Pacific Northwest Wine Dinner: Canoe Brewpub & Unsworth Vineyards

Multi-award winning Unsworth Vineyards and Canoe’s Chef Kyle Dampsy joined forces on Wednesday, February 19, in Canoe’s upstairs Dining Hall to present the Pacific Northwest Wine Dinner. Sommelier and Estate Ambassador Chris Turyk and Chef Dampsy walked us through the meal.

Upon arrival, I sipped Unsworth’s Charme De L’Ile, made using only Vancouver Island grapes. It’s my local go-to, always dry, fresh, and just the right bubble. I’d forgotten what a gorgeous space Canoe’s Dining Hall is—long tables, high wooden lodge-style ceilings, warm lighting, huge lumbering fans, the light fixtures like mobiles of lit icicles, and old school chandeliers. It’s both vast and cozy.

The Local Wild Shrimp Toast arrived with both Sidestripe and Humpback (or King) shrimp, sauce gribiche, a French mayonnaise cold-egg style sauce, pickled healthy Vitality Farm Shallots and Little Qualicum Cheese Works Fromage Frais. It was sensational – the shrimp tender and plump, with gribiche that is like using devilled egg yolk as a spread (apologies Chef), on a just-toasted thin-sliced housemade focaccia.

Unsworth Vineyards is a very locally focused, Cowichan Valley-proud winery that ranks on the international stage. Canoe Brewpub’s Executive Chef Kyle Dampsy has a profound commitment and engagement to local ingredients, nose-to-tail, but his creations sometimes celebrate more complex global traditions. He has shared his passion, understanding, and precision with food working with Vancouver gems, including Hawksworth Restaurant and Glowbal Restaurant.

The second course was a Fraser Valley Rabbit Trio with the Unsworth 2018 Pinot Gris. The wine was crisp with pear and green apple. This dish, of the five, was the most acrobatic. It featured prosciutto-wrapped loin, sage spice leg sausage, butternut squash pave with confit shoulder. Unlike Canoe’s regular menu, which is delicious and local, but also often lets one ingredient or protein at a time be the star, this dish was complicated, meticulously thought out – and perfectly cooked. It was busy and caught my careful attention and taste buds to study and savour each facet alone and as a whole. I also appreciated that it was a bit counter-culture and convoluted for Victoria. No wonder Chef Kyle spent years mastering Muay Thai (a Thai boxing discipline) with its demand for precision, focus and dedication.

Next, I enjoyed the Slow Cooked Organic Beef Shin paired with the 2019 Gamay Pinot Noir. It was a light wine, and it gave room for the dish to take center stage. With BC mushrooms, smoked Vancouver Island Kennebec potato fondant and green peppercorns, it was deep and creamy and impossible to finish. Again, I appreciated the progression of the dishes from light, to complex, to rich and was piqued to see what was next.

Course Four was a 2016 TimBuck Two Cabernet Merlot with Venison Tenderloin with chocolate and wild blackberry jus. It looked like dessert. There was this fluffy white snow-texture cheese, and the chocolate was painted across the plate with a brush. The venison, from apple-fed deer, was tender and lush, and the subtle sweetness played well into the dish. I appreciated delving into a course that I savoured but would never have ordered. This is part of the joy and mystery of multi-course meals; I relish not knowing what to expect.

The 2017 Mistelle, a slightly sweet, tasty ice wine, arrived shortly before individual boards of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, Natural Pastures Cheddar, Saltspring Island Cheese Company Chevre with hazelnuts, tart Granny Smith apple and a carrot puff (picture shrimp chip) and a slice of poached caramelized peach. Gorgeous and simple, but not too simple.

Sated and thankful for an evening of conversation and a tasty and fascinating culinary expedition, I cast a last glance up at the ceiling and the warm lights in the Dining Hall. I very much looked forward to seeing what’s next both for Unsworth Vineyards and Canoe Brewpub. I felt that I’d feasted and that I’d also learned a few new flavours, which for this nerd, is always a win.

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