Pairing food and wine is, on one hand, a common-sense, everyday event. But on the other it is chaotic, driven by preconceptions and half-baked notions of aligning or contravening acidity and sweetness of the dish and the wine. That being said, the five CheckMate Artisanal Winery chardonnays from the Okanagan, each bearing some consistent characteristics to the others, but also remaining different in some intriguing, fundamental ways, are a tantalizing challenge for food matches. Part chess game, part puzzle.
In a dream world, you could have all five CheckMates together for a dinner party; serve them one after the other, in some kind of pre-thought-out order, with transitions in place, all the while serving five courses. Let’s just say your guests should be among your very tightest buddies.
The most difficult part of the process is in deciding which wine to open with, and with which to conclude. The first step, then, should likely be setting the five wines up, in your preferred order, and then imagining the food matches, based on lighter, even raw fare to start, and moving along to a final protein statement. The Attack chardonnay is ideal to open; made from fruit taken from The Barn Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, this wine’s balanced but notable acidity makes it perfect for raw, unadorned oysters, or a medley of lightly seasoned shellfish—ideally clams, mussels, or shrimp. CheckMate winemaker Phil McGahan calls this wine “zesty”, and so it is, which means it will match these lighter flavours very well.
Capture—a wine made from Border Vista Vineyard in Osoyoos—can follow. The nose on this chardonnay features some lush citrus notes, even a bit of spice. It finishes with a surprise of peach and soft oak, which inspires something like a sautéed Dover sole, or even skate, likely done with butter and a light dusting of capers and parsley at the end. Some fresh-grilled bread, with light olive oil and sea salt, can accompany, but the fish and the wine should be allowed to shine together.
Next is Little Pawn, also from The Barn Vineyard, with opening notes of cinnamon and rose petal that give way to a creamy, rich, classic chardonnay expression, elegant but with a powerful undertone. So, why not go to the Troisgros brothers in France, and their game-changing, though quintessentially simple salmon and sorrel sauce. With this, you may not want to move on at all.
But there is the complex Fool’s Mate, a blend from three separate vineyards, with a rich, nutty palate and some classic fresh-baked bread elements. Large prawns sautéed with nothing but a little fresh organic garlic and finished with parsley, alongside a saffron-based risotto, will do the trick; the other option here would be to substitute lobster for the prawns.The wine has such substance that the match will bring out the best of both worlds.
That leaves Queen Taken, all made from fruit from Heritage Vineyard southwest of Oliver; the vines here were planted over 40 years ago. While the wine starts with lemony citrus, it soon evolves into more stone fruits and then brioche and floral notes, all heading towards an amazingly long finish. Salmon would be great, no question, but why not try grilling some Porterhouse steaks, no sauces, just the meat? Let them rest, then carve, add some really nice olive oil, and pinch of sea salt, and serve.
Ingo Grady is director of wine education at Mission Hill Family Estate, and very familiar with these wines, since they are part of the Anthony von Mandl empire, along with CedarCreek Estate Winery, Martin’s Lane Winery, and Mission Hill itself. He suggests either beginning or ending with baked ricotta and toast: stir the ricotta with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 300 degrees until warm, then add some chopped herbs and serve with slices of grilled rustic bread. Sounds delicious, but why not serve this as dessert? You can save a little sample of each of the five wines, and savour them all one more time.
There’s more wine where that came from.