For many people, the Vintners Brunch—for all intents and purposes the closing event —remains the highlight of their Vancouver International Wine Festival week. And that’s now even more the case, given the spectacular setting in the new convention centre overlooking Vancouver’s harbour and North Shore Mountains.
Why, then, do I find it so appealing to be closeted far from all the action, in a soulless, black drape-wrapped, makeshift room with three other like-minds—and (usually) like-palates—checking each one of the food and wine pairings on offer, every five minutes?
Call me a food and wine weanie if you want. But I now realise that I probably enjoy this process more than being in that vista-kissed room itself. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the trials and tribulations of competitive food and wine pairing. But this year I was struck by the overall high standard on offer—a fact reflected by the time that it took for us judges to arrive at a nip ‘n tuck, just-in-time consensus on the three winners and two honourable mentions.
There was little argument as to who the real contenders were (although, until the end, we’re never aware of who’s who). But safe to say the field was tight. Ultimately, when the gloves are off, the weightier score is accorded to the best match. And it’s this plate that always carries the day.
However, rare have been the years when we didn’t consider at least at one dish (sometimes more) and ask ourselves if the chef had somehow not quite managed to taste the wine. Not so this year: Our criticisms were few and far between—and disappointments almost non-existent.
Kudos not only to the winners but also to everyone who made this brunch one of the most spectacular yet.
What does it all mean? Well, it always feels good to walk out into the room afterwards (to the strains of Proud Mary) and have the judges’ findings confirmed by most (if not always all) present! But it also says a lot about the professionalism of the chefs and sommeliers who put these plates together—and about the kind of culinary experience they offer day to day.
Here are the details (from the North Shore News):
… It’s been a few years since the festival decided to place more emphasis on Vancouver’s culinary scene but this year in particular seemed to offer no shortage of well matched plates.
While winemaker dinners rule early in the week, for many the zenith remains the Vintners Brunch. This year’s edition (which I helped judge) was one of the most closely contested, with some really stellar tastes from which to choose.
• Once again confirming that BC Syrah’s star is on the rise, the winning dish by a nose was a truly flavourful lamb hash with quail egg, from newly arrived Killjoy Barbers (Yaletown) Paired with Road 13’s beautifully balanced, peppery and plush Syrah Mouvedre 2011, whose vibrant fruit and focused acidity carried an already flavourful plate to new heights. ($35 at the winery.)
• Close second went to the Salmon House, whose perfectly togarashi seared Sockeye with Thai basil and mango vinaigrette played perfectly with the luscious honeyed and tropical notes of Black Hills Alibi 2011 ($25, sold out).
• It was hard not be impressed by the textural marriage of Kale & Nori’s Bittered Sling cured Steelhead (Third place) with the not exactly shy Wagner Family Mer Soleil Vineyards Silver 2011, a formidable, unoaked Chardonnay that allowed the fish and its sauce to shine through. (BCLS $28.99).
Also, last but not least, two honourable mentions:
• La Pentola de La Quercia Octopus terrine with Inniskillin Okanagan Pinot Blanc 2011
• Bella Gelateria Orange Honey Sorbetto with Stoneboat Vineyards Verglas 2010
P.S. In case you’re wondering, hired belly.com has fired its obviously incompetent photographer and hurled his iPhone into English Bay. We may or may not revert to last year’s higher standards. Only time will tell…