Wines of the Region & Local Food – Why They Work so Well Together!


Linda Holford – Rocky Creek Winery

Some people love to pair wines with food.

Why is tasting wine and food better together than alone?

Ask any chef why a recipe works. When the ingredients come together in one bite, it’s better than tasting individual flavours on your plate. Amuse-bouche is one tiny bite that should explode in your mouth; it’s crafted to make the ingredients balance each other.

Winemaking is similar. Each winemaker takes the time to taste the wines and work with them year round to develop a great balance of flavour in your mouth. A good winemaker can balance a wine where one element doesn’t over power the other. When you pair this great balance of flavour with food, it establishes a great taste sensation.

In the Cowichan Valley, we have a great terroir for both the local foods and the local wines. They are all grown here with the same weather patterns and should pair so well with each other. Mother Nature giving us the head start for a great meal. Just think back to other regions of the world: A great Chianti goes so well with pasta—both grown together, or a good Riesling with sauerkraut and schnitzel.

Mass market wines are more limited and get one or two senses. The red wines differ because you have more tannins that will affect the balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness. The same principle for hand-crafted red wines take time to taste the complexity and when these wines are paired with foods then it stimulates even more. The wine and food last longer and taste well together.

Many of the Vancouver Island whites are light and acidic. Those with a Riesling base have floral tones. Ortegas have a mineral base and Pinot Gris can have lots of fruit forward, such as apricot, citrus notes, apple or even fresh hay tones.

Serve the whites well chilled and pair with picnics or buffets where salads, grilled vegetables, fish, chicken or kebabs are predominant on the table. Delicious with sweet shellfish, Dungeness crab and spot prawns. They can also work with creamy soups, as long as they are not too sweet.

The Ortega grape is one such wine that many people were not sure of until they tasted it with food. Ortega is relatively unknown in the world but is used by many wineries. At first, many people didn’t think it was worth trying because it didn’t taste like Chardonnay. Over the eight years I have worked in the business, the Ortega has developed its own following. Those who were skeptical about the grape at first, loved it after tasting with vegetables and dip, asparagus, oysters and cheeses—all things you get in this region.

Our reds on the island are usually light, fruity reds with tones of spice. They pair well with fish, poultry and braised meats with fat in them, and they are fantastic with pork. One red that is predominant on the island is Pinot Noir. Try these wines with the sweetness and acidity of tomatoes, and pasta sauces. One vegetable that shines with red wine is the artichoke.

Pinot Noir from our region has different characteristics of fruit flavours: red fruits such as strawberry, cherry, raspberry and sometimes plums versus those flavours found in grapes grown in hotter regions. Reds in ours also have clove and pepper characteristics. It’s lighter and is an immediate pairing with salmon. These are fantastic examples again of what grows here, what is easy to find and will just burst your taste buds.

Vancouver Island wineries make beautiful sparkling wines many by the traditional Champagne method or by injecting gas bubbles. Sparklings are great to sip alone and pairs well with many foods even with popcorn or potato chips for a wonderful quick bite. Sparklings stimulates the appetite, which is why it is best served at the beginning of the meal. Try it with with Asian cuisine and fish for great flavour.

Dessert wines on the island vary greatly but one dessert wine that Rocky Creek Winery specializes in, and is quite predominant on the island, is the Blackberry dessert wine. Each blackberrry varies in sweetness from place to place. Pair it with lemon desserts, ice cream or pears. Some vineyards have reduced the sweetness and these can also be paired with appetizers. At our winery we suggest pates, sausages or a hazelnut-crusted lamb on a crostini with a blackberry reduction.

Many of the suggestions here really feature the local foods of this region. The terroir contributes to the natural process of food growing and wine making. When wines are sustainable and hand crafted, the flavours showcase the terroir even more and that’s why local foods that are organically grown also pair well with the wine. Every region has its own special terroir. This is your region to explore and enjoy!

Linda Holford
Owner Rocky Creek Winery, lover of gardens, travel and food and wine.



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