Breaking out the BIG GUNS at Araxi

Araxi interior. Inset: Executive Chef James Walt

Photo by Steve Li


At Cornucopia, the cooking enthusiasts have the Viking Stage demos, the party crowd has Casino Royale, and the people watchers have the spitting optional Crush. And for the media personalities, CEO’s, glitterati, chefs, wine professionals, sommeliers and gourmands? They have Big Guns. THE dinner of the festival, Araxi’s annual exclusive wine dinner sells out quick – even at $225 a ticket. When you’re presented with Chef James Walt’s exquisite autumn harvest menu, and a doubled up list of 91point + wines (10 wines for the 5 course menu), it’s a steal. With partial proceeds benefitting the Whistler Health Care Foundation, it’s an honour.

This year featured 5 premium wineries from our southerly next door neighbours – four from California and one from Walla Walla Washington. All are small, family-owned properties engaged in sustainable farming practices. All have achieved critical acclaim and each had a representative present, seated throughout the crowd to share their story from dirt to bottle (I sat with Pahlmeyer’s Western Sales Manager). The service was, of course, exemplary. The pairings were studied and seamless. I appreciated the luxury to geek out with pairing different wines to the same dish, and watching these powerful wines’ evolution throughout the evening.

Here I am, looking down the barrel at Big Guns:


Nova Scotia Lobster Salad

Gem Lettuce Hearts, Salsa Verde & Ruby Steak Mustard

Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 2007 
[95 Points, Robert Parker]


Miner Family Vineyards “Wild Yeast” Chardonnay, Oakville, Napa Valley, 2007 

Points, Connoisseurs’ Guide]

The Pahlmeyer Chardy was stunning in its power and finesse, while the Miner Family has a little more overt toasty oak. Both worked well with the buttery lobster.


Cheek to Cheek

Snake River Pork Cheek & Fraser Valley Veal Cheek, Pemberton Sunchokes and Sweet Corn

Pepper Bridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, 2007
[92 Points, Robert Parker]


Pepper Bridge Winery ‘Reserve’, Walla Walla Valley, 2006
[93 Points, Robert Parker]


An artfully presented dish, with the veal winning the ‘cheek challenge’ as I dubbed it. I preferred the velvety cassis Reserve, a Bordeaux blend, with the dish, though the structured Cab Sauv was impressive on its own and I starred it on my menu.


Roasted Elk Tenderloin

Potato & Truffle Foam with Alba Truffles, Buffalo Ricotta and Truffle Gnocchi

Merryvale “Profile” St. Helena, Napa Valley, 1999 
[93 Points, Wine Spectator]


Pahlmeyer Merlot, Napa Valley, 2007 
[96 Points, Robert Parker]


Speaking of stars, I was tasting them in my mouth, while jotting them down all over my menu. This was a stunner of a dish. I admit, I may be a bit jaded with wine dinners, but this dish was over the top delicious. The most tender and deep elk I’ve ever eaten, piled with Alba truffles, and heaven clouds of gnocchi… The Merryvale Profile ’99 was just icing on the cake. This wine I kept closely guarded throughout the evening, the age affording the red great depth, richness and complexity. A very memorable course that I want to eat again. Now. And then tomorrow. So much so that I didn’t even make tasting notes on the 96 pointed Pahlmeyer Merlot 07 (shame!!!).


Pemberton Meadows Beef Short Rib

North Arm Farm Root Vegetables and Crispy Onion

Miner Family Vineyards “The Oracle”, Oakville, Napa Valley, 2006 
[93 Points, Wine & Spirits Magazine]


Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon “1886”, St. Helena, Napa Valley, 2006
[‘Top-Rated’ Gayot]


Ok, so coming down off of a truffle and elk high immediately before this dish probably hampered things, but this spoon tender Short Rib was made even more melting by the addition of the Miner Family Vineyards Bordeaux Blend, Oracle. The Ehlers ‘1886’ was also an amazing pour – structured and elegant. Definitely one of my top pairings of the evening, with these two massive Napa reds standing up to oozingly rich Short Rib.


Okanagan Pears

Caramel & Spice Poached Anjou Pears, Hazelnut Panna Cotta, Warm Cinnamon Beignet

Merryvale “Antigua” NV (Dessert Wine) 
[91 Points, San Francisco Chronicle
Gold Medal, Wine Enthusiast]


Chef Walt has a real touch at highlighting local ingredients simply, which was the case with this dessert. If I could have lapped up the spicy-sweet pear jus, I would have (yearning to be invited again next year, I figured I had better not). The Antigua was an interesting surprise – a dessert wine blended from the rare Muscat de Frontignan grapes, with vintages dating back to 1970. Brandied orange oil and lemon peel dominated, and while petit fours and coffee was offered, I ended on this warming note – a lovely send off into the softly falling snow.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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