Staring at rows of round-shouldered glass bottles with dinner in mind can make wine pairing an irritating process. After planning the perfect dinner, sending out invitations, setting the playlist and the table - the missing piece is often the wine. And despite your best intentions, the varieties staring back at you from the liquor store shelves offer nothing but pretty labels and blank stares in your time of need. Though you may have sorted out the basics - i.e. white or red - and possibly even the grape, the endless options within these categories can stymie the decision making process. Having spent so much time on the perfect dinner, the last thing you want to do is go home with a less-than-perfect wine, but many of us do and it's a small tragedy after all that work.
To help ease the transition from clueless bottle-oggler to oenophile, Steeps Grill at the Roundhouse is holding a summer version of its popular winemaker's series, usually held during après over the ski season. This time around, they're capitalizing on the ample produce available from farmers' fields and the Okanagan's celebrated vineyards.
"It's more of an educational as well as culinary thing, where the winemaker will talk about the wine - the tastes and flavours the guests should be looking for and guiding them through the process because a lot of times the uneducated consumer doesn't really know if they should look for a peach flavoured or cherry flavoured or a chocolate so that's what he does," said Steep's executive chef Wolfgang Sterr. "After he is done, I come up and put the food component towards it. I may talk about heirloom tomatoes versus regular tomatoes ... I would talk about the goat's cheese, where it comes from, where it originated - all those kinds of things. We're trying to basically build a story around the food."
Steeps has joined forces with Vincor Canada, the country's largest producer and marketer of wine (and one of the oldest), meaning representatives of the various vineyards from that company's portfolio will be arriving in Whistler to discuss their products with Winemaker's guests. The advantage of this partnership is the range of variety and accessibility of the wines presented - familiar labels such as Nl'Mip Cellars, Sawmill Creek and Jackson-Triggs Estate Wines. Names you're likely to recognize when you hit the LC.
"A lot of times you see it on TV but actually to be in the room and ask questions of the winemaker and chef really make it interesting," continued Sterr, who moved to Whistler last year after 15 years of running his own restaurant, the Wildflower, in Ontario's wine-heavy Niagra region. "It's a lot of fun for me to learn the differences in the wines, and what the makers are really good at, and to try what I haven't been able to taste before so yes, it's very educational for me when I get up there, it's much more fun."
One of the common mistakes made by amateur chefs is overdoing it. Call it a deeply rooted instinct for snobbery, but sometimes we think the sophistication of a dish is based on its complexity (think of peasants, who would marvel over the intricate meals of the ruling class and ignore their rustic, simple country dishes, which had just as much, if not more, to offer).
"Sometimes the simpler the flavours we find the better it is,"continued Sterr. "We've noticed that in the summertime we don't want to get too complex with the food we're serving because we want the people to go home and maybe try to replicate some of these dishes themselves and the simpler the flavours are the simpler and easier they can find them to match with the wine, so it doesn't get too complicated."
To give a sense of what Sterr has in mind for the upcoming Steeps Winemakers Dinner on Friday, Aug. 12, think Nk'Mip Cellars wine, Fraser Valley pork loin with fingerling potatoes, glazed local carrots and a meritage berry reduction. With a little advance warning, non-meat eaters will find just as much to offer.
"One really neat twist that we can offer is that we have several vegetarians and vegans that come to these events and as long as we have proper notice beforehand we can create dishes that are more imaginable than just pasta, to actually incorporate them into the Winemakers' Dinner as well," said Sterr.
For more information or to buy tickets, call 1-800-766-0449.