Cicerone Adam Henderson (RainCity Brands) went toe to toe with Sommelier Mike Mitchell (Heather Hospitality Group) over a four-course tasting menu, pairing beer and wine to each course as part of VCBW last Wednesday night. The sommelier scored a decisive knock out, winning all four rounds.
Mitchell came out boldly swinging with Alvear’s Amontillado from Montilla Moriles, Spain. It’s pretty ballsy to bring wine to a beer party, but to bring a little-known Sherry-esque underdog is even braver. Local star “Vitamin P” pilsner from Steamworks was selected by Henderson to pair with Executive Chef Paul Haldane’s Bitter Wellington, a chicken liver sausage Wellington served with bitter mushroom ketchup.
Although my beer-loving, CAMRA-card-carrying neighbours at the long table thought that Pilsner and sausage was a knock out, I had to disagree. The Pilsner was in fighting form, washed down the dish and cleansed the palate. But it didn’t do much to enhance the flavours. The Amontillado, on the other hand, with its nuttiness and refreshing acidity was the one-two punch I was after. It’s slightly sweet with a dry finish, which floated like a butterfly alongside the savoury flavours in the dish.
The bell rang for round two – the closest round of the competition, with Argiolas ‘Costamolino’ Vermentino from Italy edging out ‘Saison Erpe-Mere’ Kleinbrouweij Glazen Toren from Belgium by just one vote. My vote was with the white wine, but it was a split decision. Spot prawns were served three ways. The ceviche with endive was, in my opinion, the best with the Saison – the bitter note of the endive and the citric notes of the ceviche paired perfectly. The citrus grilled prawn brought out an interesting spiciness and smokiness in the Vermentino, which I loved. However, the Gazpacho served with a spot prawn was best with the Vermentino, and that tipped the scales to favour the wine.
I checked my first vote for beer with the main course of pork tenderloin, although when the votes were tallied the wine won this round. I was excited to see the bottle of Alvaro Palacios ‘Petalos’ Mencia 2008 from Bierzo in Northern Spain, but with the subtle and savoury pork dish I found it was overbearing. (I would have preferred an apple-y, savoury, nutty, full-bodied white or rosé with the dish, but I understand there is a certain pressure on a sommelier to present a red wine during a tasting.) The 3 Monts ‘Biere de Garde’ from France was just the right texture, and was subtle enough to allow the main to shine.
The real champion of the evening was Executive Chef Paul Haldane, as all of the three imaginative and delicious courses left you down for the count. However the dessert he presented was fighting out if its weight class. Point Reyes Blue Panna Cotta, a spreadable cheese, was served with a so-so Okanagan Apricot Chutney and a mini brioche. The whole thing was an anticlimactic finish to what had all the makings of a championship fight, and the Guldeberg ‘Tripel’ from Belgium just added to the defeat. Bringing it back up off the canvas to finish the fight in style was the Comeback King: Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet 2003, a botrytis-affected Sauternes-esque sweetie. Its incredible complexity, depth of flavour (stewed apricots, honey, spicy marmalade), and heavy-weight texture could have made any apricot-based dish a winner.
After Mitchell took the title and shook hands with the defeated Henderson, the fans left the event with a glow, the deliciously sweet taste of the Loupiac lingering, and a lot of respect for the unique experience the food and beverage team at HHG brought to the ring.