On the judging panel at Vintners Brunch: a slam dunk winner!

Culinary Capers Mumbai Sablefish and Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Viognier was the clear winner - Tim Pawsey photo

Every year one of the first Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival events to sell out is the Vintner’s Brunch, held on the final day.

Lots of folks get a group together and buy a table, to sample tastes from some of the city’s leading chefs, alongside wines to match. It’s a great way to take in the wine festival at a sedate pace, usually with some pretty good flavours.

In recent years we’ve participated on the judging panel, sequestered in a room behind the scenes to determine the best food and wine match.

This year’s convincing win (from 16 plates judged) came courtesy of Culinary Capers, whose chef de cuisine, Jonathan Chovancek, came up with a superbly cooked sablefish, mingled with crunchy spiced cashews, coconut, pea shoots and Mumbai mild curry sauce. (above)

The capper was the wine: Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Viognier 09 proved to be the perfect complement, with intense aromatics, luscious stonefruit and citrus notes on the palate, framed with beautifully balanced acidity, a touch of minerality—and just the right amount of residual sugar to stand up to the spice in the dish. And proving, once again, that there’s more to New Zealand than great ‘Savvy’. (Find the Vio at Everything Wine, $29.99.)

Honourable mentions: Joe Fortes’ Ahi tuna with avocado and cilantro sauce, paired with Woollaston, Nelson, Pinot Gris 09; and Salmon House Coho Lounge’s caraway crusted steelhead salmon, with Tinhorn Creek Okanagan Gewurz. 08.

Despite the generally high standard, there are always a couple of entries that have us scratching our heads, wondering ‘How come this wine?’ …

Back in the ballroom, part of the appeal is a live band that plays golden oldies—and the event always wraps with an impromptu dance party between the tables. This year was no exception, with a mature crowd shedding maybe at least a few of the calories gained against the dazzling harbour backdrop.