Wine Fest – Final Report

IMG_1795Vancouver International Wine Festival  – Final Report

The 30,000 empty bottles have been boxed for the Bottle Depot, carpets have been spot cleaned and 20,000+ guests have logged mental tasting notes (while a few probably lost brain cells). It’s the day after Wine Fest, and I’ve been filing through business cards and hand scribbled notes.

Picking up where we left off ~

Thursday began in earnest, with a full room of trade professionals up by 9am for the opening plenary. Guided by Canada’s first female Master of Wine and our BCLDB European portfolio buyer, Barbara Philip MW, we went on a Wine Tour de France. Barb, along with one visiting principal and wine from each region, introduced the crowd to BCLDB stats and industry trends, along with her commentary on the region in today’s market. “They’re all my favourite regions” according to this highly regarded wine buyer and ex-sommelier. It was interesting to look at the state of a region through the lens of one trending wine. For example, we tasted the fresh delicacy of Château Gassier Côtes de Provence L’Amphore de Provence Rosé 2012, dry and spicy, marked by juicy wild strawberry and stone. Aged in amphora, this blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah authentically calls to place and tradition in the south of France, while achieving the perfect pitch for today’s trendy rosé revival. Serious juice for under $20.


IMG_1801Friday marked the last of the Trade Days, and always opens with my favourite annual seminar, Excitement in a Glass. Testament to well known and respected wine educator Mark Davidson, this early morning session always sells out, at a time when many in the trade are still snug under the covers. In food pairing, we’d call it a case of like complementing like; many local sommeliers and wine retail come out to see what 6 of their contemporaries are getting excited about in the glass. This year the wines selected showed better than ever, with the somms (present and lapsed) presenting 2 wines each to a voting crowd. Presenting is a loosely coined term here – jovial jousting would be a better descript. From our visiting guest, Matt Stamp MS and his impassioned plea for oak aged California Sauvignon Blanc, to Araxi Wine Director Samantha Rahn’s mission to promote white Rhone wines (in particular, Chapoutier’s stunning and complex white Hermitage Chante Alouette 2011), the panelists had the crowd laughing, learning, and in the end, cheering. Though I was reminded of my appreciation for Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Napa Valley Fume Blanc thanks to Matt, I cheered the loudest for Festival Sommelier Terry Threlfall’s pick of Pingus 2010 Dominio de Pingus, PSI from Ribera del Duero. You might think that this $52 wine is on the pricier side, until you learn that Pingus and Peter Sisseck’s flagship wine sells for $1000/bottle, and this is made in the same facility by the same people. AND PSI is produced organically and biodynamically from old vines. The luring flowers, deep cassis, anise, savoury spice and cool minerality, coupled with effortless lightness and seemingly endless length was enough to win my vote.

One highlight of Trade Days is always the Annual Awards Lunch. This year’s casual and convivial fete was hosted by Rhone Valley Wines, so bottles were plentiful and the family plated buffet was Mediterranean in flavour. In addition to the highly coveted and strictly adjudicated Wine List Awards, this year’s grand honours went to Mike Bernardo of Vij’s Group for Sommelier of the Year. Mark Davidson, Education Director for Wines of Australia was presented with the Spirited Industry Professional (SIP) Award, commending him for his decades inspiring wine students in Vancouver, like me.

IMG_1834Another inspiring local wine fellow is Similkameen Valley’s Rhys Pender, MW. Rhys, Canada’s youngest Master of Wine, focused on Iconic French Wines, and welcomed a panel of wine principals to discuss their wine and region in depth. Though not a trade seminar, the room was filled with many interested and wine savvy consumers – a mix of serious collectors and curious newbies. How could they not be delighted with tasting Champagne Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005? One of the great Champagnes of the world, this grand cuvee from the legendary and historic house of Taittinger was presented by current heir to the Champagne throne, Clovis Taittinger. Crisp and precise minerality, with focus and elegance is my hallmark for Taittinger, and it reaches its zenith in Comtes, the house’s premier cuvee. Showing a shadow of maturity, with expressive shell, citrus green apple, Asian pear and a touch of spiced musky melon, this chiselled 100% chardonnay Champagne is stunning now, but will continue to reward in your cellar for a few decades.

Thursday and Friday are always based on the Trade Tasting, an afternoon session strictly for persons working in the food and beverage trade. Suppliers often have an additional ‘special’ or rare bottle to share with industry professionals, and you can zip around the room amongst peers. Though to be honest, with such a small and tight knit knowledgeable community like BC, there’s as much socializing than tasting. I didn’t make it much beyond France’s borders, focusing my attention on the theme region and bubbly (Champagne! Cremant!) During the evening sessions it was easier to go incognito around the room and taste, dodging the perfume, teetering heels and sans-spitting public consumers. I wouldn’t miss it through – always a memorable evening that always melds into some beers, a late dinner or after-party.

By the time Saturday’s first event rolled around at noon, I was relatively refreshed. Mediterranean Mingle let guests meander through the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon and food from the South of France against a backdrop of the stunning North Shore Mountains and set to live jazz music. Food pairing suggestions at each wine station offered helpful suggestions, though at this point in the week I was happy to sip and graze effortlessly without having to think too much. I mean, when you’re sipping on an otherworldly Rivesaltes Ambré, Terrassous héritage 1974 (!) from Les Vignobles de Constance & du Terrassous, what more do you need? Ok – maybe that walnut orange cake and yogurt wildflower honey pot de crème at the dessert table.

It was a brief respite before another annual session that I always take in, Meet Your Match. Anthony Gismondi needs no introduction in the wine world, which is why he is the perfect moderator/matchmaker to introduce guests to winemakers in a speed-dating meets wine-icons format. Seminar participants get the opportunity to get up close to fascinating winery principals from around the world, hearing and tasting one special wine directly with them for 8 short minutes. When the bike bell rings, the small groups rise, glass in hand, and move over one station to their right. The process is repeated 10 times (!) as we circled the room, asking questions and sipping iconic and rare wines with the people who know them best. Highlights included tasting the exemplary Chateau de Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes Blanc 2012 with Thomas Perrin, winemaker and 5th generation of Famille Perrin. These 1920 Roussanne vines squeak out and incredibly concentrated and rich wine with layers of marmelade, honey, orange peel, spice, herbs, perfume and minearity. Pure, complex and remarkable, memorable as one of the standouts of the entire week.

I was also taken with the 2011 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port, my first sip of this fantastic vintage, and in the company of Jorge Ramos, the encyclopedic and charming North American Manager and Ambassador. Striking on the nose, with dark violets, stone and sweet five spice, with a juicy but firm, heady palate of ripe and sweet wild blackberries, anise cloves, dense cassis, cracked pepper, exotic orange peel and warmed brown sugar. Intense and stylish, with stunning structure and length, this will be one you can cellar for – well – ever.

IMG_1782My small group ended off with one of the most famous (infamous) winemakers and personalities in the wine world, Michel Chapoutier. It wasn’t my first experience with the man during the week. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak in 2 seminars, plus lucky enough to have a private and privileged 80 minute session with him and 3 other national wine colleagues. However, it was perfectly fitting to be formally closing out my wine fest week by sitting with Michel for 8 motivating minutes while he shared his thoughts on terroir, biodynamics and Hermitage with us. We were tasting Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne 2010 with him, 100% Syrah from 3 specific plots on the hill of Hermitage, in the Northern Rhone. Beautiful dark and dusty fruit on the nose, shovels of black cherry, black raspberry and cassis, along with warming whiffs of dried cherry and fresh raspberry. On the structured palate, waves of soot and granite rushed alongside the black fruit, with fine grained and structured tannins, finely ground black pepper and a fresh, bright finish that lingered long after my 8 minutes.

This wine was alive with complexities, and astonishingly so was I – amazing after a week tasting dozens of wines each day, meeting the wine world’s personalities and with very little sleep.

On Saturday night it was announced that the 2015 theme region is Australia, and the global focus is Syrah. I can’t wait to see Australia’s extensive focus on regional diversity and personality showcased, and have already cleared my calendar. I urge you to do the same, and I’ll see you in Vancouver February 23-March 1, 2015 mate.






Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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