Tag Archives: wine

Vancouver International Wine Festival

11 Feb

My first experience at the Vancouver International Wine Festival was not a good one. I attended with my sister, years ago, and I can pretty much sum it up with a warning – “Eat before you go”. My memories of the night are very hazy but I did remember enough to go on a month-long detox after attending. It took some time before I could drink white wine again without feeling nauseous. Yeah…it was that kinda night. A classy wine connoisseur it would seem I was not.

Times have changed, I hope, and I am feeling that I can pace myself enough to return to the Wine Festival this month. I am more excited by this year’s festival than previous years because this year they are showcasing France as the theme country and bubbles as the focus. My dreams have come true! As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I LOVE bubbles!! A lot of people save bubbles for special occasions but I’m one of the odd few that actually enjoys drinking it whenever I get a chance.

When I found out that the wine of focus this year is bubbles, it was a no-brainer for me to buy tickets for the International Festival Tasting Room. Apparently there will be 780 wines from 14 countries and more than 110 different “expressions” of bubbles; Champagne, Cavas, Prosecco, Crémants…I do believe I have found heaven.

France, the theme country for 2014.

Make sure to get your tickets ASAP here as they have already sold out for the Saturday night. And don’t be like the old me: eat before you go and pace yourself! If you do go, you’ll find me at one of the many wineries serving bubbles and if I look like I’m not pacing myself, just keep walking. ;)

Cornucopia 2012 – Big Guns Dinner

11 Nov

It’s baaaaack! Since Wednesday food and wine lovers have been flocking to Whistler to enjoy Cornucopia 2012. Some travelled for the wine events and parties, and others (like myself) travelled for the food. We decided to focus on just one event this year and we chose Araxi’s Big Guns Dinner as we had such a memorable experience last year. We were not disappointed that this was the only event we attended, as Araxi did what it does best, and wined and dined us with carefully selected wines and a well-executed menu.

The reception began at 6pm and we were treated to flutes of Billecart-Salmon “Brut” Champagne and an array of hors d’oeuvre. I was glad to see that Araxi had changed up their selection of hors d’oeuvre as we were quite familiar with them after attending a number of events at Araxi over the past year or so. In constant circulation were cups of sunchoke and potato velouteHollie Wood’s Zen oysters with cucumber pearlsoctopus takoyaki with yuzu mayonnaise, and my personal favourite, the duck liver parfait on brioche.

Once we were seated, the next few hours went by in a dizzying state of plate after plate of gratifying dishes, paired with glasses of phenomenal wines.

Course 1: Trio of Chilled Seafood. Tofino dungeness crab in egg crab with salsa verde, battera sushi of BC albacore tuna with yellowtail, and red tuna tataki with pearls of ponzu. Wine pairing: Casa main “Cipresses Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc 2011, San Antonio Valley, Chile.

Thoughts: The crab and egg crepe was wonderfully light and delicate, and the ponzu pearls added a depth of flavour to the tuna tataki. The wine had a strong bouquet and was a light start to the meal.

Course 2: House Hot Smoked Salmon and Wild Shellfish Soup. Served with Root Down fall vegetables and salmon cavair, fennel pollen, and lemon thyme. Wine pairing: Gaja “Gaia & Rey’ Chardonnay 2009, Langhe, Italy.

Thoughts: The shellfish soup was absolutely divine and the salmon was perfectly cooked throughout. I heard a lot of people talking about how much they enjoyed the Chardonnay, however, I found it was my least favourite wine of the evening.

Course 3: Roasted Saddle of Rabbit and Alba Truffles. Finished with shaved white and black truffles with house made bacon, and Across the Creek farm pomme puree. Wine pairing: Louis Jadot “Corton-Pougets” Grand Cru 1999, Burgundy, France.

Thoughts: Although there were many wonderful dishes throughout the night, this course was my favourite dish of the night. The earthiness of the truffle shaving paired very well with the tender rabbit.

Course 4: Waygu Beef Cheek. Served with North Arm Farm butternut squash and assorted beets and topped with grilled chimichurri sauce. Wine pairing: Kosta Browne Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, USA.

Thoughts: I was in heaven – beef that falls apart on touch and melts in your mouth, paired with a fresh, robust red. What more could you ask for?

Course 5: Moonstruck White Grace Cheese Souffle. Topped with arugula, rosemary, and shallot cream. Wine pairing: Antinori “Pian delle Vigne’ 2006, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy.

Thoughts: It’s hard to get a souffle right, but Araxi did. It was probably the least memorable dish however, just because the dishes before it were so much stronger. The Brunello wine and the wine served with the beef, were my two favourites (along with the Champagne).

Course 6: Valrhona Manjari Chocolate. Dark chocolate mousse with hazelnut and chocolate crust, raspberry gel, and mint syrup. Wine pairing: Fonseca “Vintage Port” 1985, Portugal.

Thoughts: It has been my experience that Araxi excels at desserts. My regret was being so full by this point that I couldn’t finish this delicate mousse. Damn it! It could have also had something to do with shoving many of the petit fours in my mouth. I can’t help myself!!

If you are someone that enjoys food and wine, you really should try to make the effort to get to Whistler next year for Cornucopia. Yes, some of the events will break your budget (Big Guns was $250 before taxes), but Cornucopia also has events for all budgets, including free events. If you do have a bit of extra money to splurge, I would highly recommend Big Guns. Both times that we have been we have been so impressed with the level of service and the quality of the food and wine. Paying for it all beforehand and knowing that you don’t have to worry about it on the night, also adds to the enjoyment. Big Guns is truly the time to kick back and prepare to be spoiled.

Wine Tasting in the Okanagan

1 Aug

B and I have just returned from a long weekend in the Okanagan and, upon returning, I’ve come to the conclusion that we British Columbians are indeed a spoilt lot! A five-hour drive from Vancouver, the Okanagan is home to hundreds of wineries – the exact number varies depending on which website I look at, but be assured that it is many. Not only is there seemingly limitless wine but fresh summer fruits, spectacular scenery, and friendly people. Yup, we are spoilt!

I’ve travelled through BC’s wine country a few times before but I’ve not been back for a while so it seemed like the perfect excuse to take my uninitiated in-laws on a tour of some of the local wineries. It was for them as much as it was for me. Although I drink and enjoy wine, I wouldn’t classify myself as knowledgable in wine (in fact, I feel like a newbie!), so this was a good opportunity to sample more wines and attempt to educate my palate.

We opted for wineries close to where we were staying and visited a number of the West Kelowna wineries, starting with Mt. Boucherie, Volcanic Hills, the stunning Quails’ Gate, and we finished with the imposing Mission Hill, which is perched on top of a hill. When the day was done, we had barely even scratched the surface of the West Kelowna wineries, and hadn’t even made a start on Kelowna, Naramata, or Oliver area, wineries. Needless to say, if you are a wine connoisseur, you will want an extended trip and you will want to plan.

Mt. Boucherie and Volcanic Hills were the smaller, more intimate wineries of the four we visited. Quails’ Gate winery was a bit larger and had absolutely stunning views over the lake and the gentleman that served us was great at explaining the basics of wine and wine tasting, which really helped to ease my in-laws into the tasting. I love ice-wines and dessert wines so I ended up purchasing a bottle of their dessert wine Botrytis Affected Optima, which is known as the “nectar of the gods”. The name is justified as it is thick, sweet, and had a strong apricot flavour. I’ll be cracking that after our next dinner party.

The final winery that we visited was the ever-popular Mission Hill. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of their wines but there is no denying that their estate is impressive. Inside the tasting room, they had a great gift shop filled with food and wine collectibles, like glasses, cooking books, and chopping boards. I wanted to buy it all! We ended up purchasing a bottle of their 2009 Oculus as we had sampled a bottle of their 2007 Oculus at the Araxi Big Guns Dinner last year and it was one of our favourites. Unfortunately they had none of the 2007’s available, but we will keep the 2009 for the next few years until we are able to open it.

Wine tasting is always a lot of fun, but when you add in warm, sunny days, spectacular views, tasty wines, and wine-haze, it becomes an even more elevated experience. I am really looking forward to our next trip to the Okanagan, next time focusing on the Naramata area.

Our wine haul

Napa Valley

22 Mar

One thing I noticed in San Francisco was that people were willing to line up for good food. Each time we lined up for a food experience, whether it was Blue Bottle, Delfina, or Flour + Water, we were not disappointed. So I feel fairly confident that if you were to randomly find a queue of people outside of a food establishment, you should take a chance and join that line. More than likely you will not be disappointed. I discovered that lining up for good food was also common in Napa.

B and I made a fairly early trip into Yountville the morning after our trip to The French Laundry yet we already found a fairly hefty line of people outside of Bouchon Bakery. When we joined the small queue, I remember thinking “This isn’t so bad”. But we were the lucky ones. By the time we had reached the front door, the queue had grown behind us quite substantially. By the time we had collected our baked goods and eaten them, the line had grown ridiculously long. I had to laugh that it was mostly women in the line-up – I suppose men don’t see the value in lining up for baked goods.

Bouchon Bakery is yet another Thomas Keller establishment and, as the name suggests, it sells baked goods (that should have been obvious). Loaves of freshly baked bread, scones, cupcakes, macarons, cookies, tarts, and pastries line the walls and fill the baskets of the small bakery. Everything, from the bakery decor to the baked goods, is well-presented.

Whilst the food was fabulous, I’m disappointed to say that the service was not on par. I think they were just far too busy. I had ordered a number of items but didn’t get charged for one of them so they had to ring me through twice and then when I checked on one of the sandwiches that was meant to be warming, they hadn’t put it under the grill, which meant even more waiting. The coffee was ok but not at the same quality as the food.

The raspberry macaron was, without a doubt, the best macaron that I’ve ever had. They were much bigger than the ones that I’ve seen anywhere else (they were cookie sized), which weirded me out at first as I think of them as being petite treats, but it didn’t take me long to get over that. I also tried their bacon and cheddar scone which was really good and had a sweet finish.

They were very generous with the chocolate in the pain au chocolate that I ordered, which I appreciate, but I found it just too much. I guess that comes down to personal taste.

In hindsight, I would like to have gone to Bouchon Bakery with my sister so that I could have ordered waaay more than what I really needed (I do have some self-restraint around B…some). All of the food looked tempting but items that particularly caught my eye are the oreo-type cookies that are meant to be Keller’s favourite, the chocolate bouchon (a brownie-like treat), the pain au raisin, and the chocolate tart. Damn. I am kicking myself now, especially after looking back on photos. Next time, GG, next time.

Here are some tips for when you visit Bouchon Bakery:

1/ Get there first thing in the morning or be prepared to wait and,

2/ Take a bigger budget and a looser belt than you think you’ll need.

We had limited time in Napa so we only spent an afternoon exploring the wineries. We dropped into Rubicon Estates as I had remembered that we had enjoyed a drop from there at the Big Guns Dinner at Araxi back in November.

As luck would have it they had paid tastings of the Rubicon 2008 available for $15 for 2oz or $30 for 4oz, which I admit is pretty pricey for a small glass of wine but I decided to treat myself and ordered the small. It was just as lovely as I remembered. I wanted to splurge and buy a bottle but at $175 a bottle, I couldn’t do it. The estate itself is worth a visit as it is quite beautiful.

Next stop was Peju, a winery that we popped into on a whim. We did a tasting and enjoyed the wines that we tried, so much so that B bought a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Reserve. We will save that for a special occasion. Their Fifty/Fifty was also quite nice.

Napa Valley was a little disappointing scenery-wise for me, but I have lived in South Australia for about 3 years where there are some spectacular wine-producing areas (the Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, Barossa and the Coonawarra, to name only a few) so that’s probably not fair to compare. When I return to Napa (which I hope to do), I will try to stay in Yountville itself. That town is just so damn cute that I’d love to spend a few days there. I highly recommend Napa as a romantic getaway.

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Cornucopia – Bubbles and Oceans (Event)

13 Nov

Imagine, if you will, a place where 32 different chilled sparkling wines wait for you to taste each and every one of them. A place where freshly shucked oysters and shelled prawns lay on beds of ice begging for you to devour them. And in this place, plates of freshly prepared sushi circles constantly, vodka runs through ice-sculptures into awaiting glasses, and tables of dessert lure you to their sweetness. This is not a dream. Once a year, at Cornucopia in Whistler, this place actually exists!

Bubbles and Oceans” is one of the premium events at Cornucopia and last night I had the pleasure of attending. Women were dressed in cocktail dresses, gentlemen “were in suits, and everyone was eager to quaff some sparkling wines, eat some seafood, and to have a good time.

Starting at 9pm and lasting until 2am, the event was pretty crowded at the beginning of the night with guests making their way to the number of tables that were each sampling bottles of sparkling wines. It was hard to exhibit restraint when faced with such an over-whelming amount of sparkling wine but somehow I managed to keep it together. Freshly made sushi was circling the room all night, or you could saunter up to the freshly shucked oyster bar, or perch yourself at the dessert tables. “Bubbles and Oceans” was an adult wonderland and one that I was more than happy to indulge in.

I am truly impressed by Cornucopia. Whistler really should be proud of this event. Even though we decided to spend more money on less events, we had an amazing time at those two events. Araxi truly out-did themselves on quality. “Big Guns” was an epic culinary experience that was well-worth splurging on, whilst “Bubbles and Oceans” showed us the more relaxed, let-your-hair-down side of Cornucopia. With crazy discounts on hotels, restaurant Fall specials, and a multitude of food and wine events to choose from at Cornucopia, I really don’t need any more convincing to make this into an annual getaway.

Araxi on Urbanspoon

Cornucopia Food and Wine Festival

15 Sep

Have you heard of the Cornucopia Food and Wine Festival? Until recently, I didn’t know too much about it, nor did I know how much fun it sounds like it could be. B and I met another foodie couple at the recent Araxi Long Table Dinner and after listening in awe to their Cornucopia tales, I knew that we would be back in Whistler for Cornucopia. They dangled the lure and I happily took the bait.

Cornucopia is Whistler’s annual food and wine festival that is held over 4 days in November. This year is the 15th anniversary and it will be celebrated from November 10th through to the 13th (if you know your BC stat holidays, you’ll have noticed that it falls on a long weekend). Local and regional chefs and wineries (to name but a few) will be offering a plethora of events, including gala wine tastings, winemaker dinners, interactive seminars, chef’s luncheons, and booze-filled after parties.

The whole weekend sounds like a truly indulgent affair that will leave even the most seasoned gourmand satisfied. Ideally, I’d love to attend almost every event on the tightly packed schedule, but alas, the cost of some of these events means that we had to be quite selective.

We have selected to do the Araxi “Big Guns” dinner – 8 courses, 10 paired wines – and the popular “Bubbles and Oceans”, also to be held at Araxi. “Bubbles and Oceans” sounds like an adult wonderland, with 30 different sparkling wines (oh my!), stations of sushi, Dungeness crab, and freshly shucked oysters. My sources tell me that there was also a vodka fountain last year…I have my fingers crossed that it will be repeated this year.

Hope to see you there! Better get your tickets fast though as I’ve heard that a lot of the events sell out. Official website and more information on events and tickets can be found here.

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