Fine wines on tap and traditional Vietnamese food with a twist

Photography by John Wu

About one hundred food and wine lovers gathered at the Vancouver Urban Winery for an introduction to two new additions to Vancouver; the ‘winery’ itself, and the upcoming Satori Factory. The latter, a new restaurant from Maria Huynh, who also owns Chau VeggieExpress (at 34th and Victoria), will be open at the end of October.


Chef Maria Huynh previews her new menu at the Vancouver Urban Winery

Maria gave us a preview of the Satori menu, in the form of a five-course meal which was judiciously paired with wines from the winery’s taps.

Taps? That’s right. Thirty-two different wines dispensed from custom-made, stainless-steel taps. Attached to stainless steel kegs. Filled from wooden barrels, or steel drums, shipped from the originating wineries. This is the new age of ‘fresh’ wine. It is never bottled, it is never exposed to oxygen and, as a result, it tastes marvelous. Fresh, clean and full-flavoured. Quelle difference.

The Vancouver Urban Winery is not, in fact, a winery. It is a kegging operation, which has been doing brisk business since its February opening. The building is a 90-year-old, 7,700 square-foot former steel foundry in Railtown (Dunlevy & Alexandra). It is an elegant, keg-lined cavern which is also available for private events and, Monday to Friday, to the public for tastings. People can swing by and choose samples of wines ($2.50 each), choose sampling packages for $15.00, and/or order charcuterie boards. It’s a nice change from meeting after-work bar cocktails, and there’s the educational aspect of learning about wines from all over the world—which taste the same as they would if you were at the originating winery.

Such an operation is a first for Vancouver. Owners Steve Thorp and Mike MacQuisten saw the tap concept as an emerging industry—and a boon for the hospitality industry.  Even where kitchens can use past-their-best wines, wine spoilage costs restaurants a fortune. With kegs, there is no spoilage. Kegged wine will not spoil. At the winery level, the tap system means no bottling, no label design, and reduced shipping costs and the winery savings are passed on. And, from an environmental perspective, there are fewer bottles to recycle, or toss into the landfill. Everybody wins.

Everyone at the Vietnamese event was very impressed, even if they were a little skeptical at first. Vietnamese food does not normally lend itself to wine pairings. But we forget that Vietnam was once a French territory and the culinary influence remains. For example, Huynh’s chicken pate was one of the best I’ve ever tasted—very creamy with a rich combination of flavours. Accompanying this was a wedge of Port Salut and, cold pork being a traditional component of any Vietnamese feast, headcheese and pickled pigs ears. I passed on the latter (I could hear the crunch from across the table) but did sample the former, which was a very mild sausage accompanied by a most delicious date and lychee jam.

The second course was prawn salad rolls with basil, fresh vermicelli and tamarind sauce. Sadly, the prawns were tasteless, but the sauce was so delicious, no one cared. Mid-meal, we had a wonderful palate cleanser of coconut cream sorbet, and that was followed by Vietnamese beef wrapped around crunchy jicama and beets.

 The accompanying satay sauce was incredibly hot and not, I thought, necessary.  And I do wish that yam puree would stop popping up on plates; unless one does something really creative with it, it just becomes a tasteless orange blob.

But nevermind, the beef came with fresh herbs, toasted rose petals, black sage and fried lotus root. Wonderful. And, for dessert, we were treated to an awesome banana cake, and to-die-for red velvet macarons.

Our wines list for the evening began with the VUW’s house imports: a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Argentinian Malbec, both of which were fantastic. With our meal, it was all Okanagan. We began with Okanagan Crush Pad Rose, a lovely light wine full of honey and wildflowers. That was followed by the very pale, but very fruity, Blasted Church Hatfield's Fuse (named after the man who thought he could use dynamite to move a church off the winery). Then there was the chameleon-like, but delicious Joie Noble Blend, the softer fruitiness of Le Vieux Pin’s Petit Rouge and, finally, the always-marvelous, Hester Creek Merlot.

It was so nice to be introduced to two home-grown business with such potential. I foresee the winery’s retail business booming, and I love the idea of on-tap wine. Maria Huynh’s Satori will also be a great addition to the Vancouver restaurant line-up. We should all look forward to its October opening.


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