Best Buys in BC at Vancouver Wine Fest: The World is Here!

For the wine community in BC, and especially for the BC team at WineAlign, February equals Wine Fest. There will be seven WineAligners on hand. Head Wineaux Bryan McCaw will be coming to town for the event, as will our own John Szabo MS  from Toronto and Bill Zacharkiw of Montreal. Of course the entire BC team will be on hand, leading seminars (Anthony, Rhys), overseeing the Global Focus Bubbly Station (DJ) and tasting, reconnecting, introducing and learning.  

DJ Kearney has already penned a Festival overview which you can view here. Below each BC critic shares top tips on how to navigate this huge event, what to taste and who to meet. The festival’s tagline is “The Wine World is Here.”  Our team hopes to see you in Vancouver next week as well. 

BC Critic Team

Anthony Gismondi

The 36th Vancouver International Wine Festival will be essentially sold out before it starts, making 2014 one of the most successful years since its inception back in 1979. The biggest event on the city’s wine map has managed to establish deep roots allowing it to expand far beyond its humble one-event, two-night beginning. In 2014 with France as the theme and ‘Bubble’ as the global focus the events will span eight days and include 14 countries, 178 wineries, 54 events, 29 venues, 55+ restaurants and hotels, 1,750 wines, 23,000 participants and some 30,000 bottles.

It seems that founding Chairman John Levine’s idea that each participating producer be required to send a winery principal to the show has stood the test of time attracting ever more curious wine drinkers. It’s a huge commitment for any winery to send a principal to Vancouver for four or five days and it’s expensive. Especially so for small family wineries that under the restrictive monopoly system seldom get the amount of shelf space that would justify spending so much time and money in our city. Still the little guys come and the battle of the boutiques versus the brands is an ever-fascinating part of the festival, one that frankly needs both groups to make it all happen.

This month WineAlign salutes the folks that make the festival special every year. For 2014 I have selected five wines that will lead you to the booths of some the more interesting principals taking part in the festival.

Graham 10 Year Old Tawny PortSusana Balbo Signature Malbec 2011Castaño Coleccion Cepas Viejas 2009One of Spain’s most passionate wine guys at the show is Yecla-based winery owner Daniel Castaño. Family owned, old vines, natural farming and monastrell is the Castaño mantra and Daniel Castaño will be behind the booth to bring the story of Yecla and monastrell to life. Find out how a red wine that sells for $12 can be made with dry-farmed 40 to 60 years old vines and then taste one of his best: Bodegas Castaño 2009 Coleccion.

The talented Susana Balbo, the owner winemaker at Dominio de Plata, will be behind the booth pouring her unique style of malbec. Susana knows where all the bodies are buried in Mendoza and where the wines of Argentina are headed. Stop by the booth and be sure to taste the Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2011.

It’s hard to resist a taste of port especially Graham’s 10 Years Old Tawny Port. In this case you can enjoy it with proprietor Rupert Symington. The Symington family has a long history in the Douro dating back to 1882 when Andrew James Symington (Rupert’s great grandfather ended up in Porto) and began working in the port business. Some 125 years later the family owns many of the Douro’s icon properties including: Dow’s, Warre’s, Graham’s, Smith Woodhouse, Gould Campbell, Quarles Harris and Quinta do Vesuvio. Need any more incentive for a chat?

Tantalus Riesling 2012Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello Di MontalcinoTantalus Vineyards winemaker David Paterson is making one of the most electric wines in the country at one of the greenest wineries in BC. Paterson works with old vine plantings led by riesling planted in 1978 and pinot noir and chardonnay planted in 1985. The varieties are now Tantalus mainstays. In March 2010 the winery moved into the first LEED-certified winery in B.C. and haven’t looked back since. Stop by the booth, sip on the Tantalus 2012 Riesling and talk to David about the future of BC riesling.

You will find export director Stefano Benini at the Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi booth. Benini has a degree in Economics and Business from the University of Rome, spent time in Chicago and Napa Valley before working a number of export positions at Frescobaldi. Today he is the Export Director and a fountain of knowledge regarding Frescobaldi wines, Tuscany, Florence, olive oil and much more. A stop here must include tasting the classic Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2008, Tuscany, Italy $55

DJ Kearney

The theme is France, the world’s most celebrated fine wine region and the Festival tasting room will be super-charged with energy and anticipation. I prefer a broad-spectrum and slightly spontaneous approach when in the tasting hall. I’m never fussed by tasting whites after red, or sweets in between bubble sips, so I tend to flit from table to table and style to style. It’s a big room and you can waste precious time marching about. I believe that if you don’t seize the moment, you may not get back to a certain table to shake the hand of a principal or taste a special bottle, so be adaptable. I always scour the catalogue and map and make a list of booths not to be missed, and check it when there is half an hour left so I can dash if needed. This way one can be both spontaneous but thorough-ish.

Here are my highlights:

Giusti ProseccoPierre Sparr Réserve Brut Crémant d'AlsaceTaittinger Brut Réserve ChampagneThe Global Focus of the Festival is Bubbly! Producers have brought their sparklers with them, so be on the lookout (for all 110 of them!), but there is also a special place where you can taste selected bottles that are used as teaching tools to help understand the various styles and methods of capturing the sparkle. The Global Focus station has been my special project for a decade now, and I and my keen sommeliers are on hand to teach you the basics with wines to illustrate.

Don’t miss the refined wines of Champagne Taittinger and look for débonaire Clovis Taittinger behind the table. The house style emphasizes freshness and precision and you can bank on the charming Brut. Also a French sparkler of a different style, the Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Reserve shows its warm, dry climate, aromatic grapes and fresh style. Effusive Bernard Sparr attends often and with luck, he’ll pour your taster. Guisti is a proud Canadian success story, and Joe Guisti, from Triveso via Alberta, is visiting to pour his much admired wines.  Try the Giusti Brut to get a taste of a more complex version of the widely loved Prosecco style.

M. Chapoutier Chante Alouette Hermitage Blanc 2011Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012Seresin Leah Pinot Noir 2011One of the France’s great estates is Chapoutier. Deeply committed to biodynamics where a comprehensive range of wines translate the diverse terroir of the Rhone Valley (and the wonderful Braille label), this is must-visit booth. Michel Chapoutier is representing the family, and Hermitage Chante Alouette 2011 is a wine I deeply admire.

South Africa has a Regional section and there you can find a table with 12 captivating whites: from chenin with and without a touch of oak, crisp and serious bruts, and stylish chardonnays. A firm favourite is the Benard Series Old Vines Chenin Blanc, which seems to get better with every vintage.

One of the best days I spent in New Zealand this past October was at Seresin Estate. It’s a wee patch of biodynamic heaven within Marlborough with plow horses, jersey cows, olive trees, incredible bio preparations, and people who are as real as the wines.  There are five Sersein wines to savour, and I love, love, love the 2011 Leah Pinot Noir in particular.

Rhys Pender, MW

Two great things have happened for the 2014 Vancouver Wine Festival. First, the theme country is France. This means we will have an amazing array of wines to taste from the greatest wine producing country on the planet. The only way to improve on this is, of course, to have the theme wine as bubbly. Sounds like endless fun to me, an in depth exploration of the wine regions of France while refreshing my palate with delicious sparkling wines from around the world in between.

Looking through the lineup of wineries and wines, there are many different approaches you could follow to get the most out of the festival tasting room (which has added an additional tasting on Saturday afternoon). My first bit of advice is to not limit yourself to just one tasting. Buy tickets for two or even three tastings as, yes, there are that many great wines to discover.

Looking through the list of what is being poured, I am excited by many wines from across the globe. Here are a few I will be checking out. The Gérard Bertrand stand has some of the great value appellations from the Languedoc-Roussillon area of southern France. Minervois, Saint Chinian and La Clape (no, it is not a disease) are all represented and worth a try for their cuddly warmth.

There also appears to be a very strong showing of delicious White Burgundy on offer; Maison Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2010 and Simonnet Febvre Chablis 2012. There is also Boisset Puligny-Montrachet le Trézin 2011, Jadot Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle Blanc 2010 and Roux Père & Fils Meursault 1er Cru “Clos des Poruzots” Monopole 2012.

The bubbly theme also gives you a great chance to try sparkling wines from around the world. There are some delicious Crémant de Limoux on offer from Gérard Bertrand, Paul Mas, and Sieur d’Arques and some great new world bubbly from Graham Beck of South Africa. The Champagne presence is also not to be missed. Get early to the tables of Charles de Cazanove, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Champagne Taittinger and Thiénot to try some of their best.

Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2011M. Chapoutier La Bernardine Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010Joseph Mellot Le Tronsec Pouilly Fumé 2010Pfaffenheim Cuvée Bacchus Gewurztraminer 2011Pierre Sparr Extrem Riesling 2010Simonnet Febvre Chablis 2010

The Rhône is always a strong point for France and this year should be no different. Try the great value WineAlign World Wine Awards Category Champion Ogier Héritages Côtes Du Rhône 2011 and the 2011 M. Chapoutier La Bernardine Châteauneuf Du Pape. If it is anything like the 2010 then it will be well worth the effort.

There are plenty of brand new vintages in the room with good pedigree and great value. Try the Joseph Mellot Le Tronsec Pouilly-Fumé 2012 (2010 note here), Pfaffenheim Gewurztraminer 2012 (2011 note here), Pierre Sparr Extrem Riesling 2011 (2010 note here) and the Simonnet Febvre Chablis 2012 (2010 note here).

See you in the tasting room!

Treve Ring

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the International Festival Tasting Room. After all, there are nearly 800 different wines open and available for you to taste. Each winery has a table, each table has a principal, each principal is here because they’re passionate about their product, and want to share it. Out of the festival’s 54 events, the International Festival Tasting is the heart of Wine Fest. You can preview all of the participating wineries on the VIWF website here, and when you arrive at the Vancouver Convention Centre you’ll receive the all-important Wine Fest booklet, a ringed map to all the different events, wines poured, theme region and global focus. Of course with France and Bubbly as the themes this year, I’m going to focus a great deal of my time on these areas (Champagne!) In addition, I make notes of which winemakers and winery principals I’d like to chat and taste with, and who I’m keen to catch up with again.

One such person is Garance Thiénot, head of the contemporary Champagne house Thiénot. I met the gracious Garance in Champagne and was charmed by her drive and passion as one of the most important women in Champagne. Their stylish NV Brut is fantastic value on this market, and they will be pouring a number of other lesser-seen wines from the house. While in the Champagne section, be sure to sample the elegant and pristine Taittinger Brut Reserve NV (and meet the charming Clovis Taittinger), the worldly and weighty Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2005 and the expressive and floral Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut.

Hard as it is to leave Champagne, there is so much more to taste. Within France, don’t miss visiting Pierre Sparr, talking to Bernard Sparr, and tasting the powerful Gewurztraminer Froehn Grand Cru 2011. M. Chapoutier is one of the world’s greatest estates, and one of my most memorable visits and tastings. We are all fortunate to try the remarkable Chapoutier Chante Alouette 2011 in the tasting room.

Step outside France and the world is yoursthe earthy, herbal Longview Vineyard Yakka Shiraz 2011 (2010 note here) from Oz’s Adelaide Hills and Chilean Cono Sur’s terroir-focussed single-vineyard wines (and a chat with the affable Matias Rios). Italy is strong this year. Don’t miss Antinori’s Franciacorta Montenisa Brut, touring Tuscany (via Barone Ricasoli and Castiglion del Bosco) and a pause for powerful Langhe (Fontanafredda Serralunga D’alba Barolo 2009).

Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut ChampagneLongview Vineyard Yakka Shiraz 2010Fontanafredda Serralunga D'alba Barolo 2009Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon 2008Ramos Pinto Rp 20 Quinta Do Bom Retiro

In Spain, you must taste through Canadian ex-pat Nathalie Bonhomme’s wines, exemplary value at every price point, as well as a pour of Miguel Torres’ legendary and groundbreaking Mas La Plana 2009 (2008 note here).

Don’t forget to end on a sweet note. The intoxicatingly heady Ramos Pinto 20-Year-Old Tawny Port – Quinta Bom-Retiro is open, and will linger on your palate the whole way home.

Editors Note: You can find complete reviews by clicking on any of the wine names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!


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Vancouver International Wine Festival - Feb 27, 28 and Mar 1


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