I’m not sure if it’s still offered, but when I went to UBC, there was a wine appreciation class you could take as an elective. At first, everyone thinks it’s a great excuse to get plastered in the afternoon, but soon everyone realizes it isn’t a class for slackers. Wine is as intricate and complicated as chemistry or economics and it takes someone that really understands wine to maximize its potential.
Someone like me with very basic, beginner wine know-how might be able to pick out a decent pairing; the building blocks are there but often it’s incomplete. The food and wine go together all right but there are spaces unfilled, flavours missing.
A pairing by a truly talented sommelier, on the other hand, is like a four-line Tetris. The flavors fit together perfectly, the wine complimenting the dish, both of them enhancing each other’s flavors. The Wine Dinner Series at Cibo Trattoria is exactly that: stunning Italian dishes perfectly paired with amazing wines.
Cibo is a 40-ish seat Italian dining room located in downtown Vancouver’s Moda Hotel with a focus on same-day fresh, local and sustainable organic ingredients.
The interior is a bit of organized chaos. You notice individual design accents that don’t seem to go together, but strangely when you look at the whole room together, they just do.
The restaurant looks clean and modern but with just enough rustic and warmth to keep it from looking soulless. It’s modern and contemporary without feeling generic like some places that feel like the restaurant equivalent of when someone furnishes their house in all IKEA.
Yes, there are wine racks everywhere, so you know they’re serious about their vino. With the Wine Dinner Series, Cibo sommelier/general manager Robert Stelmachuk and executive chef Faizal Kassam take us on a journey through different regions of Italy with a five-course tasting menu and a carefully curated selection of wines. The first in the Wine Dinner Series, “In Vino Veneto”, explored Veneto, a Northeast region of Italy that includes the city of Venice.
Our first course was Cache Creek ox tongue with smashed favas and a pecorino-mint pesto. I love ox tongue. It’s one of the most tender cuts of beef you’ll ever taste and here it’s delicious paired with the fresh, bright flavors of the fava and pesto. There’s a lot going on texturally as well. The meat is tender but there’s a nice crunch from the beans and thinly shaved radish.
The dish was paired with a 2012 Monte del Frá Bardolino. The chilled, fruity red tastes amazing with the ox tongue dish. They’re big contrasts in flavor that go surprisingly well together.
Let’s also talk about Cibo’s bread, which is a fresh focaccia dressed with a bit of olive oil. Fluffy with a light crust, simple and delicious. I usually avoid bread but…they had me at focaccia.
The next course was tortellini en brodo, which is braised Martinez Ranch lamb neck with spring peas, fresh horseradish and vinegar. It was served with a broth that brings all the flavours together.
It’s the horseradish that just made this dish for me. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the richness of the lamb neck goes great with the fresh peas and the kick from the horseradish.
With the tortellini, we had a 2009 Ca’ Rugate “Monte Alto” Soave Classico. This soave is a drier white wine with some citrus and oak flavors to it. Still sharp, bright flavors but with much less sweetness, emphasizing the rich flavors in the broth and tortellini.
I was excited about the Risotto Nero when I read it on the menu. I was entirely sure it would be my jam when it hit my section of table and I was absolutely right. The dish features octopus and bone marrow gremolata. How could this combination of ingredients be anything but awesome? It’s rich and smoky and packed with flavour. The rice is perfectly al dente. The dish is just amazing. In a less polite setting I would’ve licked my plate.
With our risotto, we had a 2012 Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico. Spicy with a bit of chocolate, it was my runner-up for favorite wine of the night. Maybe it’s because it was paired with that amazing risotto, but I just found it endlessly drinkable.
Our next dish was a grilled Fraser Valley quail with red wine lentils, radicchio and salsa peverada. Quail? Perfectly cooked. Just a little pink and still moist and juicy. The lentils and salsa were a great match, making sure every flavour was represented.
Paired with the quail was a 2007 Ilary Cordin Amarone della Valpolicella. I can’t pronounce any of those words but yes, more of this please. This was my favourite wine of the dinner. Tastes like coffee and smoke and berries and just goes so well with that quail meat. It was at this point that I thought this was probably one of the most enjoyable wine-focused dinners I’ve been to. You could see the intent behind every choice and pairing. It felt like lots of thought was put into this and it was all executed with precision.
Dessert looked a bit of a mess but I assure you the walnut and caramel tart with honey and coffee cream was really quite delicious.
Our last wine was a 2007 Masi Amabile Degli Angeli Recioto Classico. It’s a sweeter dessert wine with which to wind down the night, but not super sweet like an ice wine. It tasted like fruits, chocolate and spicy cinnamon…a little bit like a mulled wine but with a more refined, subtle flavour.
The Wine Dinner Series is one of the more enjoyable wine experiences I’ve had. Sometimes I listen to the explanation of the wine pairing, taste it and think “Okay…sure.” but here at Cibo, the intention and reasoning behind the wine pairings is so clear. You understand immediately what sommelier Robert Stelmachuk and chef Faizal Kassam were thinking when they went with the combination…or at least I did. As a casual, beginner wine enthusiast, I thought this was a very accessible and exceedingly delicious way to experience a part of Italy’s amazing food and wine right here in Vancouver.
The next Wine Dinner Series night is scheduled for August 2nd, titled “Bottle Royale” where they will host a dinner and comparative wine tasting pitting some of B.C.’s best wines against some from around the world. Tickets are $89 and seating is capped at 35 so get in while you can. But even if you can’t make it that night, Cibo is a fantastic restaurant that really knows their wine so I’m sure they can set you up with some delicious pairings whenever you drop in.