Perfect PAIRINGS

CELEBRATED WHISTLER SOMMELIERS OFFER EXPERT WINE ADVICE

by LAURA GALLANT

The term "wine snob" sounds a bit condescending, but who cares? Own up to it. Whistler is ground zero for those who know their poison. It's home to extraordinary sommeliers and chefs who have expertly sourced and paired dishes with regional and international wines for every type of bon vivant. These vintages are a little tastier than the standard go-to, Monday- night cab sav.

Araxi's SAMANTHA RAHN has earned her black belt in wine. The restaurant's wine maven was recently crowned as the Vancouver International Wine Festival's 2013 Sommelier of the Year. That's no small feat, as it's British Columbia's most prestigious sommelier award and winners are selected by a panel of industry experts.

"One of the reasons I think I've been successful as a sommelier is because I choose 98 per cent of my wines based on what I think guests would like," said Rahn. "The other two per cent I choose based on my own preference. I have a few pet wines that I really love and the rest (of the list) is designed toward the restaurant as a whole."

Rahn sheepishly admits that her wine list includes over 1,000 different bottles. During the spring and fall months, she is in the trenches — sipping and tasting wine with other sommeliers, battling it out for the best vintages on the market. Much of her ordering is based on those tastings, although she continues to bring in different wines on a weekly basis.

Rahn describes wine trends as always fluctuating, similar to fashion. But this winter, she has her eye on the more classic wines.

"People are tired of paying ridiculous prices for a Bordeaux or a big Napa Cabernet, although they are still popular. But I'm seeing a trend and resurgence towards more elegant, classic and complex wines like eastern France's Burgundy wine," reveals Rahn. Other wines that she is excited about this winter include 2010 B.C. Pinot reds.

According to Rahn, the 2010 summer in the Okanagan region produced the perfect grape for a pinot, which complements Araxi chef James Walt's mouth-watering steak perfectly.

DANIEL LIDDY is the sommelier at Sidecut restaurant, located at Whistler's Four Seasons Resort. This man has written the book on wine — literally. He is the director of education at the West Coast Food and Wine school and is also a part-time educator with the exclusive International Sommelier Guild. He knows a thing or two about pairings.

At 200 bottles, Liddy's wine list is decidedly smaller than Araxi's but less overwhelming. He has hand-picked a wide variety of labels, from international classics to boutique B.C. wines. Liddy and Sidecut chef Tory Martindale are always collaborating on pairings, such as finding the perfect wine to match Martindale's mysterious Cut of Essence.

Cut of Essence is Sidecut's dry-aged Prince Edward Island ribeye, bone in. Martindale prepares the delectable cut by rolling it in a rub before dry-aging it in the fridge for up to 70 days. In the dry-aging process, the meat loses a lot of moisture but condenses the flavour, making it increasingly tender. Usually there is a point of no return after 45 to 50 days where meat can be dried for too long, but Martindale has perfected a process where he can actually continue to dry it longer without losing any of the product. It's a secret technique and completely unique to Sidecut. Cut of Essence is not on the menu; It's ordered verbally only. It serves about four people and costs anywhere between $190 to $225, depending on the size.

For such a special cut of meat, Liddy is challenged with coming up with an equally amazing wine pairing. He vouches for a bold Riesling.

"Cut of Essence is rubbed in a spice called Edison's Medicine, which is a fine-grained salt spice with strong cardamom and cumin notes," said Liddy. "A bold Riesling would go well with this rub. We have a very nice Tantalus Riesling from British Columbia, as well as a Riesling from Rockford Wines in Australia."

For the fish and game lovers of this world, the Rim Rock Café is a must. It's a seasoned veteran in Whistler's fine-dining circuit — it has been serving up some of the resort's most outstanding dishes since 1987.

Guests planning on dropping by the Rim Rock will likely be assisted by sommelier, DARIN NEWTON. He plans on working up a storm this winter as he saves for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to "God's country of wine" — France.

"I've been in the sommelier game for a while but I feel like you don't become legitimate until you have visited France," laughed Newton. "I've explored wineries all over B.C., Washington, California and Niagara, but I feel like it's time to make the pilgrimage to Europe."

During Newton's three-year tenure with the Rim Rock, he has developed a keen sense of delicious wine pairings that go well with game. Over time, he has quietly built up his wine list.

"Our guests have always been experimental when it comes to wine. Perhaps that has something to do with our adventurous and unique menu," he said. "I've really been focusing on finding new, high-quality wines that aren't necessarily the most expensive bottles out there."

Duck "Two Ways" is one of the Rim Rock's most sought-after dishes and includes a thinly-sliced duck breast coupled with crispy duck confit and caramelized onion jam. Newton recommends an Okanagan Pinot Noir, a classic pairing with duck.

The WESTIN RESORT AND SPA's Grill & Vine restaurant underwent a major overhaul this past summer. The décor has been completely revamped and gorgeous, floor-to-ceiling windows were installed, showcasing some of the best mountain views seen from any restaurant in town. Adding to the welcoming atmosphere will be traditional dishes with a local twist and a wide variety of Canadian and international wines.

The Westin's director of outlets, Jeff O'Brien, has also added a new enomatic wine system to his arsenal. The device is designed to store wines at cool temperatures in a zero-oxygen environment, which prevents oxygen from entering the bottle when pouring. O'Brien said that without the system, re-sealed bottles of wine would usually go bad within three to five days of opening. However, by eliminating the oxidization process, O'Brien is able to preserve wines up to 30 days and offer more expensive bottles of wine by the glass.

Rim Rock's "Duck Two Ways" offers a duck breast paired with crispy duck confit complimented with caramelized onion jam and seasonal vegetables. Sommelier Darin Newton pairs the sought-after dish with a Pinot Noir, like the 2010 vintage from the small family-owned Okanagan winery, Foxtrot Vineyards.
Photo: Bonny Makarewicz,
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