Metro Vancouver is home to over 2 million residents and sits on the 49th parallel - just 24 miles north of the U.S. border. It is a melting pot with countless ethnicities and cultures proudly calling Vancouver home. It is no wonder that the food and wine scene is alive and vibrant.
Bordered on three sides by water and the fourth by the 1,001-acre Stanley Park, Vancouver is where the Greenpeace movement got started and holds the distinction of ‘Smallest Carbon Footprint’ of any major North American city. Vancouver’s natural beauty is always a main draw for tourists but increasingly, food and wine continues to climb as the reason to travel.
Actually, alcohol has much to do with the establishment of what is now the historical site of Gastown. This small district is here where Vancouver was born. The story goes that John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton came to the fledgling area with six dollars to his name. He built a saloon to capture the local sawmill workers as clientele – but first he offered a trade. Gassy Jack showed up with a barrel of whiskey in 1867 and told the sawmill workers they could drink as much as they wanted if they helped him build his saloon. The trade was a successful one and the saloon was built almost overnight.
Given the short 4 hour drive from the Okanagan Valley and that region’s world-class wines, it was only a matter of time that Vancouver became a destination for wine travelers to sample some of British Columbia’s best wines paired alongside some fabulous and ethnically diverse food.
Here are three unique and quality establishments to put on your list when visiting Vancouver:
Vancouver is a destination for people looking for new adventures while being surrounded by natural beauty. Case in point is a young Sommelier, Jayton James, who came from Jasper, Alberta to pursue his wine and spirit education and knowledge. I asked James why Vancouver, “I want to be one of the youngest to complete my Master Sommelier and Vancouver is the place to do it.”
James is the Sommelier at Uva Wine Bar, located in downtown Vancouver, which was recently voted “Best Wine Bar” in Vancouver by a local newspaper. Here, James helps to curate the wine list and attends industry trade tastings to increase his knowledge and understanding. I asked James why he feels Vancouver is a great tourist destination, “Vancouver is an easily available, trendy port city. There is a huge international influx of cultures that bring their unique cultural flavors to the city. And there is a wine for every cuisine – that is what is so exciting.”
James has some excellent tips when choosing wines that you don’t recognize, “Be really open. Know that the person looking after you wants to hear your story and assist you with your selection. Try to be adventurous and give something new a try – the Sommelier will suggest a great pairing – trust their knowledge of food and wine.” At Uva Wine Bar, the selection of wine by the glass is quite considerable – when I was there, they had 12 reds, 11 whites and 1 rosé.
There are British Columbia wines by the glass as well as more adventurous choices like Zweigelt, Grüner Veltliner and Malvasia. I love their wine flight options that are themed and unintimidating such as the ‘Italian Tourist’ that includes a 2 oz. taste of a bubble, a white and a red.
Uva Wine and Cocktail Bar is a welcoming, intimate space that offers excellent choices, knowledgeable, engaging staff and a great vibe. Located inside the MODA Hotel, Uva is open Monday to Sunday from 11:30 AM until 2:00 AM.
Always a ‘must’ for any tourist to Vancouver, a trip to Vij’s Restaurant will leave you with lasting memories of how wine and Indian food is a stunning and beautiful combination. Located in Vancouver’s South Granville district, Vikram Vij opened his first restaurant in 1994 that held 14 seats.
I had a chance to meet up with the Sommelier, Sean Nelson, who was born in Langley, B.C. After getting started with his Wine Spirit Education Trust, working in high end wine retail and travelling through Europe and Australia, Nelson saw the posting for Sommelier at Vij’s and jumped at the chance, “Vij’s is an absolute destination for the food and wine lover in Vancouver and we welcome guests from around the world daily.”
Vij’s wine list is impressive – it changes weekly, as do the ‘wines by the glass’ features. When I was there, Nelson had 36 reserve reds available from around the world including top-tier B.C. wine, 35 reserve whites along with 6 sparkling options including Mandois Brut Origine, NV, Pierry, Champagne, France.
Nelson is excited about the sparkling category and how it compliments Vij’s Indian cuisine, “We are opening up and moving to a bigger location. Our wine program is going to expand and have an even better sparkling program. I really want to make Vij’s a destination for sparkling wine. It works fantastically with our food – it is a dream pairing. It refreshes you at the same time it adds layers of complexity with bubbles and crisp acidity.”
I asked Nelson if there is a food and wine pairing from Vij’s that he would recommend, “Absolutely, it is less than traditional but I pour Lambrusco by the glass. It is a dry Lambrusco from Medici Ermete e Figli’s ‘Concerto’ - I would pair it with almost any of our dishes but most definitely it would be our Lamb Popsicles with the Lambrusco if someone wants to be blown away.”
Vij’s Restaurant is open seven days a week at 5:30 P.M. Reservations are not taken and it is suggested arriving at 5:00 PM for a seat.
Salt Tasting Room is one of Vancouver’s hip places to visit for great wine. From the location on Blood Alley Square in Gastown to the brick lined walls and chalkboards covered with the daily offerings, Salt delivers an authentic experience for the wine traveler.
Owned by Sean and Erin Heather, Salt Tasting Room has been open for nine years. Salt continues to wow and excite locals and tourists alike with a select wine list made up of mostly British Columbian small batch, quality wines. Here, the fun is in creating your own flight of three wines or having the awesome staff build one for you and pairing it with a cheese or charcuterie plate.
When I went, I asked to have my wine flight built for me. I was asked what type of wine styles I preferred – dry or sweet, light or full - and if I wanted a red or white flight. I asked for one of each and happily sipped through the 2-ounce pours of the wines and tasted them with the cheese and charcuterie to find my favorite match. One standout wine was Alderlea ‘Clarinet’ Marechal Foch 2010 from Vancouver Island - quite delicious with everything.
The selections of wine, cheese and meat change often so it is never the same experience twice. Come for an engaging and relaxed evening and sample some of B.C.’s finest!
Salt Tasting Room is open daily from 4 PM until close.