacy. There is not much else to say – this is ideal blanc de blancs

Disgorged October 2012

$180 at Vinopolis, Portland

André Perret Clos Chanson Condrieu 2008: Collaboration and Independence


A trip to Lyon would not have been complete but for some time traversing the vineyards and wineries of the Northern Rhone: another of my most dearly loved regions. I took my day trip to Condrieu as my wife perused the beautiful art gallery of Lyon – another secret to our success. Our ability to have separate passions and balance sharing and independence is perfectly embodied in this exceptional Condrieu, purchased by me alone from a little store in the village.

Viognier is perhaps one of the most detested grapes by wine geeks. Even Condrieu can be criticized for overly rich, almost syrupy wines. While accurate to a point, it is a simplification of what is going on in Condrieu. The very best producers are in fact making wines with far more structure, complexity and savoriness than is the stereotype. My favourite producer is Georges Vernay, but Andre Perret is a close second. Rarely seen in North America (though imported by Kermit Lynch), Perret is one of the leaders in Condrieu and makes a number of single vineyard cuvées from Condrieu and St. Joseph. His family were wine growers in Burgundy until World War II forced them to relocate. André now takes what he calls a Burgundian approach to vine growing and wine making in Condrieu. The Clos Chanson is a single 0.5 ha vineyard with 40 year old vines planted on granite and clay.

Subtler and more restrained on the nose than most Condrieu, the wine is also far more focused than one would expect for Viognier. At the same time, it is quite glyceral, with white nectarine, pineapple, green papaya, petrol, beeswax, honey and a huge streak of minerality and saline notes on the finish. This is not typical Condrieu. It is extremely complex and almost intellectual for a Condrieu, drinking more like a white Hermitage than Viognier.

Not only does the wine increase my appreciation for Perret’s work, but it further cements my belief that the cool 2008 is one of the best vintages for Condrieu in a decade.

Excellent to Excellent+


Posted in: Features, Travel


  1. Chris Wallace
    July 14, 2014

    That is really the best way to enjoy wine: in a special place, making it a special occasion by remembering special occasions. This post forms a nice counter-point to your usually highly researched pieces and expresses your emotional side, and very well. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Shea
    July 14, 2014

    Thanks for the kind words Chris, I appreciate the ongoing support.

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