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Wine festival still survives

Event tied to Playhouse outlives theatre

The last drops were hardly poured and the bottles recycled after this year's wine festival when news broke that the week-long event's prime beneficiary, The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, would cease operations.

The irony of the wine festival's near sell-out success compared with the regional theatre company's long and ultimately futile struggle for survival was not lost on many people. However, wine festival organizers have been quick to point out that, while they are as saddened as anyone by the Playhouse's demise, thanks to some foresight a few years back, the wine festival itself is not threatened.

One side of the festival that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is its role in recognizing excellence in the dining and hospitality industry - very much a catalyst for our thriving scene.

This year's deserving honorees include: Sommelier of the Year Thierry Threlfall - the Vancouverite who came home from London's Michelin one star Chez Bruce to head up the impressive wine program at glittering Hawksworth; and Richard Carras, named Spirited Industry Professional, originally a co-founder of Vintage Consultants, currently partner in Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants and long time educator and industry volunteer.

Also sometimes lost in the shuffle is the Vintners Brunch food and wine matching contest. While the brunch itself is now legendary-the only festival event that winds up with an impromptu dance party-it does generate keen competition among the participating restaurants, caterers and cooking schools.

Our judging panel picked three winners which spanned a spectrum of contrasting kitchens, dishes and wines.

Top spot went to Scott Kidd at Lift Bar & Grill for his Quails Egg Benedict, truly a prettily executed and superb tasting plate but even more so when matched with the beautifully balanced, cherry toned Chapoutier Tavel Beaurevoir 2010, whose acidity Kidd tied in with a 'ketchup' streak.

It was also a reminder as to just how flexible and food friendly is this Rolls Royce of rosés (Everything Wine $29.99). And, if Eggs Benny and rosé aren't your thing, you could just as easily enjoy it with grilled salmon.

Savoury Chef Taryn Wa's second place winner was a dish of rich and rustic Ricotta Gnocchi with braised pork cheeks. Nicely paired with Frescobaldi's complex, spicy and easy tannin Terre More IGT Maremma Toscana 2009, the matchup also echoed an appealing regional theme.

Dessert matches can get short shrift at these affairs but not here, with at least a couple of contenders. Sweet sparkling wines can have limited appeal but not when smartly matched, as in this case. Third place finisher Northwest Culinary Academy head pastry chef Tim Muelbauer, came up with a seductive blackberry peach melba bar (with basil lemon verbena foam) that was a knockout, even more so with the sweet, floral, stone fruited but nicely acid balanced Patagonian Familia Schroeder Deseado Sparkling Torrontés NV (Everything Wine $26.99). It's actually a pretty flexible drop, something you could match equally well with savoury tastes such as blue cheeses or even spicy Asian plates.

Belly's Budget Best: ? Neck of the Woods Blanc de Noir Brut

It's tough to find a B.C. bubble for under $20, but this pleasingly fruity, citrus, cherry and stone fruited sparkling Pinot, with good structure and acidity, more than fits the bill.

It's also from the Fraser Valley, which makes it pretty carbon friendly, to boot ($19.99).