I mentioned in one of my last articles, in 2008, that I am a big fan of red wines. I have found, to my delight, that there are far more of my fellow wine drinkers, here, who choose red wines over whites.

I wondered if this was a Canadian thing or a Northern thing.

Having finished 2008, pondering this question, I was amused and delighted to meet new friends over the holidays who provided me with opportunities to try one good – one VERY good – Canadian white wine.

It reminded me, once again, about one of the main reasons to drink wines: to explore beyond the borders of what one is familiar with.

I have been meaning to make a concerted effort to taste and learn more about Canadian wines; and one new find made me resolve to explore other Canadian wines in 2009.

Over the holidays, I had an opportunity to try several very-tasty Canadian white wines in the company of two very interesting and delightful women friends.

Sherri, who grew up in B.C. and is an excellent cook, brought a terrific 2007 Five Vineyards Pinot Grigio from Mission Hills Family Estates, in the Okanagan Valley, to a dinner over the holiday season. She also brought salmon, wrapped in puff pastry, and the combination was spectacular.

As we tasted the wine, I could have sworn I was tasting oak notes, but as I read the label I learned it was a white made with Pinot Grigio grapes and was aged not in oak barrels, or with oak chips, but likely in stainless-steel casks.

Pinot Grigio (grey pinot) grapes, as they call them in Italy, as well as generally in the U.S. and Canada, make a delightful food wine and I have had them paired successfully with both seafood and roast poultry.

This Mission Hills wine was delightful with the salmon and the buttery puff pastry. And I think the fact that there was no oak taste to distract from the food flavours really enhanced the wine experience.

The label notes list a bouquet of “tropical fruits, ripe apricots and papaya”, and the finish (the taste that remains after you swallow) is very pleasant.

As a side note, I have seen spectacular pictures of Mission Hill Estate, in the Okanagan Valley. I will put it on my list of places to visit.

There are some excellent Pinot Grigios (sometimes called Pinot Gris) being made up and down the west coast of North America. I have had excellent ones from Oregon and I would add this one to my list of “you should really try” wines.

I don’t see it listed in our local wine store, but if you see it there or come across it in your travels, it’s definitely worth grabbing a bottle or two.

Try it with seafood or roast chicken … it’s another excellent choice with Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey.

A second new friend, a potter and playwright named Harmeny, surprised me with a kind invitation to dinner, to celebrate my birthday.

We had planned to have Indian food, but the restaurant was closed so we dined at the Edgewater Hotel.

Ironically (for a wine writer), Harmeny doesn’t drink, but we had an excellent dinner; and with this potential article in mind, I decided to continue my research by ordering a glass of Jackson Triggs Chardonnay ($8.80 at the wine store) to accompany an appetizer of mussels.

This modestly priced white was a pleasant and acceptable accompaniment to the mussels – refreshingly tart, with green apple notes and a little – but not overbearingly – oaky. It had a decent finish and, when paired with the mussels, the taste of the wine became more buttery, which I liked.

One lesson that I love to re-learn, time and time again, is how one’s wine experience can change with food.

It’s so fun to taste a wine on its own and to try at least two mouthfuls.

The first mouthful is a bit of a shock to your tongue, but lays the foundation for the second mouthful, which will better reveal its true characteristics.

But then have a bite of food, chew and swallow it and then take another mouthful of wine. How does the taste of the wine change after that bite of food? Does it taste different? Do you taste certain aspects of it more clearly?

More fruit, a different texture (mouth feel), a different smell? Over time, you’ll likely find combinations of wines and foods that just work together well. It’s all part of the delight of finding matches while trying new pairings.

So, for 2009 I wish readers and wine explorers the courage to explore new matches and I hope some of them will yield new parings that delight your senses and enrich your lives.

Cheers!