Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival Challenge Part One
Photos courtesy Cassandra Anderton
The 2007 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival edition was held throughout Vancouver from March 26th to April 1st, 2007. There were 58 events in total where 1,800 different wines were poured from 17 different countries. Attendees ranged from those just learning about wine to wine professionals with decades in the industry. In this series, I describe my challenges and experiences at the festival from the perspective of an inexperienced wine person with a restricted diet. Then we’ll read about the event from the perspective from Cassandra Anderton, a local food and wine writer.
The First Challenge:
When I awoke the morning of my first tasting event I was still a bit unsure how the day would go. Due to my special dietary need (Chron's Disease); my coverage of The Fetzer Great Beginnings Appetizer Challenge was filled with apprehension. This competition pits chefs against each other in a battle to present the best appetizer paired with the evenings chosen wine (this year the Fetzer Pinot Grigio). My approach was to arrive early at The Fairmont Waterfront, garner a feel for the wine/food process; study what others were doing, blend in, sample the cuisine and of course, have fun.
As I can allow myself a little alcohol with minimal stomach upset, I decided to try the Pinot Grigio. The server pouring the wine described it as “sunshine in a bottle”. Another wine savvy friend noted it to be “rather tasty on its own, but the true test will be how well it pairs with the food”.
The next step was to roam the room and sample the cuisine. Upon entering the ballroom my senses were overwhelmed with the smells of various top-end restaurants feverishly preparing their appetizers for the hungry wine crowd. The struggle for the championship had begun.
Bear Foot Bistro served a Berkshire pork belly glazed with chili pink grapefruit and a Dungeness crab cilantro mint salad with coconut jelly.(photo below)
Coal Harbour Bar (last year’s winners) served a seared sablefish over crisp micro greens and apple with citrus mojo.
Culinary Capers served a roasted sablefish with preserved lemon, tarragon brown butter gnocchi and crispy oyama shinkenspeck.(photo to right)
Diva at the Met served a seared salmon accompanied by a roasted mushroom butternut squash chowder.
The Fairmont Waterfront served a bronzed weathervane scallop, citrus and artichoke ravioli with a pinot grigio emulsion.
Fire and Water (from Victoria) served a seared ahi tuna braised pork hock and Kalamata olives.
Herons served a halibut cheek spring vegetable mosaic and proscuitto air.
Le Gavroche served Coho salmon and crab in a purse.
O’Doul’s served a pacific brill sole, BC spot prawn, and Dungeness crab terrine with ruby grapefruit sabayon.
As my low fibre diet restricts me and the list of ingredients was daunting, I was hesitant to taste any of the food. Digestion for me is difficult with Crohn’s, if I do not stick to the prescribed food regime of a low fibre diet. However I approached the chefs and asked if I could just have what I was able to eat. Would I be accommodated on such a busy night?
The first chef I met was Chef Roberto Arciago from Coal Harbour who took the time to discuss my special diet and prepared me a seared piece of sablefish that melted in my mouth. Without the greens and apples it perhaps didn’t have all the components that the Chef meant diners to taste. However, I was impressed with his accommodating nature and the dish itself even without all the intended ingredients. For the remainder of the evening I was entertained in a similar way and all the chefs took the time to prepare me special dishes, allowing me to comfortably taste my way through all of the tables.
After the evening was over I had gained valuable knowledge on food and wine pairing, tried some excellent dishes and my Crohn’s had not interfered with my ability to enjoy the event. But I wanted to find out how others perceived the event, so I asked Cassandra Anderton, a Vancouver-based food and wine writer for her thoughts.
I look forward to the Playhouse Wine Festival each year. It provides the opportunity to sample many different wines, meet many passionate winemakers and winery representatives from all over the world and pick up a good sprinkling of wine knowledge along the way. It’s a whirlwind week and you’ve definitely have to rest up before and after. But all the work is worth it, and if approached properly, it’s always a good time!
For the past ten years, one of the first events for the week is the Fetzer Appetizer Challenge as Kevin describes above. This year’s competitors were chosen from the past year’s winners. They are given the task of creating a dish that not only surpasses the expectations of the now-savvy consumer and food judges, but also what works best with the wine. This is where you may just want to have your sommelier on hand during the recipe creation phase.
We begin with the wine. The Fetzer Pinot Grigio is a lightly perfumed wine with a good deal of citrus flavour, some minerality and herbaceousness, as well as hints of nectarine, melon, lemon and grapefruit. The characteristics of the Grigio that must be considered when pairing with food include its lighter body, fairly decent acidity, fruit characteristics (predominately citrus), and a dry finish. The ideal dish will therefore be lighter (no lamb chops here) with a dash of richness to assist the acidity, perhaps some citrus tones, and fairly mild flavours and sauces.
Fortunately Vancouver chefs are a smart bunch, especially this evening’s competitors. We were served fish and seafood dishes with light sauces and splashes of citrus flavours throughout. A good example was my favourite pairing of the evening. From Culinary Capers we were presented a roasted sablefish with brown butter gnocchi and shinkinspeck (dry-cured ham) in a brown butter sauce. The dish would have been too heavy if not for the savvy addition of preserved lemon and tarragon that really brought the ingredients together. The flavours replicated the wine and the wines acidity cut through the richness of the buttery sauce. Someone’s really thinking in this kitchen.
However, the winner of the evening, chosen by both the consumers and the food critics was The Bearfoot Bistro. They served a dish of chili pink grapefruit glazed pork belly, Dungeness crab with cilantro mint salad and coconut jelly presented together on a spoon for easy grazing. Again we saw the replication of flavours with some added richness that dulled the wines acidity. Delicious flavours. An incredible pairing.
This event was one that was accessible to all types of wine consumers. As a seasoned food and wine writer, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening of tasting and comparing. Kevin was also able to enjoy the wine and food even with his restricted diet. As each year goes my, I hear more people around me at the festival becoming even more interested in wine and food and the relationship the two have together. We will guide you through another aspect of the festival in Part 2 – The Trade Day Tasting.
by Kevin Freeman and Cassandra Anderton
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