Victoria's Secret Tastes
You can hardly say that Stage, a small plates wine bar in Victoria's Fernwood district, is a secret – still. Not since it earned Eat! Magazine's Reader's Choice award for Best Place for Appies and Drinks in March and was also honorably mentioned for 2009's Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival's Wine List Awards. En Route magazine also named it “one of Canada's best new restaurants.”
Tucked away as it is in this Victorian theater district, across the street from Fernwood Inn, which is just down the block from the Fernwood Theater, and you see why Victoria's city dwellers would hanker after a tapas night on the town where you feel like you could be anywhere – Vancouver, San Francisco, Soho, even.
The evening we dined there was early in the week. At 6:30, the wine bar was nearly empty. By 8:00 it was packed. Once the theater-goers walk the couple blocks down the street after their show's end at around 10 p.m., it becomes that much more popular. Seating is augmented by a generous bar area to accommodate overflow.
Stage Wine Bar's exposed brick interior is partly what gives it that urban, hip appeal. It's also the diners who, my guests explained to me, are part of the contingent of young professionals who increasingly live and work in downtown Victoria and surroundings. “It's starting to feel a bit like Vancouver,” the twenty-something Victorian explained to me, saying that she and her husband are happy to be living where they are and don't miss “the city” at all.
Of course, it helps when you have hip hang-outs like Stage tapas and wine bar. The evening I stopped in, there were several wine specials written in chalk on a menu board hung by a nail on the brick wall. I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir from Venturi-Schulze.
Pinot Noir is one of the most grown grapes on Vancouver Island, also known as “Wine Island.” The server attempted to dissuade me from my locally produced Pinot by suggesting a Malbec. And while I am a fan of Argentine Malbecs, I felt it was my duty to explore the island's wines while exploring the island. Sometimes “duty” has its rewards. My elegant, medium-bodied Pinot paired well with the local lamb dish I ordered. Oh, and, the “small plates,” - by no means large - are most adequately filling. Click Here for Stage's Menu.
Vancouver Island Varietals
There are four basic grape varietals that thrive on Vancouver Island. They are Pinot Noir, the island's most planted red variety, and, notoriously temperamental, also known as the “heartbreak grape”; there is Marechal Foch which is cold-tolerant and yields jammy flavors; there is Ortega, named after the Spanish philosopher, one of the first planted vines on the Island which gives grapes that yield a bright floral aroma and citrus flavors; and there is the ever popular Pinot Gris, also planted extensively in both Alsace and Oregon, that the Island has embraced and developed two distinct styles from, the coppery-hued Oaked Gris and the crisp, light Unoaked Gris.
Vancouver Island also makes a home for Meaderies (two) who make their honey wines from “herds” of bees, Cideries (two), and Breweries (several). In fact, Victoria had a brewery before it had a lighthouse! The Wine Islands have 150 years experience making brews and micro brews.
If you've dropped down into Victoria on a day-trip, then Saanich Peninsula's Wine Route is the most accessible by car and is only about an hour's drive from the city. Some of the wineries to see: Chalet/Muse Winery including their Bistro Muse open Th-Sun; Victoria Spirits, Vancouver Island's first artisan distillery; Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery, British Columbia's first meadery and it boasts an ocean view; Starling Lane Winery, also noteworthy for 19th century charm; Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, organic “hard” cider, open year-round; Malahat Estate Vineyard grows all the Island's main varietals and is the highest vineyard on the island; and Church & State Wines which was the Island's largest winery but has since moved their operations to the Okanagan. It is suggested that you pack a cooler with you to keep your purchases from the wineries from getting too heated as you make your rounds.