Geneviève Bussières is a sommelier in Victoria, British Columbia, but assures us she neither owns nor works at any of the many establishments she recommends below. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
Victoria is regarded as one of the top places to visit in Canada, with good reason. The picturesque city at the south end of Vancouver Island is filled with restaurants and has gorgeous sunsets. As tourism increased rapidly in the past decades, many entrepreneurs have tried to be part of the bigger picture, with great restaurants, wine bars and bistros. As a sommelier, I follow those who put effort into their wines. And there is no lack of fun or adventures to discover both downtown and in our nearest wine region which borders the city limits. Either by foot or by car, you are guaranteed to find something to your taste, leaving you wanting more.
In the last decade I have seen Vancouver Island bloom more than ever. With climate change, grapes are now ripening more fully (local Pinot Gris grapes are pictured right), and what used to be a few wineries scattered all over the island is now a young but established wine region. Researches into our terroir and climates are in depth and show a great potential for the future. Young, talented winemakers make their way here to start wineries that will be the future of British Columbia wines. Wait and see.
Top restaurants with good wine lists
Cafe Brio 944 Fort Street, Victoria
One of our more traditional wine lists in town is found in this villa. One of the best selections of wines by the glass in town. This fine-dining restaurant is mostly European-inclined, with a great selection of both traditionalist and modernist winemakers, but the top British Columbia producers find their place in this fine selection too.
Il Terrazzo 555 Johnson Street, Victoria
Here's our classic Italian restaurant, with over 1,000 wines on the list. I love sitting at the bar and going through the large volume, looking for the fun, simple wines at CA$40 a bottle for the student budget, and for the least available producers in British Columbia, albeit at a steep price. There's a wine for every taste and budget and I find it to be one of the best values in town.
10 Acres 611 Courtney Street, Victoria
This restaurant is three in one: a fun, approachable pub; bistro; and fine-dining restaurant. They have an amazing selection of wines by the glass. This is where I spent a lot of my time, at the bar, studying for my Advanced Certification, as the staff enjoyed challenging me with blind tastings. The selection includes wines from BC’s West Coast to California, mixed in with international wines. The Cellar is always a treat, filled with some of the best finds in the city, accessible through the restaurant, so make a reservation.
Wild Mountain 1831 Maple Avenue, Sooke
This restaurant in charming Sooke is worth the drive. This tiny little place has the approach of serving only ingredients that are local, within a small radius of the restaurant. The wine list is also local, filled with the top producers of British Columbia, organic or low-intervention-oriented. The sommelier here, Brooke Fader, is one of the most attentive to detail in the region, with service like no other. You are guaranteed to be as satisfied with the service as with what’s in the glass.
Pilgrimme 2806 Montagne Road, Galiano Island
It’s an adventure in itself just to get to Pilgrimme and you need to be open minded to dine here. This restaurant is a West Coast experience in a few bites. If the Italians said: "You are what you eat.” Here you drink local, you eat local, and you become West Coast itself. The wines are a reflection of the house philosophy, organic and sustainable. With a heavy British Columbia selection of the best producers, craft beers and many more Island treats, the drinks pair perfectly with our local gastronomy.
Brasserie L’Ecole 1715 Government Street, Victoria
This is by far the locals’ favorite place to dine. It’s not only a beautiful French bistro, but the wine list is never disappointing. They have a very traditional French wine list which is both generous and complete. A great selection of the best French and Belgian beers as well.
Ferri’s Oyster Bar and Perro Negro 536 Yates Street, Victoria
The wine list is shared by two fabulous restaurants. Ferri’s Oyster Bar offers a delicacy of local seafood while their secret tapas bar, Perro Negro, is hidden inside the restaurant, located on the second floor of the building. You’ll find all the best wines to pair with two extremely different menus. They have a great selection of European wines mixed in with our top BC producers.
Stage 1307 Gladstone Avenue, Victoria
I love this small wine bar located in the middle of Fernwood. The wine list is continuously changing. Simple and short, but always well balanced with a choice that will satisfy every palate. A lot of thought goes in the making of this list, and you can tell.
Hanks 1001 Douglas Street, Victoria
This closet-sized restaurant is the best place for two people who just want to watch downtown. Sip on the best of our BC or international organic and low-intervention wines. Simple yet satisfying.
Vessel Liquor Store 1609 Fort Street, Victoria
This liquor store has the best selection of wines in town, with a wide range of locally crafted beers. The Island is filled with microbreweries, mead producers, cider makers and crafted spirits. Here you can browse through the wide selection available.
Vintage Spirits 653 Pandora Avenue, Victoria
This slightly smaller selection is located downtown. From international producers, to a great selection of British Columbia wines. They also carry a beautiful selection of beers, ciders and spirits.
Cascadia Liquor Store at several locations in Greater Victoria
This fun local liquor store chain is driven by an ecofriendly approach. Local products are their specialty. For everything the Island and the rest of BC produces. From beers and ciders to wines and spirits, if you want to experience the Island life, here you can find everything in one room.
The Island has many wine regions, most of them north of Victoria. We have Cowichan Valley, which is the most reputable. Everyone loves Unsworth Vineyards’ Charme de l’Ile, a Prosecco-style sparkling wine. But I decided to highlight the circuit of wineries that we have from Victoria to the ferry in Swartz Bay, Saanich Peninsula and the Gulf Islands that is easily done in half a day on your way back towards the mainland ferry or the airport. A lot of young producers are starting, or buying back, established vineyards. Over the last few years we find that Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are ideal for our climate. But my favorites are Ortega and Zweigelt. Grown since the 1970s, these varieties have been a success in our professional circle. They are less well-known but offer a lot to those who are willing to try them. Kutatás Ortega is shown below.
Kutatás Winery 164 Norton Road, Salt Spring Island
These two very talented winemakers travelled the world making wines, only to come back and start their own business at home. Their international training brings a breath of fresh air to our industry. They make a small yet delicious production of traditional method sparkling, whites, rosés and reds. This is the place for somms to geek out.
Sea Star Estate Farm and Vineyards 6621 Harbor Hill Drive, Pender Island
They make some of the best whites and rosés around. Their vineyard is perfectly located to make great rosé out of Pinot Noir. The whites are generous and pair perfectly with our local cuisine. You can find wines from these remote wineries in our liquor stores downtown.
Rathjen Cellars 334 Walton Place, Saanichton
Not far from town, this is one of our youngest wineries. The producer, Mike Rathjen, took back a lot of established vineyards in the Saanich Peninsula. Great wines from low-intervention winemaking that are food friendly. Easily accessible from town and just across from Symphony Vineyard (see below).
Symphony Vineyard 6409 Oldfield Road, Saanichton
This small, family-owned winery is one of the oldest on the Saanich Peninsula. Their whites are vibrant and consistently delicious, the reds good value. Their passion for Vancouver Island wines is also felt, not only in their wines but in our community.