Learning opportunities by the bottle

The day is upon us — the wait for Cornucopia, Whistler’s five-day celebration of wine and food, is finally over, and the festivities begin today.

But for those among us who aren’t quite confident enough to label themselves wine aficionados, an event like Cornucopia can seem slightly intimidating — there are a lot of strange, unpronounceable words bandied about, and strange practices take place at tasting events (people actually spit the wine into buckets?! Doesn’t seem very sophisticated, does it?)

But rest assured, organizers have taken lots of steps to ensure that food and wine lovers at every level of interest and expertise will have an opportunity to take part in seminars and tastings to help cultivate their interest and knowledge.

Jo Hyland is event administrator for Watermark Communications Inc., the company running the Cornucopia celebrations this year.

“That was one of the things that Watermark took into consideration when we took over the events. We definitely want to keep that high-end aspect, and we want to keep pushing the limits in that category, but then we also want to make Cornucopia more accessible to everybody,” she said.

Hyland stresses that there’s no reason to be scared off by the big-ticket parties and the like — there are lots of chances to enjoy wine and food while you learn.

A new seminar, Best Buys ($40), on Sunday morning sees a star-studded panel of wine industry experts (Anthony Gismondi, Rhys Pender, Mark Taylor and David Scholefield) offering their take on the very best bang for your buck available at the local wine store, exploring different varietals and price points.

“Not everyone wants to go out and spend $100 on a bottle of wine,” said Hyland, “especially when they don’t necessarily know what they’re going to be buying.”

Another new offering taking place at the same time on Sunday is Building Your Wine Cellar ($60). Presented by Sid Cross, John Clerides and Paul Wagner, this seminar touches on just about everything you need to know to start your own cellar of just about every size; where and how to build it, what to put in it, and how to manage it.

“That, again, is for anybody,” Hyland explained. “It’s from beginner, intermediate to somebody that really knows a lot about wine, but hasn’t really started their collection yet… it’s for people who are actually starting to think about making an investment in wine, or people that just want to start out with… a case or two of wine, and how they should store it.”

Hyland also recommends that wine world newbies check out the Viking Stage Series events ($10 to $25), which see chefs preparing Indian cuisine, B.C.-based product, seafood, cheese, chocolate and other food items, and pairing each with the appropriate wines.

“That’s another good one for attendees to come and see sort of what are the basic principles of pairing your food and wine,” she explained. “That’s another good place for beginners to start, because a lot of wine is enjoyed with food.”

By Sunday, you should be ready to take part in one or more of the six Mini Tasting Series ($35), which touch on everything from sweet wines to Syrah vs. Shiraz. You will (hopefully) have had a few days to hone your palate and find out which wines you actually enjoy by attending Crush! or the Regional Walkabout tastings, and which you would actually want to learn more about.

“They focus more on particular varieties, so you’re not going into a seminar with 10 completely different wines in front of you,” she said, adding that like types of wines are being compared by region, year and other subtle variables.

Tickets are still available to most events and seminars, and can be purchased online at www.whistlercornucopia.com .


Extra helpings

Speaking of wine, I finally had an occasion to pop a bottle of Fresita that I had longingly been staring at for the past few weeks.

You see, this new, Chilean sparkling wine is infused with handpicked strawberries from the region. Yes, that’s right — strawberry wine. I knew it was going to be an extremely sweet treat, and was holding off for an occasion where I could share it with friends. So, on All Hallow’s Eve, I chilled the bottle, poured liberal glasses of the bubbly red beverage and added 10 ml of rum to create their suggested Chili Libre cocktail (though I simply called it “blood” when I handed it to people).

This fruit-flavoured concoction heralded back to our long, hot summer and the trays of strawberries aplenty that come along with the season, just before the snow starts to fly.


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