This past weekend, the Ottawa Convention Centre hosted the 27th Ottawa Wine and Food Festival, lauded as a sensory extravaganza for gastronomes and oenophiles.
Being relative newbies to Ottawa, and guilty of foodie proclivities, my friend and I naively paid our dues (Sunday ticket just under $30 with “fees”), and looked forward to exploring the local gustatory palette and learning a few tricks from the professionals.
As we belatedly read the fine print in the Events Guide, it also became clear that samples or cooking demos weren’t included in the privilege to enter. Indeed, the festival ticket only allowed you to rub shoulders with Ottawa socialites, and gaze longingly at the displays. To partake, you needed to purchase “sampling tickets.“
At 50 cents a piece, they seemed like a reasonable donation, but a quick perusal of the displays revealed that most samples were in the four to eight ticket range. Food usually came as bite-sized amuse-bouche, while wine was dispensed into lined festival glasses as 30 mL tastings (so were spirits, curiously, while beer came in 90 mL). In other words, consuming approximately a standard hors d’oeuvre, or a full glass of wine, typically cost you about the same or just a bit less than it would at a restaurant or bar of corresponding quality. Unsurprisingly, each of us quickly shed another $20 well before we could claim any satiation or tipsiness.
The gastronomical potpourri, which included the Swiss spectacle of Tête de Moine, single-bite charcuterie, flavoured balsamic vinegars, Pan-Asian fare, and artisanal chocolates, was dwarfed by the assortment of wines and other beverages. The event should be more accurately called the “Wine with a Bit of Food Festival.” Cooking demos were largely confined to popular ticketed events with celebrity chefs, and there was a noticeable scarcity of local vendors. And while some kiosks offered a fine variety of Old-World varietals and appellations, or Ontario vintage, many weren’t much better than a well-stocked LCBO shelf.
The crowd started off thin (thank god we were too slow to snap up the tickets for the reportedly long and frustrated lineups on Friday evening and Saturday!), but by mid-afternoon the kiosks were besieged by convivial, predominantly young to middle-aged patrons. The snazzy attire of many of them would suggest the event was merely a stop-over on an upscale lounge crawl. This element was encouraged by the Byward-at-night atmosphere at some of the displays, where wine flowed almost as fast as the bright orange sampling tickets. We did not stay long enough to witness the rise in intoxication, but I have heard of such “foodies” escorted out by the security on previous nights.
Wine-sampling aside, if you want to party and people-watch at a pretentious venue, and mingle with young yuppies and wannabes, this festival might be your thing. But if you’re looking for a more satisfying culinary experience, over a bottle of good wine, consider one of the fine local restaurants before forking out $50 or more per person.