My Park City Wine Festival Moments

Fall Biking, Park City, Utah

Autumn drapes itself over the mountains like a soft felt patchwork of copper and yellow and serenity. Clusters of white aspens with leaves of shimmering gold coins stand in silent prayer to a blue topaz sky crested by snow-capped peaks that crown the valley below.

Wine enthusiasts gather in this beauty, and mingle with master winemakers from around the world for the annual Park City Wine Festival, while savouring the most incredible showcase of over 500 different international wines, beer and spirits.

Pan-seared trout, Powder

A glass of Planet Oregon Wines Sparkling Rosé, paired with pop-your-mouth h’ordeuvres of salmon and duck, sets the tone for our opening-night dinner at Powder, in the Waldorf Astoria. My place setting is lined with a beautiful row of wines in ruby, violet and garnet. Our sommelier, Jim Santangelo, is the founder of the Wine Academy of Utah. His infectious enthusiasm guides us through our tastings and pairings, themed “Better off Red.”

The pale pink Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé from Provence underscores our salad of endives, radicchio and rosé-poached pear with cranberries and chevre, adding a subtle perfume of strawberries and light balance of acidity. Local Utah trout is delicately pan-seared and set on a velvety carrot and ginger purée. Its pairing with the dark plummy notes of a New Zealand Greywacke Pinot Noir, with hints of cloves and smoke, makes a bright confluence of flavours on my palate. This is followed by a squid ink tortellini stuffed with duck confit and lavished in truffle cream cut by a complex Vietti Nebbiolo that bursts with earthy intensities.

Braised wagyu short rib, Powder

There’s only one thing better in this world than being served an umami-rich, braised wagyu short rib on creamy parmesan polenta, and that is: dining next to a vegetarian who doesn’t want theirs. “I’ll have hers, too!” I shout with glee. This beckons the heft of a Napa Cab. The Buoncristiani Family Winery Proprietary Red is a lush and passionate blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The richness of this pairing is simply off-the-charts.

The Pendry Park City is the comfortable hub of activity. Fire pits are set up outside where we sip wine, toast marshmallows and make s’mores. I can count the ambient sounds on one hand, but within the stillness there is motion. Park City is a haven for hiking and healthy living, everyone here seems to either be an Olympian or married to one. Joggers and cyclists wind through wildlife corridors and fields of cows. Endless trails and tributaries through the Wasatch Range marry our endorphins to good vibrations nestled within a love of outdoor adventure.

Wine and S'mores
Wine and S’mores

The goal of wine pairing is the synergistic effect of combined gastronomic elements. In our second wine session, “Portuguese Paradise Lunch,” Sommelier Kellie Martin shares with us her pairing principles.

Martin explains that structurally, wine has acid, which our palates perceive as sour. It has alcohol, which we perceive as heat. It has tannin (if it’s a red wine,) which we perceive as bitterness. What enables balance is the fruit of the wine. When we smell fruit, our brains think “sweet.” However, in wine pairings, like cancels like, so the lesser of the two sweet components will have its sweetness cancelled out, making a wine taste completely unbalanced.

Diver Scallops, Celeriac Puree, Blood Orange, Pistachio, Micro Salad
Diver Scallops, Celeriac Puree, Blood Orange, Pistachio, Micro Salad

If the only inherent sweetness to the wine is the aroma of fruit, and we pair that with something that has actual sweetness to it, it’s going to cancel the sweetness and leave us with the sour, bitter, heat. If we want to pair a wine with something sweet, the wine must be sweeter than the food.

Martin tells us that tannins bind with fat and proteins, so just as the wine changes the complexion of the dish, so too does the dish change the complexion of the wine. Sure enough, the Prats & Symington Prazo de Roriz from the Douro Valley that, for me, is too grippy and peppery on its own, completely changes with the pairing of herb-crusted rack of lamb and shoulder with Port wine risotto, lamb jus and caramelized fig, and immediately becomes silky.

Herb Crusted Lamb, Port Wine Risotto, Lamb Jus, Caramelized Fig
Herb Crusted Lamb, Port Wine Risotto, Lamb Jus, Caramelized Fig

When in doubt, Martin suggests that traditional method sparkling wines pair with anything. They can do it all, because acid goes with acid, and acid cuts through fat, so the high acid sparkling wines with a little bit of sugar and complexity can take us from our salad to our dessert.

After being wined and dined, a message is in order. My short jaunt to Serenity Spa at Westgate Park City Resort & Spa leads me to an aromatic corridor that descends into a Jacuzzi. I wade into still water, push a button and along with a torrent of jets, a waterfall cascades forth. With each breath, I sink into luxurious peace. Alas, I’m called for my CBD scalp massage, and told that as the CBD oil is gently nourished into my skin, it binds with endocannabinoid molecules to stimulate relaxation and calm my nervous system. I feel absolutely euphoric. Breathing the clean mountain air is already so calming, but this should be an obligatory ritual.

Scott Warman, unsplash

Re-entering the Pendry, I join other wine sleuths for the “Wine is Blind” event. Armed with a glass and a checklist, I make my way across the twenty-six concealed wines on display to guess their identity. The only hint we’re given is that each one is rated 90+. All my note taking is in vain, since I guess every single one of them wrong! But, the cheese and charcuterie boards and the dessert tables are all scrumptious, a DJ is spinning tunes, and everyone is celebrating like it’s New Year’s Eve. We may not solve the mystery of wine tonight, but we’ve happily discovered the Dionysian spirit that flows with joie de vivre in this majestic valley of Park City.

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The downtown main street of Park City feels like stepping into a film set. At the High West Distillery & Saloon we indulge in a four-cheese fondue and an elk and wagyu bourguignonne that pairs with a smoky Campfire whiskey. Up the street at Riverhorse on Main we sample a range of local beer and a trio of succulent American buffalo, venison and elk. This is true mountain cuisine.

Park City Wine Festival Grand Tasting
Park City Wine Festival Grand Tasting

Time for the main event: The Grand Tasting. The sun is shining and the cabriolet whisks us up the mountain to the inviting aroma of charcoal-grilled burgers, pastas and a colourful array of wine, beer and spirits. I think cowboy hats are sexy, so I’m wearing mine!

With wine glass and plate in hand, I make my way from a crisp Slovenian Chardonnay to a plumy Argentinian Cab Sauv. There is so much that is new to sample. I have never even heard of a White Malbec before, but this Trivento Reserve 2022, listed as having only 62 calories, is like biting into a fresh crisp green apple. Krasno is a versatile, food-friendly line of wines from Brda, Slovenia. Robust, fruit-forward, and well-structured, these wines express the terraced vineyards on steep slopes in which they’re planted. The Sauvignonasse has a minerality and balanced acidity like a juicy grapefruit.

Park City Wine Festival
Park City Wine Festival

Old Forester 1910 Old Fine Whisky recently won gold at the San Francisco 2023 Spirits Competition, so I’m eager to try that. Wow! It’s like a caramelized, buttery, sticky-toffee pudding in a glass. I love this.

Have you ever tasted Utah wine? Sustainably grown and farmed Twisted Cedar Wines is locally owned by the Cedar Band of Paiutes in Utah. They’re showcasing a range of wines. The Moscato blends Muscat Blanc and Gewürztraminer for a peachy, honeysuckle, slightly effervescent glass, and the Zinfandel is a vegan wine with soft tannins and notes of blackberries and vanilla.

The joy and ease of the Park City Wine Festival is that like-minded enthusiasts have assembled in the most gorgeous setting to share and appreciate new wines from the most renowned wineries and wine regions, as well as it being a forum for emerging wineries to showcase what they have to offer. Park City is model of sustainability. Seeing the world through swirling rosé-coloured glasses, I can appreciate that this is the most beautiful time of year for a delicious taste-of-place amidst spectacular scenery and warm Park City moments.

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