[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]
My two year-old son is going to his first symphony on Sunday. Before the matinee performance of Peter and The Wolf, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is putting on an Instrument Petting Zoo so that kids like mine who haven’t experienced live music can see and feel for themselves the difference between an oboe and a piccolo, a trombone and a timpani. Our city’s remarkable orchestra is constantly innovating like this, striving to make symphonic music more accessible to a broader audience, whether it’s putting on these Symphony Sundays for smaller children or lending their arsenal of talents to performances of music from video games, The Lord of the Rings, or rock and roll bands like Queen. This fun and unpretentious vibe extends to the CPO’s fundraising efforts as well: if you want to, you can adopt your own member of the orchestra for a year, or book a concert for your child’s elementary school. Or, like me, you can drink.
Tuesday night kicked off the CPO’s annual Cork & Canvas Art & Wine Festival, a series of a half-dozen fantastic wine-and-food driven events taking place over the next month that forms a key part of the Orchestra’s fundraising efforts for the coming year. Willow Park Wine & Spirits’ Bonaventure location played host to the inaugural event in the program (described in more detail below) and will also welcome music lovers to the C&C Craft Beer Night on Thursday, March 14th and to the Art of Whisky tasting the following Thursday, March 21st. The Cork & Canvas itinerary also includes High Tea at the Palliser on the afternoon of Saturday, March 16th and a classic French luncheon at La Chaumiere on Tuesday, March 19th, and it wraps up in style on Saturday, April 6th with a Winemakers’ Dinner and Art Auction at the Petroleum Club. Let’s just say that lovers of the finer things will have plenty to do over the next 30 days, all of it for a tremendously good cause.
I was lucky enough to help kick off the festivities at the Cork & Canvas opening Wine Tasting at Willow Park, where wine of all kinds was flowing in one of Calgary’s largest and best-stocked boutiques.We were in WP’s hugely spacious lower level, which was ringed with wine and food booths as far as the eye could see. Restaurants (Belgo), caterers (Great Events) and a small army of importers and wine agents (Christopher Stewart, Pacific and about 15 more) were flouting their wares, and at least 200 people were milling between them, glasses outstretched, seeking out their next sample. An array of silent auction goods were laid out in the middle of the room, from original works of art and handmade pottery to trips and vacation stays to 30 year-old bottles vintage port and aged Bordeaux. There was even a salsa dancing demonstration, because, well, why not? We checked our coats, grabbed our complimentary Willow Park wine glasses, and dove in.
I didn’t make it through the whole inventory in the couple hours I was there, but I probably managed to at least try about a third of it, around 20 wines. A few stood out above the rest, all of which I was told were available at the event’s host shop:
- Juan Gil Monastrell, Spain (Christopher Stewart): This is the wine I’ve written the most about in my young online writing career. I’ve sung its praises in Pop & Pour, called it the ultimate comfort wine in Culinaire Magazine, given it top marks as a Secret Santa Christmas gift…let’s just say it tickles my fancy. Bright lush dark fruit, sun-baked earth, a touch of smoke, a touch of heat, and an ultra-sophisticated all-silver label, all for $20. Find one and buy one.
- Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (Christopher Stewart): Christopher Stewart’s booth was on fire at this tasting. The Astrolabe just came off making the list in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2012 (it was #59) and was definitely more than just your standard NZSB. Swirling flavours of candied pineapple, lychee, mango, bell pepper and mineral, racy acid structure, and a grippy, almost waxy mouthfeel make this one of the more ultra-intriguing whites I’ve had in awhile. Plus the name sounds like a science fiction movie. Astrolabe!
- Cooper’s Creek Riesling, New Zealand (United): Possibly the most random pour of the night, this 5 year-old Riesling was a rarity: you don’t see that many vines in New Zealand devoted to this awesomest of grapes. It had a “gas station” nose — petrol, burnt rubber, wet pavement — and a dry, tart, crisp green apple and rubber elastic palate, all a ton of fun for $18.
- Gonzalez-Byass Apostoles Sherry (Grady): I haven’t had many sherries in my life outside of WSET class, but this one was probably the weirdest, although I mean that in the best possible way. A blend of Fino sherry (which is usually pale, tart and ultra-briny) and Pedro Ximenez sherry (which is usually dark, oxidized, sweet and nutty), this 30 year-old wine was somehow both flavour profiles at once: a steeped-tea colour, incredibly nutty (cashews?), somewhat salty, somewhat sweet, totally perplexing on the palate. We were told this would be amazing with a salty aperitif, and for $30 a bottle, this might be a hypothesis I’ll have to test at some point.
Other wines were less lucky, but anytime you can hold out a glass pretty much anywhere in a huge room and somebody will fill it with something different, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a fun night. Between the dancing, the food (duck pastrami!), the wine and the auction, it was an utterly enjoyable event in support of an even better organization.
There is nothing quite like live music. It engages you intellectually and emotionally, transports you to other worlds, and gives you a front row seat to the majesty of human brilliance. We are incredibly fortunate to be the home of a dynamic, talented and engaging philharmonic orchestra, and too often we forget just how incredible a gift that is. If you can, go take in a show, make a contribution, or come to a Cork & Canvas event this month — support your CPO.