Vodka and Lobster Tasting

By / Magazine / February 20th, 2009 / 1

A friend has invited me to a vodka tasting. I thought vodkas weren’t supposed to have any flavour. Am I right, and if not, what exactly will we be tasting?

The last time I was invited to something passing for a vodka “tasting,” I woke up the next day with a pounder of a headache and a whole lot of explaining to do. (Damn those cell-phone cameras.) Since then, I firmly believe that the only true testament to a vodka’s quality is how well its neutral nature stays put underneath a thick layer of orange or clamato juice.

Bad memories aside, your pal actually has his shot glass on the pulse of what’s happening when it comes to the clear side of the booze business. The population explosion of luxury vodkas (those with big price tags to match their fancy bottles and even fancier modes of filtration) has created a new breed of aficionados who — like their counterparts along the whisky trail — have taken to analyzing their favourite spirit to death, whether it needs it or not.

But you asked about flavour, and you’re right: by definition, vodka should have none. Sure, uniqueness of the grain, the water and the production method used will add some individuality to the way each spirit bounces off your taste buds, but since all are filtered to within an inch of their lives to allow for a clean marriage with mix, you’ll really have to expand your mind and palate to taste anything other than pure unadulterated alcohol. 

A bartender friend of mine complains that the mega-expensive varieties are so fine-tuned that they lay flat in even the most inventive of his mixological creations. He prefers to use the cheap stuff, because at least the imperfections in their mass-produced personalities add some guts to his liquid glory. Of course, making up your own mind is what trying a number of vodkas in one sitting is really all about. Just make sure whatever happens at the vodka tasting stays at the vodka tasting.

Living in the Maritimes, you must have lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner; can you recommend a wine to match?

Sorry to poke a hole in your parade, but I have lobster maybe once a year and that’s thanks to my mother-in-law who secures us a feed-to-share, because no one else in her family will go near them. (The split runs 60-40 in favour of the Rockwell side).

I know: treating lobster, well, like a treat may not sound very Atlantic Canadian, but my once-a-year romance with the king of crustaceans means that the right wine has to be exactly that. Here on the East Coast, lobster isn’t lobster unless it’s been boiling (or maybe steamed) with a dash or two of melted butter — the only thing allowed to interfere with its light, savoury flavour. If buttery (or in a cream sauce if you must), a nice white from France’s Burgundy region hits the spot — as might a lightly oaked New World Chardonnay from, say, Australia, California or the Niagara Peninsula.

Without butter, the possibilities are endless. While I still dig a fine Chard, a clean, green Pinot Grigio works wonders as well as a well-developed northern-hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux or a southern-hemisphere version from New Zealand. Looking to goose things up a bit? Try something made from a fruit-centric grape like Viognier, Riesling (think off-dry New-Worlder) or maybe Chenin Blanc.

Then there’s sparkling wine. Since cracking open a few shells is a special occasion for me, nothing tastes better — and ups the ante on the flavour mix — than Champagne. And you thought the eatables were going to break the bank… 


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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