Food and Drink 

Cornucopia’s conspicuous and copious consumption

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I’m still recovering from Cornucopia, Whistler’s food and wine celebration that wrapped up last weekend. The village-wide party is officially a decade old and, in this writer’s opinion, it’s now the best wine party in the country.

This is not a weekend for the staid, buttoned-down wine sipper, nor is it particularly suited to those who require a normal, daily ration of sleep. Just ask the folks at Bearfoot Bistro, who spent most of the week deconstructing the restaurant in preparation for Masquerave and its hundreds of party-goers that ran Friday night right through to sunrise Saturday, before putting it all back together in time to host an extraordinary formal dinner party and tasting for 100 on Saturday night.

With little if any voice left, Whistler bad-boy Bacchus Andre Saint-Jacques greeted a sold-out dinner crowd with his sabre and magnums of Pommery Cuvée Louise. His diners would be the first, and likely the last, to experience three vertical tastings involving Pommery Cuvée Louise, Chateau Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes, Chateau Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape and, the rarest of the rare, Hommage de Beaucastel.

It’s not easy to outshine such wines but chef Melissa Craig managed to do it most of the night. Highlights included an exquisite weathervane scallop and water chestnut with several vintages of Champagne Pommery Cuvée Louise and, even more notably, an immaculate Kobe beef dish done three ways: a scampi tartar, braised short rib, and tenderloin paired with 2004, 1989 and 1981 Chateau Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape.

The Cornucopia seminars also saw some real excitement. At the Telus Conference Centre, the second edition of The Battle of the Sexes was a Saturday afternoon thriller. The 90-minute, double-blind tasting, which pitted the men against the women, was a see-saw battle that went down to the last wine.

In all, eight wines were served “double blind” and the effort put forth by both panels — with plenty of help from the audience — was impressive to say the least. By the end of the tasting the men’s panel, led by consultant/educator Mark Davidson along with sommelier/manager Sebastien Le Goff of Lumiere, Raffaele Boscaini of Masi (Italy) and writer Bruce Stephen of Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine , narrowly defeated a strong panel of women that included Michelle Bouffard and Michaela Morris of www.housewine.ca , sommelier and Master of Wine candidate Barb Phillip, and Peller Estates winemaker Stephanie Leinemann.

Wine Guys and Their Picks featured another large audience that came to taste an eclectic mix of wines presented by an equally eclectic group of presenters. The good news is you can buy almost all of the picks.

Seminar maven and sommelier instructor DJ Kearney pitched the Masi 2005 Masianco $17 , a Venetian pinot grigio/verduzzo blend of floral, mineral-scented fruit offering a ripe mix of butter, honey, mineral and warm lemon oil.

Bruce Stephen of Vancouver Lifestyles Magazine praised the Kendall-Jackson 2005 Sauvignon Blanc $19 from California. It delivers bright, clean, modern flavours with a mineral, seawater undercurrent. Think mussels with this one.

Educator Mark Davidson of VinFX Wine Communications served up two bargain reds. From B.C. he extolled the virtues of the just-released Nk’Mip Cellars 2005 Pinot Noir $19 with its balanced, ripe strawberry fruit streaked with leafy, spicy, vanilla, compost flavours. And from Spain his choice was the Castillo de Monseran 2005 Garnacha $10 workhorse, hamburger red that represents terrific value.

Wine Access contributor and taster Stuart Tobe suggested we drink the sublime Burgans Albariño Rías Baixas 2005 . With all its juicy green apple, honey, mineral, melon skin and peach flavours it can match just about any food type. Tobe also brought along the sturdy Doña Paula Estate 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon $20 from Mendoza, Argentina with its cassis jam, peppery, blackberry, licorice and tobacco flavours.

Restaurateur Mark Taylor of Cru Restaurant in Vancouver pitched another fabulous bottle of Argentine red, Catena Malbec 2003 $26 . The textures are soft and rich, and the flavours are a mix of black cherry and plums with a twist of orange and garrigue.

We finished with a bargain red from Antinori’s burgeoning southern Italian project that I brought along. Tormaresca Neprica 2004 $13 hails from Puglia. The blend is a mix of NE gromaro, PRI mitivo and CA bernet, hence the Neprica moniker, and the flavour is fun. Licorice, prunes, and black fruit all wrapped in a warm, round, earthy inviting style make it irresistible for the price.

Friday night, Jack Evrensel and his team at Araxi celebrated 25 years in the village with a memorable evening of food and wine. If I had to pick a favourite course that night it was the truffle ricotta gnocchi with white Alba truffles and Pecorino tartufo with a sublime bottle of Louis Jadot 1999 Clos St. Jacques Pinot Noir.

Araxi is offering a fabulous dining deal from Nov. 3 through Dec. 10. The Dine and Unwind Menu is a four-course dinner deal for only $45 plus taxes and gratuity. Now that’s a steal.

As usual there wasn’t much down time during Cornucopia, but I did manage to drop by Après to check out chef Eric Vernice’s new winter menu. Vernice gets my vote as the top chef in the village, but you’ll need a reservation to find out. The popular bistro is always packed. Après is the intellectual home of food and wine in Whistler, but you can experience bites of it from the bar area at very reasonable prices.

Quattro was my last stop, where Antonio Corsi and his team specialize in relaxed but always elegant dining. When you’re seeking comfort but you don’t want to compromise on quality, Quattro is the place to head. Pasta is a science here, the wine list is bible. Warm, friendly, inviting and affordable. Need I say more?

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com

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