Dreams do come true: I can now attend my favourite Cornucopia event every night of the festival, with winemaker dinners hosted Thursday, Nov. 8 to Sunday, Nov. 11 in restaurants around Whistler.
The magical evening is orchestrated like a symphony, with all components coming masterfully together to create one harmonious experience.
Restaurateurs conduct this symphony and wines are the stars of the evening. Executive chefs create a set-course menu designed to highlight the wines. A different wine is paired with each course — in some cases, two to three wines accompany a course.
The effect is mesmerizing. A diner can let himself or herself simply be carried away in the orchestration with all menu and pairing decisions left to the masters themselves. They are both audience — as winemakers talk about each of the wines — and participant, as they taste what was explained and how that taste is altered when combining the wine with the food in front of them.
My winemaker dinner experience in F major (as “major-ly” fabulous) will begin on festival opening night at the Elements winemaker dinner showcasing the Penticton wines of Pentage Winery. Like the tapas parlour, Pentage Winery is an intimate affair. The boutique winery is nestled on 23 acres overlooking Skaha Lake in Penticton and is owned and operated by a husband and wife team. Menu highlights from this trendy hideaway, voted Whistler’s Best Tapas Bar in 2006 and Best New Restaurant in 2005, include venison carpaccio, chorizo seafood cioppino and seared duck breast.
Araxi, as always, hosts the Beethoven of dining experiences with a winemaker dinner celebrating the 25th anniversary of Kendall-Jackson. The California winery, which grew from a pear farm to the 12,000-acre vineyard estate it is today, will pull both critically acclaimed labels and rare vintages from their private cellars for this momentous affair.
Executive chef James Walt has quite the challenge ahead of him to capture the subtle nuances of these award-winning wines while at the same time showcasing the equally pristine ingredients of Pemberton Valley Farms and the Pacific Ocean.
Winemaster Randy Ullum from Kendall-Jackson will introduce the wines for each course. Highlights include 2000 Stature Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley; 2004 Highland Estates Cabernet Sauvignon "Hawkeye Mountain" – Alexander Mountain, Sonoma County; and 2003 Highland Estates Syrah "Alisos Hills" – Los Alamos, Santa Barbara.
We will have to wait until the evening itself to discover what creations lay before us, but with the fine dining room voted Best Restaurant in Whistler by Vancouver Magazine for eight consecutive years, diners are in safe hands.