It is not the principles of the Vancouver International Wine Festival that have allowed it to endure beyond four decades, but rather it's the principals.
Next week, North America's longest and most successful wine show, which began in 1979, returns at 44 with 147 winery principals in town.
The biggest event on the Vancouver wine map has established deep roots allowing it to expand far beyond its humble one-event, two-night beginning. In 2023 with the continent of South America as a first-ever theme, the festival welcomes wineries from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia and Peru. There will be 17 countries, 147 wineries, 1,135 wines and expected crowds of 20,000-plus throughout the eight-day event.
It seems founding Chairman John Levine's idea that each participating producer be required to send a representative to the show has stood the test of time, attracting ever more curious wine drinkers. But, of course, it's a huge commitment for any winery to send a principal to Vancouver for four or five days. Moreover, it is costly for small family wineries that, under the restrictive monopoly system, seldom get the amount of shelf space that would justify spending so much time and money in Vancouver. Still, the little guy's come, and the battle of the boutiques versus the brands is an ever-fascinating part of the festival that frankly needs both groups to make it all happen.
This year I wanted to highlight a small number of principals you can expect to meet as you wander the tasting room. Their attendance makes the show the best consumer wine festival in North America. And it's a two-way street. They are equally curious to meet some of the most informed wine drinkers in the world. So don't let me down.
One of Spain's oldest wineries is making a rare visit to Vancouver. La Rioja Alta has been making wine since 1890 and is among the finest producers in Rioja. The winery works more than 50,000 casks and 6.4 million bottles at any one time or the equivalent of about eight years of sales. It is all part of La Rioja's commitment to supply large quantities of fully mature, world-class wines every year — a rare occurrence in the modern-day wine world. Jose Luis Navarro, Export Manager Canada, will be at the booth to walk you through his impressive wines. Be sure to try the unexpected, too, such as the Lagar de Cervera Albarino, $38.99.
It's hard to resist a taste of port, especially the Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port $65.99, to be poured by Sérgio Azevedo, International Market Manager. The Symington family has a long history in the Douro, dating back to 1882. Some 141 years later, the family owns many famous Douro properties, including Dow's, Warre's, Graham's, Smith Woodhouse, Gould Campbell, Quarles Harris and Quinta do Vesuvio. Need any more incentives for a chat?
Frédéric Chaudière, a co-proprietor Château Pesquié, Ventoux, France, will attend the show this year to pour some terrific Rhone-style reds grown on the side of Mont Ventoux, whose same slopes are home to one of the gruelling sections of the Tour de France. Frédéric is a fountain of information, pouring four exciting wines grown biodynamically and certified organic. Don’t mijss the Château Pesquié Quintessence Ventoux Rouge $32.99.
Corcelettes Estate Winery is an excellent representative of the Similkameen Valley, a fast-growing British Columbia wine scene area. Co-owner and winemaker Charlie Baessler will be pouring several gems. Given that it is spring, I suggest you check out the Corcelettes Oracle Rosé $24.90 and grab some before it disappears for the year. Charlie and his partner Jesce Baessler come from one of Canada's most magical, wild appellations, and they will be happy to talk to you about their journey.
Aurelio Montes Jr. of Montes Wines is coming to town. Aurelio Junior and his father, Aurelio Senior, have been lifelong advocates for Chilean wine. Their Montes Alpha labels, including the Montes Alpha M $76.99, are part of a cult lineup of wines, including Purple Angel Chile's first ultra-premium Carmenere. Joining Aurelio is Export Director Carlos Serrano, who will be happy to talk to you about the magic of the Colchagua Valley, the Montes ethos, and a winery built respecting feng shui — a system of laws that govern spatial arrangement and orientation about the flow of energy whose effects, good or bad, are taken into account when siting and designing buildings.
That is but a taste of the 171 principles in the city to pour their wines. Ensure you take advantage of the opportunity to say hello and ask questions. It's what the festival is about. For more guidance, here are some suggested topics and stops you can make in the room courtesy of GOW tasting team members, Anthony (AG), Treve Ring (TR), and HJ Cha.
AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE 44th VANCOUVER PLAYHOUSE INTERNATIONAL TASTING ROOM
TRY SOMETHING NEW: That's what the festival is for, after all. Use this opportunity to explore new grapes, new regions, and new styles of wine from across the globe. TR
Estate Argyros Skouras Moschofilero, Santorini, Greece. $22.99
Grand Tokaj Kovago Furmint, Hungary. $17.99
Michele Chiarlo Le Orme Barbera D'Asti, Piemonte, Italy. $22.99
Yoshi no Gawa Saké Co. Inspiration Sparkling Awayuki Junmai Saké, Japan. $14.79
Bodegas Carrau Carrau Grande Reserva Petit Manseng, Uruguay. $29.99
Miolo Seival Brut, Brazil. $16.99
SOUTH AMERICA: This year's theme is South America. The continental theme is the first ever at the festival, featuring producers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. With so many wines, we chose an exciting cross-section of what we know will be in the room. AG
Colomé Estate Malbec, Salta, Calchaqui Valley, Argentina $46.99
Viña Carmen Delanz Alto Jahuel Estate Blend, Maipo Valley, Chile $38.99
Catena Alta Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina $64.99
Cono Sur Ocio Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Aconcagua, Chile$79.99
Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Aconcagua, Chile $78.99
Seña, Aconcagua, Chile $199.99
Garzón Reserva Albariño, Garzón Uruguay $25.49
Miolo Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Lote 43, Campanha, Brazil $34.99
Montes Alpha M, Colchagua, Chile $76.99
San Pedro Cabo de Hornos Cabernet Sauvignon, Cachapoal Valley, Rapel Valley, Chile $89.99
Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina $44.99
Undurraga Terroir Hunter Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley, Chile $34.99
Zuccardi Concreto Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina $45.99
TEMPRANILLO: Spain grows 87 percent of the world's Tempranillo grapes, native to northern Spain but widely cultivated as far south as Andalusia. The two regions producing the highest quality Tempranillo are Rioja, in north-central Spain, and Ribera del Duero, which lies slightly farther to the south. As a result, there is plenty to choose from in the tasting room. AG
Hammeken Cellars, Oraculo, Ribera Del Duero $83.99
La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Rioja Reserva, Haro, Rioja $38.99
Marques De Riscal 2017 Rioja Reserva, Alavesa, Rioja $47.99
Marques De Riscal 2018 Rioja Reserva, El Ciego, Rioja $31.99
(La Rioja Alta) Torre de Ona Martelo Rioja Riserva, Haro, Rioja $67.99
Verum Tempranillo Reserva De Familia, La Mancha $42.99
Verum Cencibel Seleccion Roble, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla $22.99
THINK PINK: There are many hues of pink in the wine world. Here are some refreshing and varied rosé wines and styles to seek out. TR
Maison Mirabeau Pure Provence Rosé, Provence, France. $34.99
Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive Brut Rosé, Champagne, France. $71.99
THALIA Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Agiorgitiko Rosé, Peloponnese, Greece. $12.49
Marchesi Mazzei Belguardo Rosé, Toscana, Italy. $24.99
Bodega Septima Rosado de Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. $18.99
Unsworth Vineyards Rosé, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC. $26.90
Marqués de Riscal Rosado, Rioja, Spain. $21.99
LOCAL HEROES: BC has officially emerged as a niche producer of fine wines, and many of them are in the tasting room this week, presenting you with an easy opportunity to catch up with our best. Rising prices make them less accessible, so using the festival to "pre-taste" as many labels as possible is an excellent strategy to narrow your buy list. AG
CedarCreek Home Block Riesling, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $35
Chaberton Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $32.49
Chronos Sauvignon Blanc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $28.99
Da Silva Merlot, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $38.00
Ex Nihilo Merlot, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $40.00
Fort Berens Riesling Reserve, Lillooet, British Columbia $33.99
Frind Premier Merlot, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $40.00
Lake Breeze Aura Pinot Noir, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $36.99
Laughing Stock Portfolio Red Blend, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $52.99
McWatters Collection White Meritage, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $29.99
Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $63.99
Phantom Creek Estates Becker Cuvee, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $59.99
Poplar Grove Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $34.70
Unsworth Chardonnay, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia $30.90
Uppercase Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $34.99
A MULTITUDE OF MALBEC: If you are a malbec fan, there are plenty to choose from. Altitude plays a significant role in the quality of the wines, so be sure to ask about the vineyard and the altitude at which each malbec is grown. If you need a comparison, look across the Burrard inlet to the top of Grouse Mountain. It sits 1231 meters above sea level. AG
Amalaya Malbec, Salta, Calchaqui Valley, Argentina $23.99
Argento Single Vineyards Agrelo Organic Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina $32.99
Luigi Bosca De Sangre Malbec, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina $35.99
Colomé Estate Malbec, Salta, Calchaqui Valley, Argentina $46.99
Catena Malbec Argentino, Mendoza, Argentina $144.99
Piedra Negra Alta Colección Organic Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina,$19.99
Trapiche Terroir Series Ambrosia Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina $44.99
UKO Old Vines Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina $40.00
Zuccardi Jose Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina $51.99
CLASSICS FOR A REASON: Some wines are called classics for a reason. Start with these if you're trying to set your compass to classic world wines. TR
Wakefield Wines Clare Valley Estate Riesling, Australia. $20.00
Graham's 20-Year-Old Tawny, Douro, Portugal. $64.99
Tommasi Family Estates Amarone Classico, Veneto, Italy. $64.99
Raventós Codorníu Codorniu Clasico Brut Cava, Spain. $17.99
Anciano Rioja Gran Reserva No.10, Rioja, Spain. $25.99
Peju Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Legacy Collection, Napa Valley, California. $89.99
Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France. $27.99
Charles Heidsieck Brut, Champagne, France. $73.99
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand. $20.99
MOST INTRIGUING BOOTHS AT THE FESTIVAL: Our annual best booth lineup is an ode to those wineries coming to Vancouver, bringing the best stories and the wines that tell them. In a world awash in blah wine, if you are going to stand out from the crowd, you need to bring your best. So here's a look at some of the most exciting booths based on their wines, people and stories, with a nod to our favourite pick.
Argyros Estate, Santorini, Greece; Santorini Assyrtiko $46.99
Bodega Piedra Negra, Uco Valley, Argentina; Gran Lurton Cabernet Sauvignon $29.99
Fèlsina, Chianti Classico,Italy; Fèlsina "Rancia" Chianti Classico Riserva $102.99
Bodega Garzón, Garzón, Uruguay; Garzón Reserva Tannat $25.49
Inland Trading Co., Australia; Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier $130.00
Vinarija Korta Katarina, Peljesac, Croatia; Korta Katarina Reuben's Private Reserve $92.99
La Rioja Alta, Rioja, Spain; La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Rioja Reserva $62.99
Minuty, Côtes de Provence, France; Minuty 281 $106.99
Piattelli Vineyards, Cafayette, Salta / Mendoza, Argentina; Piattelli Grande Reserve Cafayate Malbec $30.99
Penfolds, South Australia, Australia; Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon $99.99
Château Pesquié, Ventoux, France; Château Pesquié Quintessence Ventoux Rouge $32.99
Giovanni Rosso, Piedmont, Italy; Giovanni Rosso Barolo La Serra $94.99
Yoshi no Gawa Saké Co., Niigata, Japan; Minamo Nakagumi Niigata S9 Junmai Dai-Ginjo Premium Saké $101.00
SPARKLING ADVENTURES: People came up with just about any excuse during the pandemic to have a glass of bubble, and sales worldwide confirm that the category is as hot as it gets. We suggest you cleanse your palate with sparkling wine as you walk the festival tasting room. It is the perfect solution to taming the tannin and oak that builds up on your palate over an evening of tasting. Please look for these sparklers to get you through the night.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant Rosé, Alsace, France $29.99
Bench 1775 Blanc de Blanc, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $39.75
Bottega Rose Gold, Veneto, Italy $34.99
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Blancs Brut, Champagne, France $110.00
Codorniu Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blanc, Penedès, Spain $24.99
Evolve Brut Nature, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia $44.99
Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvee, Penedès, Spain $30.99
Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee, Sonoma County, California $52.99
Clar de Lune Rose Prosecco, Veneto, Italy $36.99
Miolo - Seival Brut $16.99, Brazil
Mionetto Luxury Prosecco Spumante Cartizze, Veneto, Italy $39.99
Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blanc, Champagne, France $76.99
Piper Heidsieck Champagne Brut, Champagne, France $99.99
Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad N/V, Penedès, Spain $34
Unsworth Charme de l'île, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia $28.90
Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Superiore Di Cartizze La Rivetta, Veneto, Italy $49.99
Our final thoughts on working the tasting room come from GOW reviewer H J Cha. If you are a fan of cool climate chardonnays, head over to Viña Ventisquero in the Chilean section and try their Tara Chardonnay. The Tara project up in the Atacama desert – the northernmost vineyard area in Chile – is truly fascinating. Though the vineyard is in an arid and hot desert, its proximity to the Pacific Ocean with its cold Humboldt current allows them to create this cool climate chardonnay that shows a distinctive saline minerality from the unique soil there.
There are plenty of noteworthy malbecs from Mendoza to choose from this year. However, Catena Zapata's stunning selection of malbecs is a must-try. In cooperation with their own Catena Institute of Wine to research and better understand the native terroir, Catena makes science-driven decisions with a dedication to malbec that goes above and beyond.
If you want to try malbec outside of Mendoza, try Bodega Colomé. Grown in the high-altitude desert in Salta at 2,600 meters above sea level, the abundant sunlight and prevailing winds result in low yields and grapes with thick skins. As a result, the malbecs here are deeply coloured and densely concentrated while boasting intense aromatics simultaneously.
Bodegas Verum from La Mancha is a true jewel. Although based in the world's largest wine-producing region, commonly associated with high-volume bulk wines or grapes grown for distillation, Bodegas Verum is changing the region's image by recovering native varieties and introducing new grapes to the area. The talented winemaker and family member, Elías López Montero's skill is on full display with wines like the Cencibel Seleccion Roble.
Graham's is one of the most historic port houses, owned and operated by the Symington Family. Their classic 20 Year Old Tawny and Single Quinta Port from Quinta dos Malvedos are always rewarding to taste, but what you should seek out is their modernized White Port, Blend No. 5. It is the first-ever port designed for mixing – fresh, crisp, and light – perfect for a Port and Tonic (Porto Tonico).