Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival 2012: Festival Tasting Top Picks

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The VPIWF has always been one of Vancouver’s premier consumer events. It is a very well organized festival and has many excellent secondary seminars and dinners. However, it would be nice if the regulatory exemptions that allow this festival to exist were extended to other festivals, particularly those concentrating on tiny family producers. But that’s life in BC’s regulatory morass. That said, every year I always make at least one exciting discovery at the VPIWF.


This year’s theme, Chile, has always played a very minor role in my wine tasting habits. I mostly spend my time with old world wines, and occasional wines from California, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve generally had a hard time with Chile because of my perception of a lack of distinctiveness in the wines – reds that either pander to the tried and true overly rich, volatile acidity heavy and sometimes reductive under $25 price point or the bland and overpriced super-premium Cabernet Sauvignon. With all this in mind, my biggest discovery this year was Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

I have had a number of excellent examples in the past, particularly from Casa Marin in the Leyda Valley, but this year’s festival gave me the chance to taste several dozen Sauv Blancs from Chile’s various valleys side by side. The vast majority of these wines were very good and exhibited unique terroir. And, most importantly, the majority sold for under $25. Here, finally, was Chile’s value and terroir driven wines I’d been hearing so much about.

My picks for Chile included:

Junta Viognier Sauvignon Blanc 2011: It is not common to see Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc blended together. Here, the experiment works. Big bold Viognier aromatics but freshness and zippy acidity on the palate. A surprising 13.5% ABV, this is orchard fruit rich meets mineral lemon cleanliness. A great value wine that will accompany plenty of pacific northwest cuisine very well. $? Very Good.

Undurraga T.H. Sauvignon Blanc Leyda 2010: To me the most exciting Sauvignon Blanc of the tasting was this example from the Leyda Valley’s Udurraga. Grown in unique chalk soils, the minerality in this wine almost dominated over the typical big bold Leyda fruit and jalapeno pepper notes. Because of this the 14% ABV was irrelevant to the wine’s lightness and extreme complexity. A fascinating finish and a superb wine for the price. $24 at BCLDB. Very Good+.

Sena 2008: A classic premium Chilean blend, this was well made, balanced and delicious. I’m not sure about the price point but of all the premium wines I thought this was the best and most interesting. Very Good+. ~$100.

Misiones de Rengo: All of these wines were well made, good value and had balanced acidity. The reds avoided that weird rubbery Chilean funk that seems to dominate so many red wines from this country. They also all had great acidity compared to many others in the tasting. The wines are all $20 or $25. Recommended and generally all Very Good.

Rest of the World

It is generally the case that the theme region offers the greatest wine discoveries in any given year. However, there are always a few gems to be found from the rest of the world. Here are my picks:

Schloss Reinhartshausen Pinot Noir 2007 Dry: A weird name (is there sweet German Pinot Noir?), this German Pinot Noir was actually quite accessible and less green and brambly than most Spatburgunders (german for Pinot Noir). At under $30 I think this is an excellent value play with real terroir but also accessibility and deliciousness. Very Good. ~$24 at BCLDB.

Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay 2010: A standout, just like last year, for its balanced but nuanced take on Chardonnay. You’d be hard pressed to find this level of complexity and length of finish in most places for $40, including Burgundy. A perennial favourite of mine, this year did not disappoint. Excellent. $40 at BCLDB.

Majella Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: For $32 this is bang on textbook Coonawara cabernet. If you don’t like those eucalyptus and chocolate notes, then don’t go here. If you are sensitive to and appreciative of Coonawara’s fantastic and unique terroir, then Majella is a very good value bet. Very Good+. $32 at BCLDB.

Majella the Malleea 2008: Unfortunately unavailable in B.C. right now, this is one of Australia’s great Bordeaux style blends, though it bears little resemblance to Bordeaux. Think classic Coonawara cab, but greater length, depth and complexity. The strucutre is impeccable and built to age for a decade or two. One of my favourite reds of the festival. ~$100 at BCLDB if it were available. Excellent.

Paul Hobbs Cross Barn Cabernet Sauvignon 2009: This is, no doubt about it, very modern, very ripe and very in your face. Nonetheless, it is balanced and quite delicious. It is also fairly priced for the quality at $40. Paul Hobbs is rarely good value, but this wine is a good introduction to his skills. $40 at BCLDB. Very Good to Very Good+.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009: Now we’re into estate fruit and the difference is palpable. An excellent wine with tremendous complexity and good balance and structure. Of course this is very modern wine and I’m not sure I’d pay the $100 they are asking. Nonetheless, it stood out from many other reds at the show. Excellent. ~$100 at BCLDB.

Regusci Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: One of the few family owned wineries left in Napa, and in particular Stag’s Leap. Sandwiched between Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chimney Rock, this winery, housed in a 100 year old barn house, often goes unnoticed. That’s probably why this high quality Cab from one of Napa’s best AVA’s sells for a mere $50. When you compare to its neighbour’s wines at twice the price, I think this wine comes out standing strong. Very Good+. $50 at BCLDB.


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