Dazzled by The Wines of Chile!

I was very fortunate to have received a couple of tickets to last week’s Dish’n’Dazzle event at the Fairmont Pacific Rim.

Here’s the complete low-down, good and bad.

Dish’n’Dazzle is the BC Hospitality Foundation’s big wine-and-food fundraiser. The Foundation is used by folks in the hospitality industry who have medical emergencies that can be crippling financially but aren’t insured adequately, if at all. It’s a really fantastic charity, if you know what it’s like to face constant rehab or medical costs.

This was a fantastic event with quite a few restaurants making tasting plates that were paired with a Chilean wine palate. The wines were all Chilean, a fantastic range of easy-drinking high-value wines all the way to unlikely splurges topping $70 a bottle.

Bonus was the cocktail room, where everything had at least a smidge of something Chilean in the mix. There was a lemon drink that tasted like a summer afternoon in heaven. I wish I had the details on it, but I was a little busy drinking that night to be making notes beyond “BUY THIS” on my tasting booklet. My god, a restaurant, cocktail name, AND recipe? Too much to ask of me! A print-out of the recipe would’ve been divine!

A Crash Course on Grapes

Whether it’s at the Fairmont, the Playhouse, or the W2, these wine events are absolutely fantastic if you’re a junior vino appreciator, like myself.

Hobbled by a single-life budget while living in one of the world’s more expensive cities in a recession, I seldom spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine, but I certainly LOVE a beautiful bottle. A recent BC Burrowing Owl Merlot from 2007 left me weak at the knees, for instance. Going back to a value wine’s tough after that, but a girl’s got to pay the rent — and when I need value, it’s usually to Chile I turn.

So, this kind of event lets me try all those amazing $20-30 wines that I actually think are fantastic and would love to start collecting soon.

Ironically, it’s also at these events that I get try so many expensive wines and realize that, personally, I don’t find that most of the flavour profile differences between, say, a $40 bottle and a $60 bottle are often worth the jump in price.

Our Favourite Vino

In fact, my favourite wine in that whole room was, shockingly, a white wine under $20. It was a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Hacienda Araucano, from the Lolol valley. The winemaker is the global big-producer Francois Lurton, with vineyards in France, Argentina, Chile, Portugal, and Spain. Since Lurton’s site sucks for information, it’s almost impossible to find a product page on this wine, sadly, so it’s not being well-marketed just yet, too new, but…

The Reserva de la Hacienda Sauvignon Blanc, the star of the show, is produced using the best grape varieties brought from the French regions of Loire and Bordeaux, and is described by the company as having “an intense aroma that combines tropical fruits, citruses and ‘minerality’”. The combination of micro climates (concentrated atmospheric zones with climates that differ from the surrounding areas) in which the vineyards are located, and the sea mists that arrive due to its proximity to the sea, allow for the production of an excellent range of high-quality red and white wines such as their Sauvignon Blanc.

(from I Love Chile.)

My friend and I so loved the Sauvignon Blanc, not yet in stores here, that we’re scheming to order a case (from Diamond Estates in Canada)between us.

You know what? It’s not shocking such a great wine can be had at a budget-friendly price. Chilean wine is fantastic for value prices. A $10 wine from Chile can really surprise you. (At $13.99, Carmen’s Gewurtztraminer also blew us away, but is also a specialty find, so, an easier-to-find value wine I enjoyed, but red, is the Vina Maipo Reserve Carmenere at $12.99).

It’s Fun, Not Stuffy

The above-mentioned wine we covet, but we tasted the 2011 vintage. Yummy!

My friend laughed at me for my winetasting strategies — I’d walk to every table and ask the reps present “What’s the wine that best represents you?” or “What’s the wine I have to try?” It’d always put them on the spot, and sometimes they’d give me the most expensive wine, but usually they’d give me the one they loved best of their line. It’s working for me, at least.

The night was a great opportunity to small-talk with people who really know their products, and a real learning opportunity.

There are a few such wine events in Vancouver each year, and they’re really worth saving your money for and getting out to experience.

I’m really trying to learn more about wine, trying to drink less frequently so I splurge more for “experience” wines I pair properly with food when I have the time to cook extravagantly. For me, it was all about the wine, but I was hoping to learn more about food-pairing strategies too.

The Food Wasn’t Chilean, Though

Unfortunately, I think the restaurants involved really could have offered more variety than mostly seafood, and thought more about the traditional Chilean food for the wines that were showcased.

There was no chicken, lamb, pork, or, what Chile’s famous for, beef! — it was all fish, mostly salmon (which I didn’t realize is one of Chile’s top exports) save for one muskox carpaccio… which doesn’t really scream “Chile” to me. Neither do cake-pops, I’m afraid, or Toasted-Marshmallow-on-a-stick. I was just surprised at the disconnect between a lot of those dishes and what one thinks of for Chilean wines.

Aside from the lack of Chilean influence found, I’m also not a seafood or even a dessert fan, so that aspect really disappointed me. I wish more restaurants would realize that not everyone likes seafood. I was left without eating as much as I should, and that’s never good when one’s consuming vast quantities of truly tasty grapes.

I was lucky to attend last fall’s Taste of Chile, where those doing the food had everything from empanadas to whole roast of pig, and the food knocked me out. It was truly varied but what I expected to see at an event meant to showcase Chilean wines — like this was meant to also be. I think last fall’s Taste of Chile spoke to the soul of Chilean food, and was a tribute to what the country offered. I was pretty sick at the time I went, and never did blog about it, but the event blew me away.

So, it’s interesting that I’ve had two amazing Chilean winetasting events, and while knowing what I know from the last one at W2 & thinking the Dish’n’Dazzle restaurants could have offered Chilean-inspired dishes, I gotta say: One thing that REALLY knocked me out were the amazing Mushroom Croquettes from Yew. I went back for two more. And then another! But, you know, French, not Chilean. Tasty as hell, though. Perfectly crisp and not a bit of grease. The coriander-crusted salmon with tomatillo puree from The Salmon House was fantastic as well, even if I don’t love fish.

My Last Words

Finally, I’m a pretty savvy web person, so I’m surprised at how tricky it was to find information on Dish’n’Dazzle this time. The BC Hospitality Foundation doesn’t even list it on its events page, a major oversight by the organization. I hope it has a more obvious home webpage next time around, because, even if the food wasn’t to MY tastes, I know my friend, a big fish fan, absolutely loved the offerings, and value-for-experience, start-to-finish, the event’s really something worth attending if you ever get the chance, and it goes to a fantastic cause. Great service, generous hospitality at every table, and a wide variety worth exploring.

You ought to consider these large tastings a chance to really learn about all kinds of wine. It’s a crash course in Everything Tasty-Grapey, and something every wine-lover needs to experience at least once, whether it’s the annual Wine Festival or gala events like this. Usually priced between $40 and $100, it’s great value for the money at any price-point, and if you throw a few tastings of wines you might never afford, sometimes up to $150 a bottle, you can really experience a tasting journey unlike anything anyone else can offer you. Go for it.