Memories of Vintners Brunch at Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival live on
The 33rd Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival has come and gone. By all accounts it was another big success, certainly the wine event of the year in Vancouver. West Restaurant’s wine director Owen Knowlton won Sommelier of the Year. The Rueben Gurr Quintet fuelled the í¼ber-grazing Vintners Brunch with some of the best party music, playing nice ”˜n’ easy for the bubble, then for the food-and-wine pairings (more on those in a moment), and finally for the intrepid dancers who needed one more hit of “Mustang Sally” before fading off into the afternoon.
The festival’s centrepiece, the Bacchanalia Gala and Auction, raised a respectable sum of money as always, although the $475 price per plate is getting up there; too rich for my blood. Perhaps that concept is due for renewal, especially if the rumour is true that Hotel Vancouver’s executive chef Robert LeCrom is planning to retire this year. He’s been driving this five-course, multi-wine event for years, exhorting his talented kitchen brigade to greater heights year after year.
While it’s been 33 years for the festival itself, this year was the 23rd for the Quady Dessert Competition.
Every year, Andrew and Laurel Quady, the proprietors of California’s Quady Winery, come to town with supplies of one of their gorgeous dessert wines (the choice alternates yearly between Essensia and Elysium). This plated dessert competition is unique in Canada, and this year, the Essensia was the pairing for the original desserts created by cooks, pastry chefs, and students. First place went to Lisa Ip of the Four Seasons Hotel for her lever de soleil, described as “a vanilla bavarois with citrus yuzu jelly, sesame feuilletine and almond jaconde; pineapple sorbet with lime meringue, caramelized pineapple and pineapple gel.” I have no idea what some of that stuff is, but I know I want one—right now!
The best event of the festival, according to my in-depth survey of one, is the Vintners Brunch, also now in its 23rd year. It’s the only event at the festival I never miss: 20 food and wine stations around the room, a ring of 50 tables in the middle, and a bandstand for the Rueben Gurr Quintet right in the centre of that.
It, too, has zoomed in price, but even at $135 you’ll eat enough that you won’t be wanting dinner that night. Founding chair Pamela Wright and Trish Metcalfe, director of operations for the VPIWF, continue to corral the right participants and the matches are always brilliant.
There were some new names at the brunch, including Cibo Trattoria, Savoury Chef Foods, and Mission Hill Estate Winery’s Terrace Restaurant. Each station does one dish, which is matched to one wine. Personal favourites included Vancouver’s marvellous cheese restaurant, Au Petit Chavignol, which presented a plate of jamón serrano, queso Maxorata, and Mantequilla olives, marvellously matched with Kim Crawford Small Parcel Moteo Vineyard Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2008 from New Zealand.
Another hit for my palate was Lift Bar and Grill’s modestly named steak ”˜n’ eggs. Executive chef Scott Kidd supplied the breakfast side of the brunch, and had the audacity to pair it perfectly with Poplar Grove Syrah 2007 from the Okanagan. And it was good! Loved Hy’s Encore Steakhouse executive chef Sutha Jeyarasa’s classic steak tartare on a baguette crostini; it was solid, simple, and luscious with Viña Errázuriz Carmení¨re Single Vineyard 2009. I could have had about 10 of these as dinner.
The ever-inventive Blair Rasmussen from the Vancouver Convention Centre served salt cod brandade puffs with Moroccan bouillabaisse broth, alongside Cave de Tain Saint-Péray Fleur de Roc 2008. It was a truly brilliant dish, just like the match. Newcomer Taryn Wa of Savoury Chef did a brandade, too: creamy cod with fennel pollen toast, along with fennel and citrus salad with citrus vinaigrette as a foil for seared Organic Ocean Pacific lingcod, which rested atop it all. It was perhaps the day’s most elaborate dish. The Durbanville Hills Rhinofields Sauvignon Blanc 2009 showed it off perfectly in all its complexity.
For sweets, nothing beat Northwest Culinary Academy’s entry. Head pastry chef Tim Muelbauer created a sticky toffee bíªte noir with a B.C. summer preserves cherry mousse and crí¨me de cacao candied almonds. What better liquid for it than Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2004?
Did I taste all 1,650 wines poured? Not a chance; I didn’t even taste all 32 Spanish ones, Spain being the theme region this year. But I managed to taste enough to come up with 50 standouts and knockouts from Spain, Argentina, Australia, B.C., France, Germany, Greece (yes, and nobody was more surprised than me!), Italy, Portugal, South Africa, California, and Washington.
Alas, only a small number of them are readily available in our LDB stores. But that’s another story.
I will give you the list of 50 next week right here.
Next year’s festival dates are set a little earlier than usual, taking place from February 27 to March 4, 2012. The theme region is Chile and the global focus is Cabernet Sauvignon. Stock up on dental remineralizing rinse!