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Once in awhile the monopoly likes to keep it real.
The BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCL), every wine nerd’s favourite punching bag, is not generally down with the cool kids. That’s okay—it’s not really their mandate and spending time searching out “interesting” skin-contact wines from South Eastern Moldava is better left to the handful of private stores that are really great at sourcing what’s interesting and unique in the world of wine. Kits Wine Cellar nails this, as does Liberty on Commerical. There’s also the small but very cool selection at The American. I’m sure there are others too.
But the very staidness of the BCL is what makes it such a treat when you stumble across something that seems out of place in such a temple to bureaucracy. There are wines that you know are beloved by the category manager who loves them—and no doubt has to fight to keep them there—so the least you can do is give them a whirl. I know a lot of somms bristle at the word “hipsters” and while I know some use it pejoratively, I’m just the opposite. For me, it’s the hipsters who move the needle.
Castelo Del Giglio Cesanese 2020 $25
This gem has been on the shelves for several vintages and I’m just tickled every time I see it. Not only is it the sole wine in the BCL from Lazio, a seriously under-loved region, but it’s made from the indigenous grape, cesanese, that almost no one has heard of. Both the above are all the more surprising when you taste it, a wonderful medium-bodied wine that seems both rustic and refined in its delivery of subtle floral notes and blue fruit. All this obscurity usually costs you, but at $25, this is a steal to boot.
Domaine Martin Jund Edelzwicker NV $32
One of the best ways to track down a selection of outside-the-box wines is to find an importer with eclectic tastes and just buy what they bring in. Once upon a time, anything that Kermit Lynch brought in to his store in Berkeley, CA, was sure to have something intriguing. In Vancouver, there aren’t many importers who have a more interesting lineup than Sur Lie. Like this kooky gem from Alsace—it’s non-vintage, comes in a weird 1L bottle and is an off-dry blend of pinot blanc, muscat, riesling and gewürztraminer. It’s also utterly delicious, works well with spicy, grilled foods and cuts an imposing silhouette on the back bar.
Bodega los Bermejos Lanzerote Malvasia Volcanica 2021 $36
Island wine is Hansel hot right now. And the two of the most sought-after locales are Portugal’s the Azores, and Spain’s Canary Islands. This wine comes from the latter (from the island of Lanzarote) where the volcanic soil imparts a lovely austere acidity, but there are also notes of wildflowers and crisp peach. These Malvasia grapes (more cool points!) are grown in these crazy hollowed-out craters, entirely handpicked, are pressed in whole clusters—all in a manner that seems amazingly old-school.
Domaine Rolet Arbois Vin Jaune $85
It’s downright bizarre how much wine the BCL carries from France’s beloved-by-nerds region of the Jura. Many are by the excellent producers Domaine Rollet and they include magnums of the supremely weird (but interesting arbois blanc), well-priced bottles of the red trousseau and this example of vin jaune. It’s a wine made from the savagnin grapes that matures in oak barrels under a film of yeast known as the voile for six years and three months and emerges tasting more like sherry than white wine. And then it’s bottled in a 620Ml bottle called a clavelin. Unlike the others on this list, this wine is much more of an acquired taste but its purchase will give you immediate street cred with a certain subset of wine-lover.
Mathieu and Camille Lapierre Morgon 2021 $53
The BCL has carried this legendary Morgon—often the first low-intervention/natural wine that many people ever came in contact with—since it was made by Mathieu and Camille’s father, Marcel. It has now transcended the cool category to be one of the benchmark wines, an iconic ambassador to the greatness of cru Beaujolais (and with a price tag that has likewise ascended). Most importantly, it’s still a wonderful wine—concentrated, great minerality and both juicy and classy.