Vancouver International Wine Festival: Tasting Room Highlights

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I just completed an evening tasting through the vast array of wines poured at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. While this year’s theme region was California, most of the wines I admired came from elsewhere.

The California wines being poured generally shared a lack of structure and acidity, with big ripe fruit still ruling the day. This is unfortunate given that many producers in California are now moving away from this approach and making very interesting, fresh and structured wines that aren’t overburdened by their fruit. It is also a skewed representation of the state, focusing almost entirely on medium to large producers and ignoring all the wonderful small guys, which is a shame for the B.C. consumer.

That said, a few standouts from California really shone. These included the inimitable Ridge, whose Zin blends showed a beautiful combination of bright fruit, integration, structure and balance. Ridge Zins are far more sophisticated wines than many give them credit for being, and they are still amongst the very best Zinfandels in California. Their 2010 Chardonnay was also wonderful, and the only California Chardonnay worth tasting at the show.

Blackbird also stood out for producing highly sophisticated, elegant wines that were not shy of structure – meaning they need to decant or age before consuming as they can seem awkward right out of bottle. Basing your assessment on that initial sip, however, would be a mistake, as these are truly sophisticated wines moving Napa Bordeaux blends in the right direction.

Outside of California, my picks for the wines of the show are as follows:

Pol Roger Cuve de Reserve 2002: superbly balanced, Pinot heavy Champagne, that is still youthful and showing off the high quality of the vintage.





Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 2000: A chance to taste a prestige cuvee with secondary development – bread, caramel, and bottle age flavours.





St. Urbans-Hof Bockstein Spatlese 2011: The best of the St. Urbans-hof being poured, it shows interesting aromatics and good balance despite the very ripe 2011 vintage.





Halos de Jupiter Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2010: Made with fruit from Les Cras vineyard (of Vieux Telegraph fame), this wine shows wonderful balance and complete ripeness despite its richness. This is a complete wine and 2010 CdP continues to impress me.




Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc 2011: This was my wine of the show – and the Beaucastel blancs are rarely discussed or written about. That doesn’t matter as they all sell out anyway and are amongst the greatest white wines of France.




Casa Planeta Nero d’Avola / Syrah IGT Sicilia 2011: This is a surprisingly good $20 entry level wine from Sicily’s very important Planeta winery. It won’t blow your mind, but it is very high quality for the price.




Planeta Carricante 2011: Made with 95% Carricante (an indigenous white grape) and grown on the volcanic soils of Mount Etna, this is a perfect B.C. wine as it is ideal with Asian food, including sushi. It is texturally impressive as well.




Fontodi Syrah 2007: I was impressed at how good Fontodi’s Syrah was. Planted at the same time as Isole e Olena’s syrah in the mid 90’s, this shows that while Tuscany’s greatest grape remains Sangiovese, there are worthwhile examples of French grapes that provide considerable interest (apparently Tuscan soils are not dissimilar from those of Cote-Rotie). This is just such a wine.




Fontodi Chianti Classico 2009: An incredibly consistent wine year over year. I think this is probably the best Chianti at its price point in B.C., and even compared to a broader selection of Chianti than what is available in this province, Fontodi stands out as one of the very best.




Kalleske Eduard Old Vine Shiraz 2009: This is a huge wine, but it is a good example of massively fruited but characterful old vine Barossa Shiraz. It’s not cheap, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Beware the 15% ABV.




Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillion 2006: It is almost silly to write about a wine this famous, but it truly is one of Australia’s greatest whites. I learned that the vines for this wine date back to three key plantings in 1908, the 1930’s and the 1940’s. On average the age is 60+ years. The vines are dry farmed and sit on sandy soil. It’s a fascinating amalgam of components that translates into one of the most ageable whites out there.



Majella Coonawara Shiraz 2009: Majella is always a standout at the festival and they make remarkably consistent wines (having never changed their winemaker since opening shop in the 1990’s). This vintage of the Shiraz really stood out for its delectable mouthfeel and very interesting flavours. This is not your Aussie fruit bomb, but rather a delicious, focused but balanced true shiraz.




Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2010: I haven’t always loved this wine, but this vintage was showing great at the festival and I think it will turn into something very interesting with 5+ years of age. One of the most unusual whites at the show and unlike any Semillon I’ve tasted, it yet has character, texture and finesse.




Jose Maria Fonseca Periquita Superyor 2008: This is not the port producer. Rather, JM Fonseca has been making dry table wines in Portugal since the mid 19th century. Not all of the wines here were exciting, but the Periquita Superyor was an impressive, balanced and nuanced red with far more sophistication than you get from many Portuguese reds. Worth a try.


  1. Russ
    March 1, 2013

    I tried the Ridge Chard last night at the Festival and was very impressed as well! I’ll have to stop by the Blackbird and Beaucastel tables today – thanks for the tips!

  2. Shea
    March 1, 2013

    Enjoy and report back on any interesting finds!

  3. Brian
    March 4, 2013

    St. Urbans-Hof is always a favourite of mine. Did you try the Gunderloch Auslese? I thought it was pretty impressive too.

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