There's a reason why the viticulture Illuminati descend on Vancouver at the end of February each and every year: pantheons whose names are carved on the modern history of wine. Mondavi, Antinori, Chapoutier, Perrin, Tattinger... the list goes on. And why? Why do these giants come to the far side of the globe, to a (relatively) small city with a very new wine market; historically predispositioned to drink beer rather then savor sparkling wine?
One important reason is the voracity of local wine professionals to grow, to learn, to absorb as much as possible from these families and businesses who count their experience not in years but in generations. 7000 tickets are sold each and every year for only two days of Trade Events which means that, for the principals from the wineries, this is an opportunity for them as well! The opportunity to sample their well-loved, hand-crafted, more-then-slightly-doted-on Reserves and Gran Reservas for a throng of informed consumers who (mostly) appreciate the hard work and dedication that went into creating them.
For the wineries, this is the chance to influence the influencers: to dazzle with the creamy mousse of Champagne, titillate with cheeky rose and gratify with gutsy Cab-Sauv. The Public Tasting will sell cases upon cases of wine, but the Trade Tasting sells containers of wine and can shift the very tide of the Industry for those willing to put their best foot forward.
And what of the insiders from BC and surroundings who flock to the events? If you haven't been able to make the time for this yet, then you've been missing out and there's no nicer way to say it. Winemakers, viticulturists, principals from the top wineries in the world here to pour for us but, more important, to answer our questions! What is the hidden value in Bordeaux? What's the next exciting project for Chateau Ste Michelle? How is Ray Signorello working in the vineyard to evolve the already iconic "Hope's Cuvee" Chardonnay? Over 175 wineries here this year and over 175 rare opportunities to speak one-on-one with these game-changers. Oh, and they all bring one private reserve just to pour for the Trade Tastings... as if we needed another incentive.
I was absolutely stunned by the level of quality this year in all price-points and hope that you get the opportunity to taste them as well.
What a beautiful wine and brilliant value too at around $20 CAD... "Summer in a glass" was how I first described it, and I still can't find a better way to summarize: rich, fully intense youthful aromas of ripe apricot compote, fresh grass and warm hay, an entire garden of white and yellow flowers. The bouquet is followed by a palate of crisp, clean minerality and approachable acids. Great balance, structure and concentration, this wine over-delivers. Worthy of note; Sandrine Darriet, eonologist/winemaker for the winery, is also a professor at the illustrious Universite de Bordeaux!
Clean, crisp, mineral-driven Pinot Noir with the blush of young raspberries and the savory hints of wild thyme growing in the garden... an utterly delightful way to start the day, this is such a perfect representation of what Washington is capable of. Pair this with some fresh WestCoast salmon and your tastebuds will thank-you! I love that this is a winery humble enough to ask for guidance from some of those "iconic" producers: Loosen and Antinori. And the result? A "String-of-Pearls" of plots throughout Washington producing true representation of the soil, the varietal and the winery. Terroir may be a French concept, but it's alive and well in America.
Not the first time that I've mentioned this producer from Napa Valley ( http://astudentofwine.blogspot.ca/2013/05/signorello-portfolio-tasting-2013.html ), nor the last as evidenced by the current vintage of their reserve Chardonnay. Consistently excellent and over-delivering quality, Ray Signorello drives that value of terroir in his vineyard. The site for the "Hope's Cuvee" is, in his opinion, one of the best plots on the entire property. Signorello leaves the work of crafting this wine to the vines themselves and remains out of the picture as much s possible: very low yields (2 tons/HA), wild yeast fermentation, no cold stabilization, 16 months in barrel all go towards creating a living testament from a son to the memory of his mother.
4. Tenuta Argentiera
A new classic: this wine was to me utterly Bordeaux. A traditional Left-Bank blending of Cab-Sauv, Merlot and Cab-Franc it sings with aromas of fresh red raspberries, black currants, hints of graphite and the warmth of wood... gentle sous-bois undergrowth tones round it out. The palate is crisp, clean and in the words of a mentor "Tastes like more" meaning that there is no palate-fatigue with this wine. Great balance and structure I would never have guessed it to be Italian (not meant as derogatory). I asked Jeanette Servidio the Sales and Marketing Director why a Tenuta in Livorno, Italy would be crafting a Cab-blend, gorgeous as it is. Her response: "why make mediocre Sangiovese when we can make World-Class Bordeaux??" It turns out that when the humble owners took possession of the property, neighbors suggested something along the lines of "Hey - those guys down the road making Sassicaia have done a good job with Cabernet... you should try too!" And, they listened... calcareous soil with lots of limestone makes their site a perfect match and, after tasting it, how could anyone argue?
5. Santa Rita "Casa Real"
Cecilia Torres, winemaker for Santa Rita, has been the artisanal guiding force behind this signature wine since its inception in 1989. The vineyard in Alto Jahuel however, has been been doing it's work for much, much longer... the median age of the vines is around 85 years old and the sheer weight, concentration and complexity of the wine speaks to that legacy. In the glass it offeres rich, textured aromas of roast beef, wild sage, currant jelly and a pinch of Thai chili. The palate is full; dynamic yet approachable and oh-so-inviting with it's chewy yet fully integrated tannin. An absolute World-Class Cab, it offers fantastic value at just over $100 for if you've ever tried to purchase 1st Growth Bordeaux, $100 doesn't get you very far. A sophisticated vintage, this is marked by the coolness of the year and it's immense ability to continue developing in savvy-cellars for decades.
And the list goes on. "To see is to experience" as they say, but perhaps in this instance it should read "To taste". Every year the Vancouver International Wine Festival keeps growing, keeps attracting more winemakers, more chefs, more sommeliers and more great wine. The question is no longer why you should be here next year, only why shouldn't you?
My thanks to the @VanWineFest and Heth PR ( http://hethpr.com/ ) for access to the Trade Tasting room and for coordinating such a stellar event so close to home.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
on Twitter @AStudentofWine