Archive for the 'Festival notes' Category

2008 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival

01112008.gifOnce again, it’s almost time for Vancouver folks to get out and drink some vino. The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival schedule is out for February 28th-March 5th, Italy being the regional theme and sparkling wine being the global focus. These choices should mean some great sips this year.

The festival has continued to grow and improve (Puddifoot selling Riedel tasting glasses for $5 last year was a huge plus), and the International tastings are consistently crowded and sold out. That being said, these tastings are certainly a great chance to try and buy new and interesting wines we may not otherwise see in Vancouver. Buy your tickets soon.

Perhaps the most intriguing opportunities are some of the smaller events. The Bertani Amarone vertical back to ’64 has my salivary glands going (save for the price tag). However there are some cool looking events including an “Vino Design,” an Italian white wine and appy night at Inform Interiors focusing on Italian style.

Check out the schedule and start planning now.


Wine & Food – Cheese 2007 in Bra, Italy

09232007a.jpgWhat is Cheese? It’s not what you think: Cheese is four days of cheese, wine and food bliss in the small town of Bra, Italy. Located in the province of Cuneo, just south of Turin, Bra is the headquarters for Slow Food International. If you haven’t heard of it, Slow Food is an association that promotes the pleasures of the table, taking time to eat and eating food that tastes good and is good for you. Slow Food also promotes biodiversity and the historical memory of culinary traditions.

Every two years Slow Food organizes Cheese here in Bra. Fortunately, I just happened to move to Bra this year right around Cheese time. I teach the anthropology of food at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in nearby Pollenzo, but I consider Cheese essential fieldwork for better understanding culinary culture in Italy and around the world.

09232007b.jpgAlthough cheese is the protagonist of this event, wine is certainly its ally. There are numerous enoteche throughout the various exhibits ad marketplace. Yesterday I discover the Super Whites stand, which features over fifty lovely white wines from the Friuli region of Italy. For 3 euros you get a glass and a generous pour of the wine of your choosing. I tried two blended whites. The first really blew me away. It was a Jermann, Vinnae 2006 (Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, Riesling). A straw colour, this full-bodied white went perfect with the Montebore cheese that I tried as I was wandering down the street, glass in hand. I returned to this stand earlier today and tried a Russiz Superiore, Coldisore 2004 (Tocai Friuliano, Pinot Bianco, Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignon), another big white with green, grassy overtones but a big ripe taste. Wow, are they ever doing a good job in Friuli making white wine. I have made a note to take a trip to the area when Sean gets here.

Perhaps the most amazing and overwhelming attraction here at Cheese is the Gran Sala del Formaggio e Enoteca. There are nearly 2000 wines that can be tasted by the glass and over 100 cheeses from around the world. This all takes place under a beautiful historic portico with a wall of wines on one side, cases of cheese and comfortable tables setup under tents on the other side. This is where I have been camping out.

09232007c.jpgThe hardest part is choosing what to drink. There are nearly 6 pages of Piedmontese wines (Barolo, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto and more), but I decided to venture to other areas of Italy that I knew I would not have much opportunity to taste unless I went there. This is what I drank:

Fontalloro – 2003 – Fattoria di Felsina – beautiful, classic, stylish,
I wanted to lick the rim of the glass (Tuscany)

Montefalco Sagrantino – 2004 – Tenuta Perticaia – musty underbrush,
nearly black. A bit rough but promising. (Umbria)

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2001 – Vigneti Villabella – OH MY
GOD – I love this stuff. Sexy dried fruit, lush and all that and some
more… (Veneto)

I still have two more days of cheese and I plan on trying as much wine and cheese as my liver will take. Wish me luck.

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Wine – New Zealand Wine Fair – Vancouver

A couple of weeks ago, Sean and I attended the New Zealand Wine Fair that has been making the circuit around North America. It turned out to be one of those intimate tastings that you could cover the room comfortably and then follow up for a second taste later. Good stuff – if a bit small.

As expected, there was a nice range of Sauvignon Blanc in both regular and reserve bottles, however the diversity of some of the other grapes was perhaps the most pleasantly surprising part of day.

Some of our favorite whites included:

  • Mount Riley Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, Savee Marlborough 2006 – A sparkling Marlborough! How cool is that, all the gooseberry, and grassy flavours with some honey and bubbles to boot.
  • Matua “Judd Estate” Chardonnay, Gisborne 2004– Beautiful toasty orange rind on the nose with some nice honey notes, a little “Oak Monster” but what a food wine.
  • Gibbiston Valley Pinot Gris, Central Otago 2006 – A really tasty Pinot Gris with lots of peach and pear with soft toasty finish.
  • Vinoptima Gerwurztraminer, Gisborne 2004 – Thick and tasty, with loads of lychee, rose and peach. Long on the palate.
  • Mud House Swan Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2006 – Another tasty food wine, this one had loads of gooseberry and grapefruit with hint of jalapeno/ green pepper.
  • Babich Black Label Sauvignon Blanc 2005 – a tonne of gooseberry, grass and citrus… the nose was so strong it was pungent, but in a fantastic way. We hope to review this wine fully in the near future.

The picks for the reds include:

  • Carrick Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2004 – Lovely cracked pepper with ripe red fruit and excellent length. Had to make a couple of visits here.
  • Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2004 – Another beauty from Central Otago, this one again had nice cherry and raspberry with a nice earthy finish.
  • CJ Pask Gimblett Road Syrah, Hawkes Bay 2005 – A great value ($25) with tonnes of toasty pepper, dark plum and a nice spicy finish.
  • Te Awa Syrah, Hawkes Bay 2005 – This was a total pepper bomb, loads of fresh cracked pepper on the nose right through to the finish. My barbeque awaits!
  • Te Awa “Boundary” Cabernet Merlot, Hawkes Bay 2002 – Nice full dark blackberry on the nose with a nicely balanced earthy flavor through the finish. Grilled lamb…. mmmm….

Overall, it was a nice, casual tasting. It would have been nice to see a few more Otago Pinots, but there were some really nice surprises.


Wine – On the contrary… Graham’s thoughts on the state of Aussie Wines

logo-1.gifAfter reading Sean’s rant, I thought I would share my perspective on the Australian wine experience at the festival. I was lucky enough to attend three Aussie tastings and have to come to the conclusion that in my mind there is more than meets they eye in the current state of Australian wine.

Paul Henry, the general manager for Wine Australia described the transition of their wines from that of straightforward accessibility to a focus on diversity and quality. He emphasized that change was the key for Australian wine and based on the wines I tasted, I agree.

The first encounter I had with Aussie wines was in my days as a server, meeting the “Oak Monster” known as the Hunter Valley Chardonnay. This beast and its compatriot the “Shirazinator” dominated many a market.

The focus now, stated Michael Hill-Smith, MW, is to challenge these stereotypes. “Restraint”, he asserted is the new word of choice in the world of Australia wine and with the rise of some of the cooler climate wines, the markets will begin to reflect this.

While the aforementioned monsters, joined by Shiraz-Viognier the “new rock and roll of Australia” as Smith deemed it, will still be readily available (along with the steady stream of critter vino) there are some wines that reflect the new focus to emphasize some of the signature terroir of Australia.

Some of my highlights included:

Shaw & Smith Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2006

This is a real departure in my mind. A zesty unoaked sauvignon blanc, this wine is not trying to be a Marlborough despite having some of the signature gooseberry aromas. The nose and mouth have loads of tropical fruit with crisp acidity. It is long on the finish with some hints of grassiness as well. A uniquely Australian wine.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz

Jane Ferrari, winemaker for Yalumba, proclaimed Aussie Cab Shiraz as “the greatest story never told.” This wine certainly attested to this. The operative word with this wine was elegance – not something traditionally spoken when discussing these wines. The nose was gorgeous leather with some black tar notes and toasty black fruit. The first sip opened into soft tobacco, blackberries and a nice earth feel from nice medium tannins. The finish was beautiful and soft with some nice long ripe fruit and well balanced with more earth notes. Gorgeous stuff.

De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2003

We tasted a number of nice Semillons over the course of the festival, and this was the one I closed the festival with. A beautiful deep golden color, this was like an apricot-orange marmalade with some tasty peach notes. The finish was lovely and long with golden raisins, orange rind and a creamy smoothness from some time in French Oak. All this with only 11% booze! This one shows great restraint, and again a different direction for Australia.

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Wine – Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Sean’s Picks

OK, I’ve gone over my notes and the pile of tasting cards I picked up at the wine fest, so here’s my list of faves (in no particular order):

My favourite reds… period:

  • 2003 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional
  • 2004 Lemos & Van Zeller Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • 2004 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2000 Antinori Estates Prunotto Bussia Barolo DOGC
  • 1998 Château Musar Red

My favourite whites:

  • 1999 Château Musar White
  • 1998 Lanson Noble Cuvee Champagne
  • 2005 Dr. Loosen Riesling Spätlese Urziger Wurzgarten
  • 2005 Babich Marlborough Black Label Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2004 Bürgerspital Estate Wurzburger Stein-Harfe Riesling Spätlese

Fantastic values:

  • 2005 Babich Marlborough Black Label Sauvignon Blanc ($21)
  • 2005 M. Chapoutier Coteaux de L’Ardeche Viognier ($24.90)
  • 2005 Finca Flichman Expresiones Reserve Shiraz/Cabernet ($18.99)

Surprises from the fest:

  • the Château Musar white – it was unlike anything else at the festival and initially threw my taste buds for a loop.. but the finish went on and on and had layers of sherry-like nuttiness;
  • the value of the wines from Finca Flichman – across the board, the wines were all great values;
  • the 2005 Black Arts Chardonnay from Golden Mile Cellars (BC) – it rocked… it was the most luxuriously plush and tropical (in that New World way), yet balanced Chardonnay I tasted at the festival;
  • the wines of Henri Bourgeois/Clos Henri – gorgeous Sauvignon Blancs from both France and their properties in New Zealand;
  • how bloody good the still red wines are from Portugal – Quinta do Crasto and Cristiano van Zeller (of Quinta do Vale Dona Maria) are doing some pretty amazing stuff;
  • Telmo Rodriguez of Spain – he’s a passionate winemaker who is doing some pretty amazing stuff… I already knew this, but it was great to meet him and see him in action at the booth;
  • the Sauvignon Blanc from Shaw & Smith I tasted at a pre-festival sit-down tasting… easily the best I’ve had from Australia;
  • how many folks still think Riesling is just a simple, sweet wine… folks, this stuff is heaven in a glass!
  • … and the final surprise?.. how much wine I can taste over a few days and still feel like a glass when I get home. 🙂

The wine fest is a great time each year. I find something new every time and they always seem to attract some top wine talent from around the world each year. If you’ve never been, you should really try to come check it out.

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Wine – my take on the 2007 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival and my Aussie wines rant

Another year, another great Vancouver Wine Festival. As Graham mentioned, the media organizers at the fest were pretty damn nice and got us into as many events as we could handle. The original miscommunication we had with them got sorted out extremely well and I think they did a heckuva’ job.

Apart from the trade tastings on Thursday and Friday, I was able to get into 2 events, which I’ll write up in a future post(s).

Here’s my little rant: If there’s one thing this year’s festival did for me (besides set back my tooth-whitening progress a good 6 months), it was to remind me why I’m not buying a tonne of Aussie wines these days. I tasted many of their reds… and other than a few standouts, they all kinda’ tasted the same – big ballsy reds with full, almost sweet fruit and a distinct lack of any real flavour layers to set them apart.

As usual, there were some striking wines from many countries… it was just that for the amount of Aussie wines being poured, there weren’t many that showed extremely well.

In my next post, I’ll list out my favourites from the festival. 🙂

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Wine – Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival – Graham’s Picks

The festival ended Saturday and I must say it was a good one. We were well accommodated with a number of excellent events and had two days in the tasting room to explore some really great stuff. I’ll post on the events I covered in the next few days as there were certainly some major highlights. I’ll try to give a cross-section of some standouts in a variety of categories.

My Top Five Reds
I tried to choose a variety of the great stuff I tasted:

  • Antinori Estates – Prunotto Bussia Barolo DOCG 2000
  • Concha Y Toro – Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
  • Feudi Di San Gregorio – Irpina Serpico IGT 2003
  • Chateau Musar – Red 1998
  • Quinta Do Vale Dona Maria – Curriculum Vitae Douro Tinto 2004

My Top Five Whites
I could go on and on with the great Sauvignon Blancs… however here’s a blend:

  • Henri Bourgeois – Clos Henri Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006
  • Lanson – Noble Cuvee Brut
  • Wither Hills – Shepherd’s Ridge Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006
  • Beringer Vineyards- Alluvium White
  • Calina – Reserve Chardonnay 2005

Top Five Aussie Wines
With Australia being the feature country here’s my faves:

  • D’Arenberg – Dead Arm Shiraz 2004
  • Jim Barry Wines – The Armagh 2004
  • Langmeil 5th Wave Grenache 2004
  • Leasingham Wines – Bin 56 Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
  • Penfold’s – RWT 2003

Top Five Rieslings
Riesling being the feature grape this year, here are a few standouts:

  • Dr. Loosen – Riesling Spatlese Urziger Wurzgarten 2005
  • Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler- Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2005
  • Ste. Michelle Wine Estates – Eroica Riesling 2005
  • Grant Burge – Thorn Eden Valley Riesling 2005
  • Wild Goose Vineyards – God’s Mountain Riesling 2006

Top Five Surprises
Things I didn’t expect, or learned more about:

  • Telmo Rodriguez Wines – Taking Spanish wines in some tasty new directions
  • Golden Mile Cellars – Black Arts Chardonnay – wow! Serious Chardonnay from Oliver!
  • Finca Flichman – Amazing value wines from Argentina
  • Clos Henri working with a vineyard in the Marlborough – Some lovely results.
  • Yalumba Barossa Late Harvest Viognier 2005 – Neat Stuff.

Next up I’ll condense some of my experiences in a couple of great Aussie Tastings I was lucky enough to attend.

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Wine – Off at the Festival tasting and tasting…

03292007.gifGraham and I received our media accreditation for the Vancouver Wine Festival, so we’re spending today and tomorrow happily sipping away. We’ll be taking names, notes and everything else we can get our hands on. We’ll post more on our adventures in the next few days. 🙂

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Wine – The Vancouver International Wine Festival

After the great treatment Graham and I received from the folks at the ZAP tasting down in San Francisco, we were both looking forward to covering our local wine festival here in Vancouver – our home town.

The media accreditation form finally went live on their site yesterday and we applied. We both thought it was pretty cool that in addition to the trade tastings, media were also encouraged to choose up to 4 other special events we could possibly attend during the week of the festival.

So, not long after hitting “Send” on the media form, we both received a response from their communications manager. “That was nice and quick”, I thought to myself. Then I read it. Here’s what we were emailed:

* The email has been removed at the request of the sender.

Personally, I really liked the “consider” in italics… and the “(!)” added for emphasis as if the request for a pass to that event is so out of our realm… even the “Please do not submit any more applications from your site” has a warm and fuzzy feel to it. Can you feel the love? I sure can.

Wow. You know what this says to me? It says all the wrong things about wine festivals in general. The folks at ZAP were what festival folks should be like – unpretentious, fun and friendly wine-lovers. The Vancouver folks?.. Not so much. Am I wrong here?

It’s grape juice. It’s a festival about big boys and girls drinking tasty grape juice. It’s supposed to just be fun, educational and a bit of a party.

As the literacy and breadth of information available for people on the web continues to evolve, we think blogs are a legitimate form of media. This is yet another opportunity/forum for the VWF to sell their festival – given the links to wine sites around the world and winemakers around the world accessing the site. There is no pretense or alterior motive here (selling books, magazines etc…) – simply a passion for wine and the desire to share it.

When massive festivals like ZAP (that sell out regardless) identify the value of blogging in the promotion and support of wines and winemakers, it’s a sign that other festivals should follow suit. At ZAP we were tasting right alongside the writer from the Wine Spectator.

We would have enthusiastically promoted their festival for what, to them, amounts to free. Last year, I gushed about some of the wines being poured. Now, after having gone to the festival for most of the last 20 years as both trade as well as a paying customer, I’m just not feeling it.

OK, this has been a bit of a long-winded rant, but I wanted to get it out of my system.

What do you folks think?

UPDATE: I’ve received a response from the Wine Fest’s communications manager. I’ve been asked to supply site traffic numbers, which is entirely reasonable.


Wine – finally… our (copious) notes from ZAP 2007

02052007.jpgOK, it’s taken me a bit of time to get our notes together from ZAP. We took so many notes, that I’ve had to split them into 4 categories:

We decided early on to only keep notes on wines we really liked – the 4 and 4.5 star ones – the volume was just too much otherwise. Still, there’s a lot in there if you feel like checking out what we liked… there were SO many great and good wines!

A few notes of interest from the tasting:

  • all the wines were being poured at absolutely the correct temperature – slightly cool. This enhanced the flavours and structure of the wines.
  • having a single varietal tasting really showed how region/terroir affects the flavour of the wine. Amador County Zins were chocolate-y and lighter in colour than say, their darker berried Lodi cousins.
  • another note we both wanted to get down was the fun nature and attitudes of the exhibitors (mostly winemakers and owners). It was great to talk to them without them being the pretentious twits you meet at so many tastings.
  • everyone… and I mean everyone, had a smile on their face.

I’ve also uploaded a few photos into my not-often-used Flickr account. Check ’em out: 2007 ZAP Flickr photo set.


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