Whistler's celebration of food and wine turns 21 

An insider's tour of Cornucopia's best

click to enlarge PHOTO JULIE ZONEY / CORNUCOPIA - a Wine-Ding road A smorgasbord of topshelf wines will be on offer at Cornucopia.
  • PHOTO julie zoney / cornucopia
  • a Wine-Ding road A smorgasbord of topshelf wines will be on offer at Cornucopia.

Cornucopia turns 21 this year, which makes it officially grown up, not that those late-night Bearfoot Bistro parties were not fun back in the day. You need vision to get anywhere in life and Andre St. Jacques and his Bearfoot team have been Cornucopia visionaries.

This year's annual food and drink fest, presented by BlueShore Financial, runs a full 10 days from November 9 to 19 and there is so much to choose from it's hard to know where to start. We thought it best to share our wine-festival expertise with a list of what looks to be the must-attend events based on the wine and/or food, with an eye to the overall ticket price. Enjoy!

The Cellar by Araxi Intimate Dinner Series returns to the lineup with multiple dinners on the "menu" including the signature Big Guns dinner. I like the look of the Von Mandl Family Estates dinner featuring selections from the Checkmate Artisanal Winery (Gold Mile Bench), Martin's Lane and CedarCreek (East Kelowna) and Mission Hill Family Estate (West Kelowna). Many of the best individual bottles made in B.C. will be served alongside some fabulous food. Thursday, Nov. 9, 6 to 9 p.m., at The Cellar by Araxi $159.

Vancouver Island is making a rare appearance at Whistler so don't miss the chance to experience the latest island fare. The private dining room of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's Grill Room is the setting for Island Flavours featuring Sheringham Distillery, Vigneti Zanatta, Alderlea Vineyards, Averill Creek and Salt Spring Vineyards. Take the evening to slow down, sit back and get yourself into the rhythm of island time — and catch up on the latest from Vancouver Island's East Coast as it meshes with the Whistler/Pemberton high mountain local ingredients. Friday, Nov. 10, 7 to 10 p.m., at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler $129.

Charcuterie is living the life these days entertaining wine drinkers with its rich, savoury, sweet and spicy flavours and wide range of textures. Paul Watkin teams up with Jerome Dudicourt from Granville Island's Oyama Sausage Co. for a seminar focused on matching wines with the local favourite's handmade charcuterie including pâtés, sausages, and terrines. Here's a glimpse of the list of wines you will enjoy by attending: Fort Berens Riesling from Lillooet and Painted Rock Syrah from Skaha; Mellot Val de Loire Pinot Noir Rose Sincerite and Justin Monmousseau Chinon from France, Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec, Argentina; Alvear Fino, Spain; Boutinot Wandering Beeste Syrah South Africa; Divici Verso Rosso and Tasca d'Almerita Regaleali Nero d'Avola from Italy. A tasty value for sure because most every wine tastes better with a hunk of sausage. Saturday, Nov. 18, 2:30 to 4 p.m., Whistler Conference Centre $52.

A Wine with Fingerprints: Small Wineries in a Global Age speaks to the neat, little producers who somehow overcome long odds to remain in the business and leave their "fingerprints" on every bottle they make. The tasting will be lead by Vancouver wine distributor Paul Watkin and will feature, among others, Blue Mountain Gamay Noir, perhaps B.C.'s best example; Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir, a hard-to-find bottle of pinot that costs more than the whole event; Upper Bench Merlot the new face of Naramata merlot; Australia's Alpha Box & Dice Tarot Grenache; Chile's Vina Koyle Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon; Texier Brézème Vineyard Syrah from the Rhone Valley, France; Finca Zerberos Garnacha and Arena Pizarra from Spain; and, from nearby Washington State's Camaraderie Cellars Madrona, a bizarre blend of dolcetto, merlot and syrah. Finally, a serious, bargain-priced wine tasting. It all happens Saturday, Nov. 11, at noon, Whistler Conference Centre, $42.

Wow Wines is the other blue-chip wine tasting run by the entertaining DJ Kearney and David Scholefield. Be forewarned, this tasting has so much promise it will be hard to taste anything else afterwards! My favourite, Pol Roger Cuvee de Reserve Brut NV, which is sheer elegance in the glass, leads off the tasting. Henriccson Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, Mirabel Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015, and Checkmate Black Rook Merlot feature the latest in cutting edge B.C. labels. Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2012 is a Tuscan bottle of power and elegance; Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2013; DeLille Cellars Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon; and Caymus Napa Cabernet 2015 all offer a look at modern West Coast reds. Next, The Chocolate Block takes you to South Africa before a Douro Valley finish with the amazing Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Edition Reserve Tawny Port. What a pre-dinner tasting! Saturday, Nov. 11, 5 to 6:30 p.m., Whistler Conference Centre $75.

Finally, here's a link to the Top 25 Wines from Cornucopia 2017 chosen by a panel of 10 industry folks based on a tasting featuring wines submitted by wineries participating in Cornucopia. I wasn't a judge this year but here are my favourite 10 wines taken from the list that you might want to track down at Cornucopia: Quails' Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015 $35, 50th Parallel Estate Pinot Noir 2015 $37, BenMarco Malbec 2015 $25.49, Clos du Soleil Signature 2013 $44.90, El Esteco Don David Reserve Malbec 2015 $15.49, Howling Bluff Pinot Noir ACTA Vineyard 2014 $35, Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2014 $84, Treana Blanc 2014 $30, Vina Ventisquero Grey Cabernet 2014 $25, Time Syrah 2013 $35.  

We've just scratched the surface of what is available, but it all gets under way today, Nov. 9, so if you're thinking about attending any event you need to secure your tickets soonest. Log on today at whistlercornucopia.com and start your search through the next 10 days of Cornucopia, Whistler's Celebration of Food and Drink.

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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