Vancouver, British Columbia is an international city with plenty of great venues for dining. The Fairmont Pacific Rim, one of four Fairmont properties in the city, offers a unique wine seminar that pairs Italian wines with creative and delicious small plates. It’s an unusual and fun way to gather friends to taste some interesting wine and wonderful food while actually learning about one of the world’s great wine-producing region—and it’s a bargain.
The wine seminars are held in the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Giovane Wine Bar, the hotel’s all-Italian eatery. Unlike the other three restaurants in the hotel, Giiovane focuses exclusively on Italy, including the wines. The property’s Director of Wine, Jill Spoor, spent 10 years living in Italy and knows a thing or two (or three) about Italian wines. In fact, she’s installed 36 Italian wines by the glass, all served using an enomatic wine preservation system. The enomatic technology enables sommeliers to preserve the flavor of opened wine using inert gas (nitrogen oxide).
“Some people say you can preserve the wine for six weeks,” she says. “But I don’t allow the wines to stay in the machine for longer than two weeks.”
The wines, all Italian varieties, range in price from $8-40 per glass. Those prices make the starting price of $85 per person for one of Jill’s wine seminars. The price includes the food and up to six different wine pairings.
“Italy has more than 2,000 varieties of grapes,” she told us, as we sampled our first wine, magna Langhe Arneis, a creamy white wine with notes of apples and topical fruit. “Italy has the perfect environment for growing wine grapes. There are grapes grown here that aren’t grown anywhere else in the world.”
Our second wine was Occhipinti ‘SP68’, a biodynamically made wine with finesse and style from Arianne Occhipinti, very young driven winemaker making waves. It was delicious with nice round, full flavors.
Will Lew, the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s amazingly creative Sous Chef brought in big plates of bison Carpaccio, tender, paper thin slices topped with basil/arugula pesto, an Italian Barolo cheese, and a generous amount of excellent quality olive oil. The slightly smoky bison paired beautifully with the herbaceous pesto, the rich, creamy cheese, and the silky olive oil. We were definitely off to a perfect start.
The chef then brought us a board with a sampling of his house made charcuterie. One of the things that makes the Fairmont Pacific Rim different is its from-scratch kitchen. Earlier we’d toured the kitchen and the upstairs prep rooms and were amazed to find the chefs making everything from fresh breads to sausages, smoked bacon, prosciutto, and all kinds of pickled vegetables. They even grow their own micro-greens that are harvested moments before going into a salad or other dish. It’s no wonder their charcuterie dish was outstanding, with each sausage, salami, and other meat offering a distinctively delicious flavor.
Jill paired the chef’s cold trio of seafood salads—tuna tartare, king crab, and side stripe shrimp—in pasta shells over a sweet potato puree with a white scarbolo wine (nicknamed “My Time”). The pasta shells were cooked al dente for a perfect chewiness and the salads, particularly the king crab, were a briny compliment to the wine.
One of the reasons Italian wines are so successful, she told us, is that the soil in Italy tends to be difficult. “When grape vines have to struggle, it makes the grapes better,” she said, pouring Vittoria Rosso 2011, a Frappato/Nero d’Avola blend from Sicilia to go with our next dish, a small iron pot containing a delicate seared sable fish (black cod) served over a rich, redolent braised octopus stew that proved the ultimate comfort food. It came with two crostini and a delicious medley of cauliflower, kale, and beets.
“One of the things that makes Italy a great wine growing region is many of the vineyards are cooled by the sea,” Jill told us. “They get the warmth during the day, which is great for the sugars, and the cooling at night, which is great for the acidity.”
Chef Will brought out another winner, a small rare-medium rare beef tenderloin that was incredibly flavorful and tender. It was served over a silky truffle Gorgonzola polenta with roasted parsley root, purple potato, and purple carrot glazed with honey. When I took a bite of the beef and polenta, it was one of those “Oh my God” moments. As in, OMG, I can’t believe how good this is.
The wine Jill paired with the beef was a Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2007, a traditional Style Chianti made with Sangiovese/Canaiolo/Colorinom with gorgeous red fruit.
While Chef Will didn’t offer dessert, it didn’t matter because his small, rich plates paired perfectly with Jill’s wine selections, had us all groaning. And happily so. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor