“What do you smell?” inquires Daenna Van Mulligen, our host and “enabler” of today’s Wine Detective seminar inside the Whistler Conference Centre. Swirling the pale liquid around in my glass, I take a generous whiff and concentrate on the aromas: fresh and light, reminiscent of crunchy fruit.
“Does anybody get citrusy? Lemony?” the 20-year certified sommelier and local wine authority (and MONTECRISTO contributor) asks the room. “Lime, even?” We echo in agreement, using our deductive skills to identify the first vintage in our blind-tasting class. After sipping, swilling the wine in our mouths, and spitting, Van Mulligen finally reveals the mysterious bottle still dancing on our palates: a young pinot grigio from Trentino, Italy.
We erupt into chuckles and sounds of astonishment as discussion builds around the interesting wine and its simple yet sophisticated character. Indeed, it’s the reason why we’ve gathered here on this crisp November weekend, just before the much-anticipated start of the ski season: to imbibe, learn, and experience something new at Cornucopia.
Over the past 22 years, Whistler has proudly showcased its finest dining establishments and talented culinary community inside this prestigious gastronomy festival. Presented by BlueShore Financial, the 11-day-long event (on now until Nov. 18, 2018) provides attendees with an exciting spread of activities, from signature tasting events, to chef table luncheons, to exclusive restaurant dinners.
For me, the weekend begins with the Cellar Door Grand Tasting, a full evening of free-flowing wine and bubbly from over 35 producers across British Columbia. Among the booths, Indigenous World Winery offers a sumptuous pairing of its 2016 chardonnay and 2015 syrah with bites from the catering department at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre; in-house Red Seal chef David Li serves a juicy bison fricassee with simo merlot demi-glace, along with a skewer of melon wrapped in double-smoked duck prosciutto with microgreens. Not only does Cellar Door provide a unique opportunity to indulge in some of the province’s best bottles all in one place, but it’s also the chance to meet the talent behind these delicious local sips.
And returning for its second year is Beauty and the Bane: The Last Bottles on Earth, a culinary tasting featuring some of the rarest single barrel whiskies in the world—offerings likely never to be tasted again. Not to be confused with single malt whisky (which in almost all cases is blended, but within the same distillery), the single barrel variety comes from an individual aging barrel for a taste that’s pure and quite rare (limited to less than 300 bottles). Accompanied by imaginative dishes by Milestones chef Bruce Worden, Legacy Liquor Store brand manager Darryl Lamb introduces seven specialty products from the likes of Glenfiddich and Loch Lomond. Acquired through The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, one of the top brokers of rare whisky in the world, every bottle in this sold-out event is savoured and mourned.
If seeking lakeside views and nature walks outside the seminars, Aura Restaurant offers a welcome respite from the village. Nestled inside the spacious property of Nita Lake Lodge, the restaurant is helmed by executive chef James Olberg, who demonstrates the breadth of his culinary skills with a six-course meal exclusive to Cornucopia. Matched with wines from 50th Parallel Estate, palates are invigorated with an amuse bouche of Prince Edward Island lobster in smooth, creamy cappuccino foam. But the menu’s true standouts are two plates from its upcoming winter menu: braised beef short rib (served with sauteed chanterelles, baby carrots, and pinot noir jus) and a dark chocolate dome (composed of hazelnut milk chocolate orange mousse and burnt butter ice cream). From texture to flavour, the dinner is a satisfying delight to the senses.
And for the perfect send-off, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler presents a smorgasbord of culinary delights at its popular Bubbles & Brunch event. Set inside The Wildflower, this elegant buffet-style repast is charmed with live music and stars carved roasts, fresh seafood, and stunning towers of decadent desserts.
“There are no rules,” reminds Van Mulligen, concluding her seminar. “There are no absolute, set-in-stone things when it comes to wine.” It’s a refreshing take—and one that easily also applies to the equally showy and confounding world of gourmet cuisine. So, whether a food critic or a self-proclaimed foodie, there are no prerequisites at Cornucopia. All one needs is an open mind and a big appetite.
More of what Whistler has to offer can be found here.