December 1, 2009

Victoria's Secrets (IV of IV): Sip-by-Sip Seduction

Cornichon and Hedonista (Seattle's Jacqueline Pruner) have reached the end of this four-part, jointly written series of "Victoria's Secrets." In many ways we've saved the best for last. (Everyone loves a happy ending, n'est-ce pas?) Sips Artisan Bistro seems a fitting conclusion to our quest for Victoria's hidden culinary delights, a veritable cornucopia of British Columbia's impressive wines, beers and spirits, matched with Island-grown-and-raised artisan meats, cheeses, poultry and seafood, all, in this unlikely location, under the baton of Brian Storen.

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CORNICHON says: Brian Storen, poet laureate of the Kingdom Bacchus, Canada's 2005 sommelier of the year, is probably the only person to use the terms "sweaty bovine," "post-coital" and "necrotic" in the same sentence to discuss a wine, and he does it effortlessly, the words rolling from his tongue like arpeggios from Mozart's fingers. This to describe a Kettle Valley Vineyards malbec grown in the Okanagan's grand cru Naramata Bench, a fine bottle but not even the standout in an amazing tasting of great wines from British Columbia. (That honor, to Cornichon's palate, probably went to a Venturi-Schultze pinot noir.) Storen would not mind. He riffs in another dimension, a whirlwind of free-association, Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Blake and Jack Kerouac all at once: "earth, bramble and spice olfactory escalator’s ascendance into gossamer strands of first crushed carnations then blackberry and melted purple crayon sylphs riding bare back through a heaving pack of saddle mounted black currant." (Take that, Robert Parker!)

HEDONISTA says: I have a confession to make, dear readers. I have a crush on poet-turned-sommelier Brian Storen. Not the kind of crush I have for Linda and George Szasz, mind you - that wholesome, husband-wife-makin'-fab-food kinda crush. What I feel for this literary libations lover is far more ... seductive. An "I'd wish he'd write me a love letter" kinda crush. Think college professor crush, when you hang on every word spoken and every smile, every glint of those seemingly bottomless azure 'n' steel hued eyes. When he smiles it's as if it's is just for you; when he, oh say, pours you your yet another glass of wine (for by now you've truly lost count), it's as if some magical moment, some exceptional gift, has been revealed only to you. By this time you're drunk - not on the liquid love, mind you, but on the literary love: his words. Phrases such as "slap of the baby dragon’s tail on wet slate" (to describe the cold fermented terroire finish of Cobble Hill's Venturi Schultze 2006 Brut Naturel, made with fermented pinot auxerrois, pinot gris, and kerner grapes) and "burbling wet dream ephemera in the diligence of nectar drunk bumble bees humming frizzante dexterity while they work, not caring how they get into the flower nor whether they ever emerge" (to detail the tasting tones of B.C.'s first meadery, Tugwell Creek's Sparkling Methode Classic Wassail Mead). True food erotica - nay, food porn. All you can do is submit to a final night cap - rather aptly named "The Leg Spreader" if you can believe it (and, at this stage of the food and wine orgy, trust me when I say you can). His tasting notes for this close-to-coital cocktail concoction:

Fireweed honey esters roil up the glass, pungent with frankincense and myrrh smoked ancient stone and wood shafts funneling the languorous movement of an opulently overripe apricot shedding its skin before slipping into a gooseberry lined bed and the trembling embrace of a post pubescent fig tree, conmingling their rhapsodic liquid essence in the twice blessed womb of myth & imagina.

CORNICHON says: Sips is hardly the environment you'd choose for a seduction, let alone a tasting of benchmark wines. The room itself is spare, a shoebox illuminated by the garish fluorescent fixtures mandated by the Provincial Liquor Board to keep PLS (private liquor store) licensees from making their products too appealing. And Sips, you come to realize, shares its premises and its liquor license with Spinnakers, the pioneering craft brewery, gastropub and guest house located across the Inner Harbour in Esquimault. Beyond the glass divider, a plethora of smiley-faces indicating products not carried by government stores. "Every bottle has its story," the signs say, and it falls to the mild-mannered, long-haired, Storer to tell them. And tell the stories he does, with clarity, erudition and enthusiasm.

HEDONISTA says: A fitting grand finale; and one that you simply can't refuse. For Master Storen seduces you with each and every sip, from amuse bouche to night cap, from flirtatious beginning to post-coital culinary end. For his professorial lecture is revelation, dear hedonists. I strongly believe that his class should be entitled thus: The Advanced Enophilic Class of Foodie Philosophy - "the palate as orgasm to the soul."

CORNICHON concludes: "Hardwired to the trigeminal brain stem, the palate is portal to the soul," Storen's story begins. It would be a shame to paraphrase it, to do more than pay homage to his 13-part seduction. His 1,500-word tasting narrative, fully annotated with matching foods, is here (PDF) Can you keep a secret? It's not too many notes if you're listening, it's not too many wines if you're paying attention. The trick is let yourself be seduced (by the wine, by the music) without falling asleep.

Sips Artisan Bistro, 425 Simcoe St., Victoria, BC, 250-590-3519   Sips Artisan Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Posted by Ronald Holden at December 1, 2009 8:30 AM | TrackBack

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