Vintners Brunch, to the lucky crowd who book it soon enough, is one fun party. And why not? After all, it’s the major closing event of the Vancouver International Wine Festival; and a laid-back wrap-up for many of the wine industry people who have been working hard all week.
Yet, behind-the-scenes there’s now a growing and well-fought contest to see which chef contributes the best food and wine pairing. The Hired Belly has been privileged to be involved in the judging for quite a few years now. It’s been rewarding to see the evolution and growing sophistication of the plates brought forward.
This year’s Vintners Brunch judging panel were: Michele Marko, Vancouver Sun Lifestyle and Salut editor; Jonathan Chovancek, Vancouver based chef and Bitter Sling Extracts co-founder; Josh Clark, Victoria’s La Terrazza Restaurant assistant wine director, certified sommelier (and panel chair); and myself.
I always get a chuckle out of people’s reactions when they hear about this undertaking. It’s generally one of mild jealousy—which is fine but not entirely appropriate! After all, this is work, and pretty hard work, at that. But then again, I’m not really expecting any sympathy…
Vintners Brunch Judging – The process
If everything runs according to clockwork, the panel tastes one dish and its paired wine every eight minutes. This year’s judging added up to one hour and 48 minutes of almost non-stop tasting and scoring, followed by a brief discussion, in order to get the results to the waiting crowd. Not quite my idea of leisurely dining—but always interesting and often very tasty, for sure.
Plates are tasted “blind’, and scored on a weighted formula that allocates the bulk of the score for the food and wine pairing, with culinary preparation and creativity (i.e. originality of ingredients) also taken into account.
At the end of the day, Vintners Brunch dishes fall into three groups:
The “slam dunks”, where the marriage or contrast of the wine with the overall dish is truly apparent, and sometimes ethereal—especially when the tastes on the plate take the wine to the next level.
The “good matches”—plates that are often delicious and wines that work well, though are not exceptional pairings, perhaps with an ingredient that throws things off a bit.
And last, and somewhat least, tastes and wines that for whatever reason just don’t work (although these are increasingly rare).
Here’s how it all shook out …
Vintners Brunch Ist place, Overall Winner
Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House – Executive Chef Wayne Sych
Scallop Ceviche – paired with Nautilus Estate Twin Islands Sauvignon Blanc 2013
I think this is a classic case of “less is more”, where the chef was careful not to overwhelm a wine that’s pretty straight ahead, with crisp, clean flavours held together in a citrus and zesty palate, with a few tropical and herbal notes. In short, it worked beautifully because the chef matched the elements of the wine in the dish but also (especially) kept the spice (jalapeno) in check, and allowed the salinity, as well as the texture and cleanness of the scallops to play off the wine.
Bella Gelateria – Maestro James Coleridge
Port Gelato, Port cassis mousse, Stilton cheesecake sphere and raspberry cassis sauce – Paired with Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve Port
A brilliant match of several elements that played perfectly off this superb, affordable non-vintage Port (BCLS $24.99). Gelato master James Coleridge made a Port gelato, as well as an even more seductive Port and cassis mousse, and a miniature Stilton cheesecake, all of which highlighted the vibrant fruit and acidity, and stood up to the alcohol, in the wine. Port can sometimes be very challenging to match but this effort truly shone.
Vancouver Convention Centre – Executive Chef Blair Rasmussen, created by Marc Massicotte, Chef de Cuisine
Poached egg meurette, braised lamb leg and hedgehog mushroom saute, VCC honey, smoked Sakura pork belly crostini – Paired with le Jaja de Jau, Chatea de Jau Syrah 2012
The wine poached egg that delivered a seductive texture, along with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the smokiness of the pork belly were all keys to the success of this dish. Everything clicked with the wine, a slightly smoky-spicy, easy drinking red. A pretty decent deal, at around $14-$16. I also liked the choice of a classic French component, in the Meurette, to go along.
I don’t know how many times the hosting Vancouver Convention Centre Kitchen has placed in recent years but when the wraps were off, it came as no surprise that they were here again.
For a couple of reasons, we didn’t declare any honourable mentions this time around. But I will suggest that the following pairings were all worthy of an unofficial Hired Belly salute:
Wild boar sausage, truffled egg yolk, fig and pistachio marmalade
– Ramos Pinto Duoro Vinho Duas Quintas Reserva 2009
The Sonora Room Restaurant
Star anise braised short rib, celery root and local apple slaw, preserved Okanagan quince, toasted hazelnut
– Burrowing Owl Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Local Lounge Grille
Confit of rabbit terrine, Ravensview Farm saffron poached pear, pear fluid gel, micro arugula and Agassiz smoked hazelnuts
– Time Estate Winery White Meritage 2013