I'd never been to Whistler without packing my skis or hiking boots. Seriously, why else would you drive the two winding hours along the spectacular sea to sky highway from Vancouver than to hit the awesome slopes and trails of Canada's premier outdoor mountain playground?
For a pretty fabulous wining and dining festival, it turns out.
I'm no hardcore foodie, and certainly not within spitting distance of the upper echelons of oenophiles. But I have to admit that my palette got the workout of its life at the recent Cornucopia: Whistler's Celebration of Wine and Food, which ran from November 7-11.
This hugely popular event - which attracts more than 10,000 people to North America's #1 mountain resort - caters to everyone from amateur enthusiasts to aficionados. Featuring four days and nights of winery dinners, interactive seminars, gala wine tastings and glamorous after-parties, Cornucopia lets you truly savor the wealth of Whistler's fine dining establishments, as well as mix it up with acclaimed chefs, sommeliers and restaurateurs visiting Whistler. And savor it all I certainly did for two delicious days.
Vino in da House
My Cornucopia kicked off on November 8th with an event called House Party - the Best of BC, held in the foyer of the Whistler Convention Centre. The theme of this popular grain and grape gabfest was "Best of BC". True to the title, organizers kept it local with a BBQ buffet courtesy of Sidecut at Four Seasons Resort Whistler, organic potato vodka from the award-winning Pemberton Distillery, micro-brewed B.C. beer and a tantalizing selection of wines from top Okanagan vineyards.
Sated yet still standing, I next ventured down the hall to the Best of the VINOS, presented by the Wineries of British Columbia, which included screenings of the top submissions from the Vinos Wine Film Festival that takes place every spring in Osoyoos, B.C. The audience voted for a "People's Choice award" winner, before sampling yet more BC wines at the wrap party.
Exiting stage loopy, I was, for once, happy NOT to anticipate an early morning spent making fresh tracks on the slopes; Whistler's legendary runs wouldn't officially open for another week. Instead, I trundled off into the crisp November night with a whole new appreciation for the culinary and viticulture black arts.
Big Guns & Fine Wines
The next evening found me hobnobbing with the highfalutin at Araxi Bistro's $250-a-plate Big Guns: Icons of the Wine World dinner, a hotly anticipated festival fixture featuring a very special collection of highly rated, rare and collectible wines paired with a bespoke seven-course menu.
Araxi Executive Chef James Walt and Wine Director Samantha Rahn cooked up a feast for the ages. Seated amid a cluster of professional wine writers busily sniffing, swishing, summarizing and scribbling, I wisely kept my glass drained and my fork focused on the enviable task at hand.
That meant ingesting standout dishes like hot smoked salmon and shellfish soup, roasted saddle of rabbit and shaved Alba truffles with house made bacon pomme puree and Waygu beef cheek with butternut squash, assorted beets and grilled chimichurri sauce. Each course was paired with fabulously fine wines, ranging from a 2009 Italian Gaja 'Gaia & Rey' Chardonnay and 2010 Kosta Browne Russian River Pinot Noir from California 2010 to a 1999 French Louis Jadot 'Corton Pougets' Grand Cru.
By the time the dangerously decadent Valrhona Manjari chocolate mouse with hazelnut and chocolate crust raspberry gel and mint syrup arrived, served with a generous pour of 1985 Portuguese Fonseca 'Vintage Port', this Cornucopia correspondent was ready to roll out the white flag. Talk about sensory over stimulation.
High Rollers Redoubt
The final stop on my 48-hour gastronomic and oenological odyssey was the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which was rolling out the red-carpet Vegas style at its casino-cool High Rollers after party. By the time I arrived, the main floor ballroom was awash with charity gaming tables while dancing showgirls, cocktails and canapés circulated, accompanied by live DJ music.
Glammed to the hilt in glitzy cocktail dresses and tuxes, the buoyant crowd sipped cocktails and an aptly named event wine called 7 Deadly Zins while nibbling on croque monsieurs, vegetarian croquettes and reubens. The blackjack craps and roulette tables were soon packed, while dancers onstage gyrated draped in LED hula-hoops and the smiling showgirls circulated, posing for fan photos.
Alas, lady luck didn't find me on my final night at Cornucopia, but it did wonders for Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), a local no-kill animal shelter that received all proceeds from the event.
Next year, I'm gambling on Whistler's legendary feast for the senses being even bigger, tastier and bubblier. And instead of hiking boots or skis, I'll be sure to pack an extra large appetite for bacchanalia in my own backyard.
Cornucopia’s flagship event features the wine delights of some of the most acclaimed wineries and regions in the world. Photo © Tourism Whistler / Anastasia Chomlack
Opening gala guests enjoy a BBQ buffet courtesy of Sidecut at Four Seasons Resort Whistler. Photo © Tourism Whistler / Anastasia Chomlack
Vegas showgirls pose for the paparazzi at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's High Rollers after party. Photo © Whistler Tourism
Lady luck in action at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Photo © Whistler Tourism
Cornucopia’s flagship event— CRUSH features the wine delights of some of the most acclaimed wineries and regions in the world. Photo © Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane
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