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New drinks column: Fussy Pinot Noir grape thrives in Cowichan

Today, we begin a column on local wines, beers and spirits by Garth Eichel, an experienced food and wine columnist who is studying for his diploma through the International Sommelier Guild.
Driftwood breweries three owners, left to right, Gary Lindsay, Jason Mesyer and Kevin Hearsum with kegs and tap handles.

Today, we begin a column on local wines, beers and spirits by Garth Eichel, an experienced food and wine columnist who is studying for his diploma through the International Sommelier Guild. Eichel will review products and write about the people dedicated to creating them, and about Vancouver Island drinking spots. Look for Libations on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, in the Go section.

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What is a snob? I'd say someone who is keenly aware of the cost of something without appreciating its value. I like to think I'm above pretension but I admit I'm susceptible, just like most people.

I was recently reminded of my fallibility when I spied a bottle of Château Haut-Brion 2007 for sale at Cook Street Village Liquor, retailing for a cool $624. I'd be hard pressed to explain why anyone should shell out such a sum for a bottle of wine, no matter how life-affirming it might be. Still, a part of me wanted to buy one of the most famous wines in the world, well, just because.

It'll be a while before I phone my bank to discuss financing a wine cellar, but that's no reason to give up searching for quality wine -- or beer and spirits -- at an affordable price. The key is finding value.

Too often that means following what popular critics tell us, even though we may not share their palates. What's more, those who inhabit the rarefied atmosphere of good taste often overlook the small artisan wineries, craft breweries and independent distillers that lack the volume and marketing budgets that engender success.

But quality has a way of making itself known. Here on Vancouver Island, vintners, brewers and distillers are developing some spectacular offerings. Chances are you haven't heard of some products because they aren't readily available.

Fortunately, that's starting to change, as local establishments recognize the quality, value and attraction of homegrown goods. Moreover, a number of private wine, beer and spirit stores are popping up all over Victoria where the emphasis is on quality over quantity.

Owned and operated by merchants in the know, they offer a diverse range of local offerings that can hold their own on the international stage.

I look forward to reviewing many of these products -- and letting you know where you can enjoy them.

With so much to choose from, it's hard to single out anything for special attention. That being said, here are two local wines, a beer and a spirit that embody quality, value and a certain cachet that won't set you back $624.

Alderlea Pinot Noir Reserve 2007


starting at $35

More than any other varietal, the inimitable Pinot Noir is uniquely expressive of the terroir in which it is grown.

It is also an incredibly fussy grape that thrives in only a handful of places in the world -- one of which is a small four-hectare vineyard in the Cowichan Valley tended by Roger and Nancy Dosman, a husband and wife team who started Alderlea Vineyards in 1992.

The Alderlea Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 has complex aromas of dark cherry, cassis, allspice and leather that are revealed in the mouth and linger long after. A versatile, light-bodied red, it pairs well with beef, pork, lamb and chicken, and is even delicate enough to complement meatier grilled fish, such as salmon or tuna.

Vigneti Zanatta Damasco


starting at $19

With a reputation for producing exceptional sparkling whites, Loretta Zanatta and husband Jim Moody have been producing zesty Cowichan Valley wines since 1986. Their Vigneti Zanatta Damasco is a blend of four grape varieties that benefit from Zanatta's vinification expertise, resulting in a fruit-forward and slightly effervescent mouth feel.

Crisp and refreshing,

it can be enjoyed as a sipping wine, or paired with main courses, ranging from spicy Asian dishes to delicate seafood.

Driftwood Brewery Farmhand Ale


starting at $5

Driftwood Brewery's farmhand ale is a traditional South Belgian-style saison that uses a partial sour-mash and freshly ground black pepper with a unique strain of yeast from Belgium that adds further layers of fruit, spice and complexity to this seasonal style of pale ale. It pairs well with walnuts, pecans and soft ripened cheeses, as well as beef, venison and, of course, mussels.

Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin


starting at $35

Building on the success of Victoria Gin -- Canada's first premium gin -- Victoria Spirits is now aging small handmade batches of its artisan gin in new American oak barrels, producing a smooth amber gin with profound layers of complexity.

On the nose there is a combination of floral rose, spice and juniper, softened by vanilla notes. On the palate there is a creamy, buttery texture with the evergreen quality of juniper dovetailing with citrus notes of lemon and orange, as well as tones of angelica, orris roots, coriander, cinnamon and a hint of anise.

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