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Stepping into Whistler’s world of wine

If you're anything like me, a trip to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine can be an overwhelming experience: red, white or rosé? Which region? Sweet or dry? But at a restaurant, especially a higher end establishment, selecting a wine is a fa

If you're anything like me, a trip to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine can be an overwhelming experience: red, white or rosé? Which region? Sweet or dry? But at a restaurant, especially a higher end establishment, selecting a wine is a far less trying experience, especially if they happen to have a sommelier on staff. These guys (or girls) are a resource you don't want to waste: they devote a lot of time and energy into learning the history and science behind wine.

David Foran was drawn into this world of wine when he started waiting tables at Araxi, 13 years ago. "The wine program there was phenomenal at the time - they had one of the best sommeliers in the country and I saw it as an opportunity to immerse myself in that world," he recalled.

"It was inspiring, being in that environment."

He began under the tutelage of Araxi's sommelier and enrolled in the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) sommelier course in 2001, studying two to three hours per day, traveling to wine regions like Napa and the Okanagan and attending local industry events like Cornucopia in hopes of soaking up all the knowledge he could.

Contrary to popular perception, not all wine lovers are wine snobs. On the surface, the world of wine can seem very inaccessible to the average person. But Foran gets past the pretension quite simply: "I think it's in the verbiage. You know, being able to break down what was once a staunchy, kind of elitist subject, certainly to my generation, and we grew up to see it that way. But as you get into the wine world, you realize that it's just juice, you know? And its farmers, and obviously some are better than others. But it's not any different than raising Black Angus cattle or the best produce that you could possibly grow."

Foran focuses on teaching the basic building blocks first.

"People aren't necessarily interested in the technical data," he explained. "It's more about what makes one wine better than the other, and to do that, you have to taste. You have to teach people how to taste, first and foremost, and that's what I try and do when I'm doing a class or seminar. We have to learn how to break down a wine, not in an elitist or technical sort of way, or sophisticated sort of way, but we do need to understand the common properties of what makes one wine better than another."

Foran recently took over as director of wine at Whistler's Four Seasons. He also won their inaugural sommelier competition last year, when he was sommelier for La Rúa.

Sommelier competition, you say? Yes, the Four Seasons threw down the gauntlet late last summer, calling on local wine buffs to step forward and throw their hat into the ring to compete for top honours. They're hosting the event for a second time on Wednesday, Sept. 8. (Which conveniently coincides with their Wined Down Wednesday promotion. Can you say half price bottles of wine?)

The competition kicks off at 5:30 p.m., and is all about making the world of wine accessible and fun for everyone. The event features three rounds: wine jeopardy, a blind tasting and a sabre competition. The first round will test competitors' knowledge of wine terms and history, while the second will require them to write proper tasting notes on an assortment of white and red wines, breaking down the country and region of origin, as well as grape varietals. Last but not least, the competitors will get creative, donning a costume and wielding a unique tool to sabre a bottle of champagne (they'll also be judged for distance and accuracy).

Foran expects they will see eight to 10 competitors squaring off at this year's event. So far, a few independent wine reps and staff from the Four Seasons, Trattoria di Umberto, Bearfoot Bistro, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and Quattro have signed up to compete.

Industry professional and wine educator Mark Davidson is again hosting and a panel of three celebrity judges will help select a winner, who will walk away with some great prizes. (Riedel has donated a hand-blown crystal decanter, valued at $500, and the Four Seasons is providing dinner and a night at the hotel.) And if you need any extra incentive to come out and watch the action, one lucky spectator will walk away with a magnum of wine.

Of course, the event is also intended to create a sense of competition and pride for people involved in the industry, recognizing all of the hard work and time that these passionate sommeliers have devoted to their trade.

"It helps bring our wine community together and it helps build a wine culture in Whistler that exists, but I would like to see strengthened," Foran said.

"Wine is meant to bring people together and it's meant to be unpretentious and approachable, and any time that we can host events that will help facilitate that, I think it's a good thing."