What is the best way to learn about wine?
I remember the terror of getting hired as a server at one of Whistler’s top fine dining restaurants two summers ago. I wrote up flash cards to memorize descriptions and ingredients of the dishes, but where do you start with a wine list boasting hundreds and hundreds of labels?
Well just get drinking is one way to learn. Grab April Solonyka and ask for a top 10 cheat sheet is another. Or invite a 25-year veteran of the hospitality industry who shaped and standardized wine studies in B.C. over the past 15 years to your restaurant to educate staff is probably the most efficient way — although choice number one sounds like a lot more fun.
In a commitment to enhance staff knowledge of the top grape varieties and wine styles from around the world, Araxi restaurant has joined forces with award-winning, wine educator Mark Davidson.
Davidson boasts an impressive resume of major certifications and accolades, including instructor for the International Sommelier Guild and Dubrulle Culinary Institute, a long-standing judge at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival and the Canadian Wine Awards and Australian Wine Bureau Consultant. He is also a popular panelist and speaker at countless local and international culinary and media events.
Davidson will begin classes with Araxi staff in early December, with completion in March, helping staff hone their food and wine pairing skills, service and cellar management skills — classes will definitely help put a dent in understanding the more than 1,200 labels in Araxi’s award-winning wine library.
If I could only choose one event to attend at Cornucopia, it would be a winemaker dinner. No balancing act is required with juggling wine glass in one hand and appetizer plate in the other. There is no live band, no crowds. There are no body-painted nude servers. The dinners, embodying the spirit of the festival, require no extras, only a spotlight on the incredible marriage of food and wine that stands all on its own.
Winemaker dinners take place Friday, Nov. 10 at various restaurants around town as part of Cornucopia, Whistler’s largest food and wine celebration. The only exception is the Bearfoot Bistro’s Homage to Jacques Perrin winemaker dinner, which has moved to a new date this year, Saturday, Nov. 11.
The winemaker set-course dinners are tailor made to showcase wines. Chefs and wine representatives act as storytellers walking diners through the experience, and there is no shortage of conversation as diners share table company with like-minded culinary adventurers.
The dinners also afford the opportunity to try older vintages and higher-end wines not always available. Winemakers are often eager to showcase the best of their cellars as well.
A winemaker-dinner evening is always a magical one. The dinners take an enormous amount of planning and heart, so when you walk into the perfectly orchestrated evening, there is this current of excitement felt by both guests and staff. The electricity of it whisks you away as plates appear and disappear in front of you with all the decision making left up to the experts.
The only choice you will make at all is what winemaker dinner you will attend. Some festival-goers choose dinners showcasing a familiar winery while others are looking for a new adventure. This year parades both B.C. wines and an international list. Pocketbooks often come into play with decision making. Dinners this year range from $133 to $400, with plenty of middle-of-the-road options.
Restaurants participating this year include Après with Zefina wines; Aubergine Grill, Woodward Canyon Winery, $239; Araxi, various wines, $350; Cinnamon Bear Grille, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, $133; The Den on The Lake, Cedar Creek Winery, $175; Elements, Summer Hill Pyramid Winery, $140; Fifty Two 80 Bistro, Mission Hill Winery, $325; Hy’s Steakhouse, Rodney Strong, $150; Ill Caminetto di Umberto, Hess Collection Winery, $295; La Bocca, Valdivieso of Chile, $165; Morgan’s, Saddleback Cellars, $299; The Wildflower, Wolf Blass, $175; and Quattro, Italian wines, $225.
While most traditional winemaker dinners showcase one winery, other restaurants are shaking it up a little. Quattro will showcase both the different wines and foods of various regions of Italy, including Sicily, Tuscany, Piedmont. Umbria and Veneto.
Tickets for winemaker dinners are already moving fast. The Après dinner is sold out, so pick up tickets well in advance. For tickets, visit www.whistlercornucopia .com or call 1-888-999-4566.