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Cornucopia's battle of the beverages pits beer against wine

Munk-style debate asks which libation pairs better with food



Plenty of heated rivalries have threatened to divide Whistler over the years: Burners vs. cops. Whistler vs. Blackcomb. Skiing vs. snowboarding.

But another age-old debate could rock our little resort town to its core next weekend at Cicerone vs. Sommelier, a multi-course match-up for the right to your dinner glass.

"I think we all enjoy beer and wine with most meals and arguing about it seems like a prudent thing to do," said debate moderator Jack Crompton.

This epic epicurean showdown pits sommelier and "wine nerd for hire" David Stansfield against Vancouver beer expert Don Farion, chief operating officer at Bomber Brewing.

Using the Munk debate format, the audience will vote before dinner on which libation goes better with food, and then again on their way out after the meal. Each of Chef Neal Harkins' four courses will be paired with a beer and a wine, and the contestant who persuades the most diners' to switch their vote will be crowned the winner.

Both competitors laid out their distinct pairing strategy.

"I'll really generalize what kind of flavours I'll get out of a dish specifically, and then I'll do taste-testing," said Farion."I'll conceptualize the dish to understand what it's going to be, then pull the flavours apart and narrow it down to five or six beers. I'll try them all with the different components and see which works best."

Stansfield, meanwhile, tends to eschew the traditional approach to wine pairing.

"There are rules and there are guidelines, and I say 'fuck 'em,'" he exclaimed with a laugh. "I'm a little more intuitive. I like to do pairings that make a ton of sense for the flavour first and then maybe something a little bit outside of the box. Something that is a touch unusual."

An instructor at Railtown's Vancouver Urban Winery, Stansfield knows he's got his work cut out for him going up against the undefeated cicerone.

"(Farion's) the defending champ," he said. "This is like Apollo Creed versus Rocky and I've been training in a meat locker."

Despite his unbeaten streak, Farion believes the Cornucopia crowd may be hard to win over at first.

"At Cornucopia I imagine I'll be coming in at a disadvantage, but the format might lend itself favourably to beer because a lot of people come in with a preconceived notion that wine is better with food, and all I have to do is change their mind," he said. "It's about opening people's eyes to what beer can do."

As one of Canada's first certified cicerones, Farion has been enlightening drinkers' on the vast breadth and diversity of the craft beer world for some time. In years past, beer pairings meant drowning your hot wings with a watery Molson. But in the golden age of craft beer, times, as they say, are a changin'.

"The nice thing about beer is that we have a little more variation between styles. It's not just red or white ... we have a whole different pattern, from bitter to sweet, to roasty, bready or biscuity. I have a lot of flavours to play with."

A self-confessed beer lover, Stansfield still believes the story a good wine pairing can tell at the dinner table will help elevate him over his competitor.

"I find wine more interesting because of the geographic aspect, because we celebrate place rather than technique and there's something beautiful and poetic about that," he said. Whistler Debates presents: Cicerone vs. Sommelier is set for Sunday, Nov. 15 at the Whistler Conference Centre. Tickets are $40, available at


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