Ian Sutherland (L), Paul Jones (C), Tony Holler (R)

Newly opened, the Vanilla Pod Restaurant at Poplar Grove Winery is one of the Okanagan’s most gorgeously situated winery restaurants. I’m eager to try it out.

Poplar Grove’s founder and executive winemaker, Ian Sutherland, and president and owner, Tony Holler, join yours truly in the dining room, where the “transparent” decor minimizes the border between outside and in. “Nothing gets in the way of the dining experience and 180-degree views of two lakes,” says Ian. “You can only do this in the Okanagan because there are no miserable biting bugs,” Tony quips.

After consulting with us, restaurateur/sommelier Paul Jones orchestrates the wine and menu selections.

The first selection is a 2010 Monster Vineyards Riesling produced in a nearby facility devoted to great value wines. Balanced and off dry, it features racy acidity and a honeyed character. How will it fare with crispy Yukon gold potato cakes with tomato and avocado salsa and Happy Farms chèvre, an appetizer with some zing from red onion, cilantro and Tabasco? For Tony, the acidity cuts the spiciness, while Ian cites the slightly off-dry finish as the key to cooling the heat.

Paul now pours a thirst-quenching 2011 Blanc de Noirs, 10 per cent of the juice bled from a mix of three red varieties. Accompanied by seared halibut with warm potato salad, spinach, tomato, scallions, prosciutto and white balsamic vinaigrette, the bubbly highlights the simplicity and freshness of the dish, while its “clean acidity leaves you ready for the next olive oil soaked new potato,” according to Ian.

Poured from a decanter, 2007 Legacy “is our big gun,” says Tony, describing Poplar Grove’s richly complex, elegant Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominated Bordeaux-style blend. Hearing his cry for something meaty, Paul serves lamb rack with Romano bean sauté and rosemary aioli. “It’s a hand and glove pairing,” says Ian. “The intrinsically comforting flavours of the wine and dish are made for each other.”

Having started with a Riesling, it makes sense to finish with another, a 2010 Late Harvest, with the flavours focused on lemon curd, petrol and honey. Teamed with Vanilla Pod’s heavenly (but not too heavy) bread pudding and vanilla ice cream with a lemon caramel sauce, we agree with Ian’s assessment that flavours of lemon, caramel and honey provide the bridge between wine and food. ~Michael Botner

Photo by Michael Botner