Friday, August 23, 2013

Fifty Shades of White

A story on the Dîner en Blanc Vancouver website sums up the event as a "posh picnic" where diners "gather at a secret location with the sole purpose of sharing a high-quality meal with good friends at the heart of one of the city's most beautiful locations." Dîner en Blanc made its second appearance in Vancouver and Boo and I were lucky enough to attend. If you're not familiar with the all-white affair, the "must attend" event premiered in Paris 25 years ago and, since then, DEB has become a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. The epicurean delight crossed the Atlantic for the first time in 2009 when it landed in Montreal. It then migrated over the Canada-US border to arrive in New York City two years later. In the short time since then, it has grown to nearly 40 cities across five continents.

I didn't find out about last year's Vancouver début of Dîner en Blanc until just before the actual event and, by then, it was too late to corral an invite. I did, however, get onto the waiting list for the 2013 edition. When, back in July, I still hadn't heard a peep about this year's event, I figured we wouldn't be making an appearance this year either - particularly when I heard that tickets had already gone on sale to previous attendees.

Then, voilà, notice of waitlist tickets popped up in my InBox. The good news was that the Vancouver dinner was increasing in size from 1,200 to 2,500; however, there was also a warning that folks might want to make a run for the tickets right at the noon start time as there weren't many tickets left. While there was mention of high demand, the notice didn't mention that there were around 12,000 eager names on the wait list.

As you might guess from this post, I was lucky enough to get through in time and grab a coveted spot for Boo and I.

Little did I know that we'd also end up popping the cork on one of those "landmark" number wines on The List that night.

1400.  N.V. Charles Meunier Brutus (Cellared in Canada - Quebec)

Had I realized that our initial wine for the evening was going to be #1400 on The List, I might have ordered the more premium sparkling wine. But since I ordered the bottle on the spur of the moment, while being all concerned about the rushed nature of ordering the tickets, I simply picked the easy-going bubbles - especially since I hadn't heard of the wine before.

It turns out that Brutus is a commercial blend of Muscat and Chenin Blanc that is produced and carbonated in Quebec. There's little to know about the back story on the wine as it is a "Cellared in Canada" wine and I couldn't even find out where the grapes were sourced from. I think I could safely bet a pair of tickets to next year's Dîner en Blanc that the grapes weren't grown in Quebec though.

There was a noticeable sweetness to wine that actually complimented the brininess of our introductory course of caviar. And, even if the wine itself didn't rank as a landmark bottle, we were certainly enjoying it on a landmark occasion.

Part of the allure of Dîner en Blanc is that participants aren't told of the location in advance. All tickets have designated meeting points throughout the city attached to them and group leaders then coordinate transport to the secret site. Ironically, Boo and I discovered the previously secret location on our way downtown as the Skytrain passed right by the chosen locale. Unfortunately, we couldn't just get off and arrive on our own as we needed to check in with our team leader and, in what turned out to be perhaps the only real glitch of the evening for us, our group was one of the very last to debark at the "secret" location. As such, we missed out on all the early revelry in watching and mingling as the lucky few arrived and set up their tables.

In an interesting twist, the location - next to Science World and False Creek - was just across the street from where our former neighbour, Red, now lives. Ringing her up, I asked, "Where are you?" and when she replied "just sitting around at home," I asked her if she could see us waving at her. Her "You Buggers" reply confirmed that she was well aware of the event below her. Indeed, she'd already snapped the overhead photo from her balcony - nicely capturing the lay of the land as the sun was starting to set. Local writer, Sandra O'Connell, quoted Tom Robbins and reported that "It was as if a mai tai had been spilled in the sky. Streaks of grenadine, triple sec, maraschino and rum seeped over the horizon, puddled upon the sea." Not that there were any mai tai's being thrown back at DEB though.

Being the naughty boys that we are, I told Red to put on her best white frock and mosey on down to join us for a dance later on. By then, I figured we could find a way to sneak her in past the entry point.

But, first, there was foie gras with Port, duck rillette, truffled salami and prosciutto to be served along with a bottle that might have been a little more fitting of a landmark number.

1401.  2010 Groom Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Established in 1997, when 87 acres of bare land was purchased, Groom is a small winery operated by the Marschall and Groom families. They only produce three varietal wines currently: Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and this Shiraz. The home vineyard is in the Kalimna region of the Barossa and they proudly state that they are directly adjacent to Penfold's Kalimna vineyard - a source of the Shiraz going into Penfold's renowned Grange, one of Australia's most sought after wines. Groom draws your attention to another ace that they have up their sleeve as well. Not only are the grapes grown adjacently to an all-star vineyard, but the winery has contracted the services of consulting winemaker, Natasha Mooney, who used to be a work with Barossa Valley Estates and their big gun, E&E Black Pepper Shiraz.

With "connections" to both Grange and Black Pepper Shiraz, there's plenty of reason to hope for a big wine for the big event. I'm a fan of big Aussie Shiraz and this Groom came through for us. There was plenty of dark fruit but that fruit was balanced with body and tannins. It wasn't just a fruit bomb without substance.

With only 900 cases having been made, I'm rather surprised that it was being offered as one of the feature wines being offered at Dîner en Blanc. I should have thought that they'd need a rather hefty supply of each of the wines when there were only six wines in total being offered. I'm jsut glad that we got our bottle.

Each couple is restricted to two bottles of wines. So, the Groom didn't match our crème brûlée as nicely as it did the entrée but it did substantially better with a small cheese course.

Not knowing entirely what to expect for the evening, Boo and I were a little surprised to find that we were likely two of the oldest folks in attendance. Guess most geezers our age don't want the hassle of carrying your own table, chairs and food. Leave that silliness to the 20- and 30-somethings, eh. I think we managed to hold our own - if I do say so myself. I certainly know that we received a number of compliments on our menu.

Besides, it's better to be the oldest guy at the cool event than to be an old fart sitting at home, I say. I think it's fair to say that Dîner en Blanc would have been a landmark event - whether or not we added #1400 to The List - but it was a nice coincidence.

Here's hoping that this old guy gets to add another couple bottles to The List next year as well. I know that speculation has already begun as to the location and the waiting list isn't getting any shorter. Besides, I need another reason to wear the white pants, shoes and belt I picked up. I can't say as they'll make it into regular rotation into my wardrobe otherwise.

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